Canadians support carbon pricing – but doubt its effectiveness

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April 22, 2015 – As Ontario develops plans to join Quebec and California’s cap and trade carbon pricing framework, and as British Columbia is featured on the world stage for its carbon tax, a new poll from the Angus Reid Institute shows a majority of Canadians are supportive of carbon pricing programs, even if they’re not as convinced of the efficacy of such measures in reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

The opinion poll results also reflect a desire of just over half of Canadians surveyed to see their federal government focus more on climate policy issues. While one-in-five say these questions will be a deciding factor in how they cast their ballots when an expected election is called this fall, nearly one-third say they don’t know which federal leader is best on these issues. Those with an opinion put the current prime minister at the head of the pack; mostly due to endorsement from those who oppose carbon pricing policies.

Key Findings:

  • Three-quarters (75%) of surveyed Canadians voiced support for a cap and trade system in their own province (74%) and in Canada as a whole (75%). More than half express support for a carbon tax either in their province (54%) or nationally (56%)
  • As for the perceived effectiveness of these approaches in reducing greenhouse gas emissions, just over one-in-ten (12%) say cap and trade is “very effective”, one-third (35%) see it as “quite effective”, another third (35%) say it’s “not very effective” and almost one-in-five (18%) see it as “not effective at all”. Opinions are similarly split on the effectiveness of carbon taxation

Angus Reid Institute

Public support for carbon pricing approaches

In the wake of the provincial premiers meeting in Quebec City to discuss climate policy last week, the Canadians participating in this national Angus Reid Institute poll were provided with a brief description of the two main carbon pricing approaches – cap and trade and carbon taxing – and were asked to indicate their support for adopting either system, both in their province, and nationally.

Cap and trade

Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne’s announcement last week on cap and trade is aimed at fulfilling the commitment made by that province in 2008 when it signed the Western Climate Initiative with California and Quebec. The latter jurisdictions have since created a joint cap and trade system.

Three quarters of surveyed Canadians voiced overall support for a cap and trade system for their own province (74%) or Canada as a whole (75%):

  • Support for cap and trade programs at both the provincial and federal level is fairly consistent across the provinces, ranging from a “low” of 68 per cent support for a provincial cap and trade program in Ontario to a “high” of 83 per cent support for the same program in Quebec
  • Support for cap and trade programs is stronger among women (80% provincial, 81% federal) than men (69% for both provincial and federal)
  • It’s also stronger among younger Canadians under 35 years of age (83% provincial, 84% federal) than among those aged 55 and older (68% for either system)
  • Support is higher for both provincial and national cap and trade systems among those who voted for the Liberal Party, NDP, Green Party or Bloc Quebecois in the last election (above 80%) and lower – though notably still a majority opinion (57%) – among past Conservative Party of Canada voters

Carbon Tax

British Columbia introduced its carbon tax in in 2008 at a rate of $10 per tonne, with incremental increases to $30 per tonne in 2012. $30 per tonne equates to roughly seven cents per litre of gasoline. It has been at that level ever since. In recent days, BC Premier Christy Clark said an increase to the tax rate won’t happen when a current five-year rate freeze expires in 2018.<

This poll also finds majority support for carbon taxing, though not quite as high as for cap and trade, at 54 per cent in one’s own province and 56 per cent nationally. As with cap and trade, Quebecers voice the most enthusiasm for carbon taxing while Ontarians are most lukewarm about it (47% support at the provincial level). In British Columbia, the poll finds 54 per cent support their provincial carbon tax while 57 per cent voice support for a national carbon tax system.

Angus Reid Institute
The effectiveness of carbon pricing policies

Canadians may express broad support for carbon pricing systems, but aren’t overwhelmingly convinced of their effectiveness in reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

In the case of cap and trade, slightly fewer than half (47%) of Canadians surveyed said they believe this would be an effective approach to reducing emissions:

  • Only 12 per cent thought it would be “very effective”
  • 35 per cent chose the more tepid “quite effective” option
  • Another 35 per cent say they think cap and trade would be “not very effective” at reducing emissions
  • Almost one-in-five (18%) dismiss it outright as “not effective at all” (rising to 23% in Ontario and dropping to 10% in Quebec)

The overall pattern of response is very consistent though slightly more negative in the case of carbon taxation:

  • One-in-ten say this approach would be “very effective” at reducing greenhouse gas emissions
  • About a third (30%) say a carbon tax is “quite effective”
  • Fully two-in-five (39%) say carbon taxes are “not very effective” (rising to 44 per cent in BC, the only province where a carbon tax is currently levied)
  • More than one-in-five (22%) say taxing carbon is “not at all effective at all”

Views on efficacy are strongly related to overall support for carbon pricing. Among those indicating support for a national cap and trade system, fully six-in-ten (61%) say they believe it would be very or quite effective at reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Looking more closely by degree of support, the results show fully three-quarters (78%) of strong supporters believe a cap and trade system would be “very” or “quite” effective at reducing emissions, and this view drops off to roughly half (47%) among those only moderately supportive of national cap and trade.

Likewise, among opponents, those most strongly opposed dismiss cap and trade as not at all effective (three-quarters (78%) do so), but this proportion drops off to only one-in-four (27%) of those moderately opposed who are much more likely to anticipate cap and trade would be “not very” effective.

Is climate change real?

Previous studies from the Angus Reid Institute have underlined considerable public concern about climate change. Indeed, a national survey last fall found three-quarters (75%) of Canadians say climate change is a serious threat to the planet, although a smaller majority (62%) believe it is a fact, and caused by man-made pollution.

Is government paying enough attention to climate change?

Opinion on this question varies depending on demographics and the political proclivities of survey respondents. There are also differences depending on whether the question relates to the performance of provincial or federal governments. At the provincial level, 43 per cent of Canadians believe their own province is not paying enough attention to the issue, while 40 per cent are satisfied their province is doing “the right amount” and 17 per cent say “too much”.

Results from province to province on this question are fairly consistent, however, it’s important to note that province-to-province data on this question is not necessarily “apples-to-apples”. Each provincial government has its own approach to addressing climate policy. Respondents in each province or region, therefore, are judging the individual actions (or lack thereof) of the provincial government in which they live.

How do Canadians judge the federal government’s attention to climate change? The Angus Reid Institute found that:

  • More than half (56%) say the federal government is not doing enough on climate change, including two-thirds (64%) in Quebec
  • One-third (32%) see the Harper government’s consideration to the issue as the “right amount”

On the other end of the spectrum, just over one-in-ten (12%) say the federal government is paying “too much” attention, including nearly one-in-five (19%) in Alberta

Angus Reid Institute
Read more here

The full brief is available here 

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