Opinion: Let’s not overlook the carbon footprint of what we import

Smoke billows from stacks as a lady walks in a neighbourhood subsequent to a coal-fired energy plant on November 26, 2015 in Shanxi, China. “Make no mistake, while you purchase one thing made in a rustic that depends closely on electrical energy generated from coal, like China, you’re contributing to carbonizing this planet,” Robert Fattal writes.

Kevin Frayer / GETTY

Canadians already make particular person choices that assist the atmosphere. We pay extra for greener automobiles, greener properties and greener lighting. However we must also give cautious thought to the totality of our carbon consumption by taking notice the place merchandise are made. Make no mistake, while you purchase one thing made in a rustic that depends closely on electrical energy generated from coal, like China, you’re contributing to carbonizing this planet.


This isn’t solely to level a finger at China, however at ourselves. We snap up comparatively low-cost imports from that nation. Twenty years in the past, the World Financial institution recorded that China exported to the world some $249 billion price of products. In 2017 that complete ballooned to $2.26 trillion. On the identical time, Canadian imports from China went from $7.6 billion in 2000 to $54.6 billion (all figures in USD). Completely crucial to that achievement, China elevated its electrical coal plant capability from lower than 200 gigawatts to immediately’s 973GW.

Coal is the dirtiest and most polluting of all fossil fuels. Right this moment these Chinese language crops yearly belch out four.four billion tonnes of CO2, representing near 50 per cent of worldwide emissions from electrical coal-fired crops.

A considerate environmentalist ought to ask how a lot of that complete Canada is liable for.


When Canada generates 9 per cent of its electrical energy from coal and China generates 59 per cent, there may be an affect on the worldwide atmosphere after we transfer manufacturing to China. I do suppose it’s ironic manufacturing facility closing its doorways would assist Canada attain its carbon emissions goal, however the imported product that replaces it’ll very seemingly contribute considerably extra to the world output of carbon. And there are international locations which can be worse than China. India, for instance, generates 75 per cent of its energy from coal. Nonetheless, China is our second-largest buying and selling accomplice and India is 13th.


In the meantime, the issue with Canada’s current carbon coverage is that hardly anybody believes it’ll work with out taxing Canadians considerably extra. To make issues worse, no one actually is aware of how excessive the tax must be to chop emissions to 30 per cent beneath 2005 ranges. The Liberal authorities gained’t deny it’ll impose an additional carbon tax enhance past the $50/tonne scheduled for 2022. The Parliamentary Funds Workplace predicts that the carbon tax would wish to rise to $102/tonne to achieve Canada’s Paris Accord dedication. Canada’s Ecofiscal Fee lately launched a report that Canada must increase the carbon tax to $210/tonne. There isn’t a consensus on the place the carbon tax must be to fulfill our dedication to the Paris Accords. All of the whereas, prices are being pushed up in Canada, and the hassle appears all for naught.

We have to create a mechanism that dis-incentivizes Canadians from rewarding the largest world polluters, and in addition provides producers in these international locations an incentive to supply in a manner that reduces emissions. It might be by way of mandating a carbon label on imported merchandise that informs customers a couple of product’s carbon footprint, very like diet labels for meals. Or have Ottawa push for the renegotiation of clauses in worldwide treaties to permit Canada to impose tariffs on the world’s worst polluters. Or just have customers demand and encourage retailers to seek for greener sources of provide.


Environmentalists proclaim that we live by way of a local weather emergency. Coverage analysts insist Canada won’t meet its carbon dedication. And when you embrace the carbon generated by the manufacturing of products we import, the image is even worse. We have to attempt one thing else. No matter we resolve, we have to begin a brand new dialogue on methods to scale back Canadians’ world consumption of carbon, not simply our home consumption. Sure, we might must pay extra for the imported merchandise we purchase, however that’s the price of a cleaner world atmosphere.

Robert Fattal is a Montreal businessman.