Manitoba farmers are debating a carbon tax, but it isn’t easy since the provincial government hasn’t released any details.
Taxing carbon is meant to discourage emissions. But as “price-takers,” farmers fear taxing it will reduce their competitiveness and profits.
The Keystone Agricultural Producers (KAP) wants farmers exempted from paying a tax on carbon emitted directly from farm production, which would include emissions from burning fossil fuels, applying fertilizer, as well as methane from livestock and manure storage.
Somerset farmer Gerry Demare suggests farmers pay a carbon tax on their inputs, but collect it back as they do the Goods and Services Tax.
And some want to reject the tax altogether.
But under the Paris agreement to mitigate climate change, Canada agreed to cut its greenhouse gas emissions 30 per cent from 2005 levels by 2030. To that end Ottawa says every province must have a $10-a-tonne price on carbon dioxide starting in 2018, rising $10 a year to $50 by 2022. The revenue will be the province’s.
The Manitoba government is consulting citizens and taking its time designing a made-in-Manitoba carbon price, but a lack of information has given rise to speculation, and from that, fears that may or may not be justified.
What is known is the climate is changing, Juliane Schaible, a senior economic development consultant with the Manitoba government’s Department of Sustainable Development, told the Manitoba Sustainable Energy Association’s (ManSEA) annual meeting here April 5.
Around 120 people interested in renewable energy attended.
“It is very real,” Schaible said. “It is happening now.
“A super-flood that past records would predict could happen once in 300 years has happened twice in five years with devastating results.”
Flooding cost Manitoba $1.2 billion in 2011.
But a carbon tax is just one of many tools to encourage society to emit less carbon, she added.
On average Manitobans emit 17 tonnes of greenhouse gases, annually, Schaible said, “which is amongst the highest per person in the world.”
While transportation is the top source of greenhouse gases in Manitoba, accounting for 39 per cent of the annual 21 million tonnes of carbon dioxide-equivalent emissions, agriculture is a close second at 30 per cent.
Farm fuel alone accounts for three per cent of Manitoba’s total carbon emissions, Daryl Domitruk, Manitoba Agriculture’s director of research and market development said.
However, Manitoba only accounts for three per cent of Canada’s emissions, says a report prepared by the Ivey Business School at Western University. And Canada contributes just 1.6 per cent of the world’s emissions. Yet Canadians are among the highest emitters per capita.
Given Canada’s small share, some argue reducing emission won’t do much to mitigate climate change, which has been linked to rising carbon in the atmosphere. But the Pembina Institute says many other countries can make the same case. Moreover, while India emits more carbon than Canada, its per capita emissions are far lower.
“We are all in this together,” ManSEA’s chair Wayne Clayton said on the sidelines of his association’s meeting.
When challenges appear there are usually solutions in the form of new opportunities, he said. Given Ottawa’s decree, the question isn’t if there will be a carbon tax, but how to make it work, Clayton said. He wants the revenue invested to help people further cut carbon emissions.
Renewable fuels play a role in reducing carbon emissions, and in so doing, create new jobs and economic activity, he added.Farmers produce, and in some cases burn, biomass made from crop waste.
Farmers are looking at renewable fuels to save money, Domitruk said.
Forty Hutterite colonies have switched to biomass-fuelled boilers to replace coal.
“Here is the conundrum,” Domitruk said. “In the link between energy and greenhouse gas emissions, most emissions from ag are from (downstream) sources directly outside the farmer’s and rancher’s control. Farmers and ranchers can’t innovate and can’t adapt their way out of the fundamental processes that govern our agricultural ecosystems. We just can’t.”
Meanwhile, farmers are applying more nitrogen to increase crop production. But both manufacturing nitrogen and applying it produces greenhouse gases.
Using electrically powered hydrolysis to make nitrogen instead of natural gas can reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but it’s expensive, Domitruk said.
Soil scientists say farmers can reduce nitrogen-related emissions by applying the right type of nitrogen, at the right rate, in the right place, at the right time.
Farmers could use less manufactured nitrogen by producing more legumes — crops that make their own nitrogen, Domitruk said.
“But we’d have to move to a legume-based diet to do that,” he said. “That is technically possible but it is all a matter of consumer demand and behaviour.”
And there’s the rub. Cutting carbon emissions hinges on a lot of individual decisions.
“That is one of the biggest issues we face in fighting the climate crisis — the complacency of the general population,” said Curtis Hull with Winnipeg-based Climate Change Connections.
“The threats to our children and ourselves are just nebulous enough that it’s more important for me to get from where I am going a few seconds sooner than it it is for me to reduce the greenhouse gas burden on my children (by driving slower). And that is really something that needs to be taken into account,” he said sparking applause.
Eighty-five per cent of Canadians, including British Columbia residents, pay a carbon tax, Schaible said. Since B.C.’s carbon tax started in 2008 emissions there have dropped 5.5 per cent while the economy grew 12 per cent, she said.
A $10-a-tonne carbon tax will add 2.2 cents a litre to the price of regular gasoline and 1.9 cents to a cubic metre of natural gas in Manitoba, Schaible said. It’s estimated the tax will cost the average Manitoba household an extra 26 cents a day or $95 a year, but raise $100 million.
“Revenues can be invested in the best future we are prepared to envision for ourselves,” Schaible said. “Government wants to hear from Manitobans about actions you think are priorities. Frankly, this is a particularly difficult time for politicians because this is not ‘steady as she goes’ decision-making. Elected officials are wondering just how ambitious Manitobans want to be and there are always enormous pressures on budgets.”