The cornerstone of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s plan to cut greenhouse gas emissions is on the line on Thursday when the Supreme Court decides whether the federal carbon pricing scheme can be enforced in provinces that oppose it.
Most legal experts expect the Liberal government’s 2018 Greenhouse Gas Pollution Pricing Act will be upheld as constitutional. Ottawa plans to steadily ramp up the price of carbon to C$170 ($135.08) a ton by 2030, from C$30 a ton currently.
Carbon pricing, often called a carbon tax by opponents, is the lynchpin of Canada’s plan to ultimately reach net-zero emissions by 2050. But it has run into fierce opposition from Ontario, Saskatchewan and the country’s main fossil fuel-producing province Alberta.
Under the carbon pricing act, Ottawa can impose a federal levy on provinces that do not have an adequate carbon pricing system of their own. The Supreme Court will rule on whether that is valid use of federal powers, or whether it infringes on provincial government jurisdiction.
“Most court watchers are expecting the Supreme Court to uphold the legality of the carbon pricing plan,” said Andrew Bernstein, a partner at Torys law firm in Toronto.
The case will be closely watched as a test of how far the federal government can exert its authority over the provinces.
Quebec, which supports carbon pricing, intervened on the side of the other provinces because of concerns about the precedent that will be set if the government wins, said Dwight Newman, a law professor at the University of Saskatchewan.
Canada is the fourth-largest oil producer in the world and the fifth-largest carbon emitter on a per capita basis.
The country needs to cut emissions by 30% below 2005 levels by 2030 to fulfil its international climate commitments, which would involve slashing annual emissions to 511 megatons, compared with 729 megatons in 2018.
The Liberal government unveiled a strengthened climate plan late last year that it says will reduce emissions to 503 megatons and described carbon pricing as a “critical element” of meeting that target.
“Carbon pricing is the central defining feature of their climate strategy,” said Sarah Petrevan, policy director at thinktank Clean Energy Canada.
Carbon taxes are levied in 14 out of the 31 high-income OECD countries, according to a 2020 report by Canada’s Fraser Institute. Sweden currently has the world’s highest carbon tax at around C$177 a ton. 29dk2902l