A cap-and-trade system for carbon emissions is a key pillar of a new plan to reduce the province’s greenhouse gas emissions.
Premier Greg Selinger made the announcement last week, outlining a plan to cut greenhouse gases by one-third by the year 2030, while also promising to create 6,000 “new green jobs” in the next four years.
“Climate change is the defining global environmental issue of our time,” Selinger said. “And now is the time for action. We must seize opportunities.”
U.S. climate crusader Al Gore has already applauded the move, tweeting, “Manitoba — hurray! — is adding to Canadian provincial leadership by launching a carbon market. Great timing for the world!”
High-profile endorsements aside, farmers, opposition politicians and other Manitobans are still a long ways away from knowing exactly what a cap-and-trade system might look like. And that’s if the current NDP government is still in power after next spring’s election and able to enact its plan, which includes introducing new legislation.
The Manitoba Trucking Association, Keystone Agricultural Producers, the National Farmers Union, multiple universities and colleges, as well as the Economic Development Council for Manitoba Bilingual Municipalities would be involved in the implementation of the climate change plan, as well as the crafting of regulations.
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KAP president Dan Mazier said it’s imperative Manitoba producers are part of this process as it moves forward, even if they are already actively involved in environmental stewardship and the reduction of greenhouse gases.
“We want to be at the table, we need to be there,” he said, drawing comparisons between the regulatory process to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and that used to improve the health of Lake Winnipeg.
“There was a lot of emotion tied to the Save Lake Winnipeg bill, and I think because of that, there were times we weren’t included in that conversation,” he said. “And that meant that there were some elements used there that just weren’t true, and that has impacted us.”
It’s a situation KAP doesn’t want to see repeated.
“So we want to get ahead of this, be involved and have a seat at the table,” said Mazier. “When we talk about greenhouse gases and agriculture, we’re talking about how we produce food in the world, you can’t separate those things, it’s important to emphasize that connection and its importance.”
Pointing to unpredictable weather, droughts and the flooding Manitoba experienced in 2011, he added that farmers are on the front lines of climate change and have much to lose if greenhouse gases aren’t addressed.
That said, Mazier also acknowledged that 30 per cent of all greenhouse gases in Manitoba are the result of agricultural production. But unlike other carbon-producing industries, agriculture also captures and sequesters carbon, he added.
While it’s unlikely that farms will fall under a cap-and-trade system aimed at larger, industrial enterprises — such as fertilizer and ethanol producers — they will be subject to new regulations and programs aimed at lessening agriculture’s carbon footprint.
According to Selinger, the new plan will work to drive innovation in the transportation and agriculture sectors, by assessing local climate-change risks, developing solutions through new community partnerships and innovation in the energy and other sectors.
It’s not the first time the Selinger government has introduced climate targets. A law was passed in 2008 with the plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to about 17,500 megatonnes by 2012. That target was never met.
“There is a lot of apprehension,” Mazier said. “But this is the moment when everybody realizes they’ve got to look in the mirror, and say ‘OK, how much non-renewable energy do I use?’… It’s so ingrained in our lives, so this is really a very, very big question. This is why it’s a very profound thing we’re going to be doing.”
Carman-area MP Blaine Pedersen, the opposition Tories’ agriculture critic, agreed climate change must be addressed, but cautioned the province, by acting independently of other jurisdictions, had “better not be putting (Manitoba’s) ag industry at a disadvantage to other provinces.”
Pedersen wondered if the province will have the staff resources to support investments in an expanded Environmental Farm Plan and a new Climate Friendly Agricultural Practices Program, among others.
The agriculture, food and rural development department now has a 25 per cent staff vacancy rate overall, he said.
The climate change plan’s call for expanded soybean, pulse and perennial crop acres also ignores the market’s role in allocating acres, he said. Area devoted to those crops “is only going to grow because there’s a market for it.”