Government rejects low-carbon plan proponents say would save, earn billions

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OTTAWA - Federal Environment Minister Peter Kent is rejecting the final advice from the National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy to embrace a low-carbon economy.

The federal advisory body lost its $5.2 million annual funding in the last budget and is using its last breath to promote a national environment-and-energy framework that would position Canada to become a global player in the burgeoning low-carbon world.

But the key step in that strategy is to set a price on carbon and the federal government will not go down that path, a spokesman for Kent said Thursday.

"The first essential condition for their plan to work is to impose carbon pricing," spokesman Adam Sweet said in an email. "Unlike (Thomas) Mulcair's NDP, we will not impose a job-killing carbon tax that would increase the cost of gas, groceries and electricity."

He was repeating a mantra that is uttered daily by many Conservative MPs since September, despite the NDP's insistence that it proposes a cap-and-trade market to control emissions similar to one proposed by the Conservatives in 2006 — and not a carbon tax.

The federal government is already taking many initiatives towards a green economy, Sweet added.

Kent has said the round table lost its budget because the information it produced was available elsewhere. But Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird has also said the advisory body was chopped because it advocated a carbon tax.

In fact, the round table has never called for a carbon tax per se, but has argued repeatedly that putting a price on carbon in some way would give businesses the certainty they need to plan ahead and invest accordingly.

Many companies and business leaders agree. And several provinces are now forging ahead on their own, developing disparate carbon-pricing schemes that are not yet linked at a national level.

Without a national carbon price, Canada can't meet its full potential in a global economy that is increasingly focused on goods and services with small carbon footprints, said Robert Slater, interim chair of the round table.

"The future is low carbon," the body's final report said. "Economies the world over are making the transition."

The report said Canada stands to gain from such a shift and should accept that it's coming.

"Canada will inevitably need to cut carbon emissions across traditional sectors of the economy," the report said.

After consulting with 150 experts and studying available data, the round table concluded that failure to act will cost the country dearly.

Companies and governments will have to shell out $87 billion over the next 30 years, mainly because industry would be locking in an unacceptably high level of greenhouse gas emissions that will eventually have to be undone.

Organizations: NDP, National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy, Conservatives

Geographic location: Canada, OTTAWA

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