2015: Year of the Planet

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Fort McMurray, Alberta is pictured. Credit: Kris Krüg

Climate change tops the agenda at home and abroad, say experts from a range of faculties at UBC.

Looming large on the horizon is the November 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris, with a stated objective to achieve a binding and universal global agreement on addressing climate change.

“A lot of diplomacy over the course of the next year will be focused on that issue,” predicts Canada Research Chair in Global Politics and International Law Professor Michael Byers. “Related to that, we’re seeing more and more evidence of climate change unfolding. That’s starting to awaken public opinion, which is finally putting pressure on politicians.”

Michael Byers

Michael Byers

Byers points out that China and the U.S. secured a historic bilateral agreement on climate change in 2014: “That was absolutely huge, and that has created some real momentum.”

INTERNATIONAL PRESSURE

Associate Professor of Climatology Simon Donner notes that this will place Canada under increased scrutiny and pressure to make firm commitments in addressing climate change. “This is beyond Canada just getting shamed with some ‘fossil of the year’ award,” he says, referring to the dubious distinction bestowed upon the country multiple times by the Climate Action Network.

Donner explains that by the end of March, along with every other country in the world, Canada needs to submit its preliminary long-term emissions-reduction plan to the UN. “We’re literally at the point where we have to submit a long-term plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions,” he stresses. “That has to include targets, and it has to include a plan to achieve those targets. And if we don’t, the world will be angry.”

With a fixed federal election date a month before the climate change conference, he adds, “you know that our sitting government is going to be battered by the opposition parties if that plan is not serious.”

FEDERAL ELECTION

Byers notes that, with both opposition parties committed to carbon pricing, Prime Minister Stephen Harper will be on the defensive: “This really does challenge the prime minister, because he has so strongly opposed carbon pricing in the past.”

Adds Donner: “The economists all come around to saying the best way to deal with this is to put a price on carbon. And the crazy thing is, oil companies are OK with that. My guess is the opposition parties will, by this spring, come out with an announcement of whether they want a cap-and-trade system or a tax, or a carbon levy.”

Simon Donner

Simon Donner

In addition to climate change, Sauder School of Business Associate Professor Werner Antweiler, director of the Sauder School of Business Prediction Markets, foresees the political discussion being dominated by personal finance issues. “Income splitting is going to be the one plank in one of the party’s platforms,” he predicts. “As it gets implemented, will the other parties backtrack? Will they offer alternatives? The Liberals say this is a policy they would not sustain. It’s a topic that will stay with us, because it’s far from settled.”

Byers also anticipates the pre-election campaign to venture into foreign policy, as the NDP and Conservatives attempt to derail the Liberals. “The accepted wisdom is that foreign policy is not generally an issue in Canadian election campaigns, but I suspect it might be in this campaign just because both Stephen Harper and Thomas Mulcair will try to force Justin Trudeau into difficult areas,” he observes.  “Foreign policy is a difficult area, and the more that they can force him to talk about foreign policy or macroeconomic issues, the more likely he is to make mistakes.”

Byers says the most interesting election outcome, from a political scientist’s perspective, would be a minority win for the Conservatives. “I don’t know what Justin Trudeau would do if Stephen Harper has a minority government,” he reflects. “Would he partner with the NDP to take Harper out, or would he keep him in office for a few more years? That to my mind is quite possibly going to be the biggest issue of the year. But it’ll happen after the election.”

HOME TURF

Closer to home, Antweiler says oil and gas will continue to preoccupy British Columbians. “Oil and gas plays a big role in the debate here, whether it’s LNG or pipelines,” he observes.  “We will still see lots of questions about the oil prices and the exchange rate or what we pay at the pump.”

Werner Antweiler

Werner Antweiler

The low oil price will ultimately be good for consumers and employment, he predicts: “It has been leading to a depreciation of the Canadian dollar, and that will boost exports and manufacturing. Overall, it will be a good thing.”

NO CRYSTAL BALL

Of course, when it comes to predicting the future, it’s worth remembering that there is no such thing as a magic crystal ball. “There will be new issues that we never even imagined talking about today that will be dominating the story line in 2015,” notes Antweiler. “You can always trust that the future will bring us surprises.”