Is carbon pricing a politically feasible climate policy? What research says

It was supposed to do the heavy lifting for Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions targets.And it was supposed to remain a major part of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s legacy, both at home and abroad — part of an urgent global push to fight climate change.

But instead of fulfilling those Liberal hopes, carbon pricing has become a significant political liability.Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre’s crusade against the consumer carbon price and his promise to “axe the tax” should he win the next election has resonated with many Canadians amidst an affordability crisis.

The Tory leader has blamed the climate policy for driving up the cost of food and fuel, while dismissing or ignoring its purported benefits, including consumer rebates.The government has struggled to respond to the Conservatives’ attacks, despite the carbon price enjoying widespread support among economists.

Did the Liberals drop the ball?Or was the policy always destined for failure?Research suggests the Liberals may be fighting a losing battle, and some experts are urging policymakers to look for alternative policies to lower emissions, warning the threat of climate change is too dire to delay action.“It’s very hard to find places with high, economy-wide carbon prices that have not generated significant political backlash,” said Matto Mildenberger, an assistant professor of political science at the University of California Santa Barbara.

“That leads political scientists like myself to have real reservations about how viable carbon pricing is as a short-term strategy to confront the climate crisis.”Consumers pay the cost of carbon pricing upfront in a very visible way, Mildenberger said. Its benefits are only enjoyed in the long run.The federal government’s Canada Carbon Rebate is designed to compensate voters for the financial burden. According to the parliamentary budget officer, eight out of 10 families receive more in rebates than they pay in carbon taxes.

But Mildenberger’s research suggests the rebate is not as effective in shoring up public support as Liberals would hope.One study analyzing public support for carbon pricing in Canada and Switzerland found people don’t know about the rebates they’re getting and tend to underestimate their value.Another looked at the effect of rebates on public support for a carbon tax in the U.S. and Switzerland and found there was ultimately little impact.

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