Saskatchewan premier faces challenging decision on carbon

Saskatchewan will be developing output-based carbon protocols to sell in an international market. Carbon that is already being stored, through methods like zero till, may not have value on that market. Time will tell. | File photo

Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe said farmers should be credited for two decades of carbon sequestration despite the federal government’s apparent intentions to discount it.

Having lost at the Supreme Court of Canada, Moe is now in the unenviable position of having to introduce a carbon tax, also known as a pricing policy, of his own.

Most of his constituents don’t want it, and the Saskatchewan government has spent years criticizing the idea of putting a cost on carbon.

Scoring a win out of that seems like it will be difficult.

His government refused to bring in a carbon plan the federal government would find adequate, arguing doing so would harm Saskatchewan people. As a result, emissions continue to rise in the province.

How does Moe now bring in a policy of his own without causing the same harm?

We know Saskatchewan intends to help consumers by essentially lowering excise taxes by a comparable amount to the carbon tax.

That mimics what New Brunswick does, and was accepted by Ottawa. Critics argue it goes against making consumers more conscious of the cost of climate change.

But Moe says he also intends to “maximize investment” in technologies, like zero-tillage, that were pioneered in Saskatchewan decades ago.

Saskatchewan will be developing output-based carbon protocols to sell in an international market. Carbon that is already being stored, through methods like zero till, may not have value on that market. Time will tell.

Still, Moe told reporters he wants farmers to be recognized for every possible pound of carbon they store.

He contends carbon stored by producers “should be recognized going back decades” and said his government is working to ensure that is the case.

“There (are) some challenges with respect to the understanding of exactly how valuable that effort has been, not only at our federal level but the international level as well,” he told reporters following the Supreme Court decision.

Maybe the premier is trying to give farmers something to hold onto here, but by now it should be clear that any actions to improve the climate “going back decades” have failed, are not enough, and, while commendable, may have limited or no value on carbon markets.

Draft regulations for Canada’s new carbon market, for example, show farmers won’t receive credit for removing any greenhouse gas emissions prior to 2017.

To get credit under that system, removals of GHGs will have to be quantifiable and occur in a “beyond business as usual” setting.

Federal officials will likely expect Saskatchewan to meet that bar, too.

Beyond what Ottawa accepts or not, Saskatchewan Environment Minister Warren Kaeding rightly pointed out the carbon market will determine what has value or is acceptable.

“It has to be validated, verified. It has to be something our emitters — they’re paying for it — that they can find credibility in what they’re purchasing,” he said.

Hopefully the premier was listening because Moe’s ambitious goal of getting credit for producers who have previously stored carbon is unachievable, and won’t be accepted by federal regulators or international carbon markets.

You don’t repair an old vehicle by patting yourself on the back for the oil change you did a few years earlier.

The great work by producers to reduce emissions thus far pales in comparison to the amount needed to achieve Saskatchewan’s, and Canada’s, climate goals.

Moe’s credibility on the environment will continue to be questioned in some circles until a credible plan is established.

D.C. Fraser is Glacier Farm Media’s Ottawa correspondent. Reach out to him by emailing dfraser@farmmedia.com.

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