Climate policy in British Columbia: An unexpected journey.

Ekaterina Rhodes & Malcolm Fairbrother

Since introducing a path-breaking carbon tax in 2008, the western Canadian province of British Columbia (BC) has attracted significant attention from climate policy scholars. The enactment of its carbon tax has made the case of BC intriguing, as Canada is a poor climate performer, BC is a fossil fuel producer, and carbon taxes are politically challenging to introduce anywhere. This paper discusses the BC tax, and what lessons it holds for other jurisdictions. We complement existing accounts with new details about key events and developments in recent years, and about climate policymaking in BC generally. While there are features of the tax’s design and promotion that would be worth replicating elsewhere, we argue its survival rested on simple good fortune. Moreover, the case of BC should not be reduced to its tax, as the province has enacted other notable climate policies, some of which have done more to reduce emissions while attracting less public criticism.

Tipping the Political Economy to Limit Climate Change: A Modeling Framework.

Merwan Engineer

Capitalist vested interests are the elephants in the environmental policy decision-making room. This paper develops a simple analytical framework for examining when the corporate elephant herd would turn from rampaging for business-as-usual “brown-policy” to stampeding for environmentally-friendly “green-policy”.

First the good news. If a strong future environmental lobby cooperates in lobbying with green vested interests, the elephants will stampede green. Cooperation involves future green-policy that gives green-capital firms a competitive advantage over brown-capital firms. Policy should include either the carrot of green subsidies and/or the stick of inflicting sunk costs on brown-capital.

The so-so news is: if the cooperative environmental lobby is weak, then the economy tips on the vagaries around firms’ expectations of the direction that the corporate herd is stampeding. These “animal spirit” expectations turn on anticipated changes in a number of things: laws, norms, consumer policies, green technology costs, and climate change itself.

The expected cost of climate change affects investment and policy which, in turn, affects the environment and the expected cost of climate change. Paradoxically, an increase in expected costs might trigger a switch to a green economy that improves welfare – provided that the shock is not catastrophic and the environmental lobby is invigorated by the shock.

The current literature uses complex systems analysis to explain tipping points. They are explained opaquely as emergent properties of lagged processes that sometimes generate highly nonlinear dynamics. In contrast, the framework focuses on forward-looking firm behavior and the political economy of vested and non-vested interests. The mathematics of the framework reduces to two curves, an investment curve and a policy curve. Changes that impact vested and non-vested interests shift the curves. The new location of the curves quickly identifies the new “tipping points”. The logical analysis helps to articulate simple social/political narratives and, hopefully, will stimulate discussion.

Low-tech energy for essential, accessible, ecological transitions.

Matthew Burke

Contemporary discourse, imaginaries, politics, research, and investment vastly favour a high-tech energy future beyond fossil fuels. This context sets the tone for the so-called energy transition, diminishing options, narrowing debates, and increasing risks of failure and confusion. This framing further positions the wealthy of the world as the source of innovation, expertise, finance, and power, as the standard-bearers of energy futures. Low-tech possibilities reverse the flow of learning and invert the very notion of progress. This paper aims to give new life to the road not (yet) taken: a low-energy, low-tech, energy-ecological future. In the context of the energy transition now a half-century on, low-tech refers to various technologies and techniques useful for meeting essential needs in ways accessible to as many people as possible, and ecologically designed to be sturdy, repairable, recyclable, agile, and functional. The paper summarizes the arch of such narratives and options from the time of the energy crisis of the 1970s, then asserts key reasons for taking up such options now, as related to the defining qualities of low-tech. A review then follows of the contemporary status of low-tech energy systems, reflecting diversity of the place. These systems provide and enable energy and electricity, water, food, shelter, mobility, and multiple applications for home, farm, and community. Equally as important as technology is the commitment to collaborate and share through applications of low-tech systems. Recognizing such diversity demonstrates that low-tech continues to garner interest even among high-energy societies. These options are positioned as key elements supporting energy sovereignty and an energy-ecological future. Research, practice, and communication must give greater attention toward low-tech pathways for diverse, achievable, and genuinely viable post-fossil fuel futures.