by Herbert Grubel and Patrick Grady
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau recently announced large increases in carbon taxes to reach a new ambitious target for the reduction of Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions by 2030. The critical media reaction to this announcement focused on the economic burden that the policy will impose on Canadians, the amount of global warming it will prevent, and the chances that the tax will actually be adopted by future governments.
Absent from the discussion, however, was any mention of how current immigration policies will increase the effort needed to reach this target. Based on experience, these policies will add three-quarters of a per cent to Canada’s population every year so that in 2030, all else being equal, the country’s population and total GHG emissions will be 7.5 per cent above what they would have been otherwise. This gap will be much larger by 2050, the year the government has promised to reduce emissions to net-zero as required by the Paris accord.
Supporters of current immigration policies are likely to argue that the higher emissions will not require higher taxes on non-immigrant Canadians to attain the zero targets since the immigrants will raise national income and the tax base proportionately to the added cost of emission control measures.
That would be true if immigrants on average paid the same amount of tax as the average non-immigrant. In fact, they do not. As we have shown, using data published by Statistics Canada, recent immigrants on average have lower incomes and pay less tax than other Canadians, which means the latter will have to bear a larger fiscal and economic burden than they would in the absence of the immigrants.
If the higher tax and economic burden of emission control measures were to cause voters to elect governments that reduced the intensity of these measures, that would reduce progress toward net-zero. But migration also has more direct effects on emissions. Consider a migrant from India, where according to data from the World Bank for 2016, the average emission of CO2 (which represents about 80 per cent of all GHG emissions) was 1.82 metric tons per year. In Canada, the average was 15.09 metric tons. As a result, after this migrant settled in Canada global emissions would increase by 13.27 metric tons per year.
The size of this effect created by all of Canada’s immigrants is determined by the average emissions in their country of origin as well as the numbers of immigrants from each of these countries. Using CO2 emissions data for 2016 from the World Bank, and Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada data on the sources of immigrants, we estimate that in 2017 the increase in global emissions was 11.33 metric tons per immigrant and that the 286,000 immigrants admitted in that year added a total of 3.25 million metric tons to global emissions and will add 97.4 million more metric tons over the remaining 30 years of their assumed lifespan. These figures are just for the immigrants who arrived in 2017, but they also are relevant for immigrants arriving in future years in numbers that according to the latest government plans will increase substantially.
All the above calculations are based on assumptions that others may question and wish to change, including the assumption that immigrants are average carbon-producers both in the countries they leave and when they get to Canada. That almost certainly is not exactly true, though with existing data more precise assumptions and estimates are not possible. In any case, we are confident that such changes would not alter our basic conclusion that immigrants will add considerably to Canada’s contribution to the global stock of CO2 emissions. Given the low average incomes and tax payments of immigrants, elimination of these added emissions will raise taxes and cause economic dislocations that fall primarily on non-immigrant Canadians.
As mentioned, these increased burdens may well lead to future governments being elected on the promise to reduce or possibly even eliminate the carbon taxes that have been imposed recently. If that happens, Canada’s immigration policies will have resulted in a permanent addition in the stock of CO2 in the atmosphere and raised the risk of costly global warming. This problem can be avoided, however, if the government sets much lower target numbers for immigration and focuses more on admitting workers with needed skills rather than dependents and family members.
In the end, and as it should be, voters will decide whether they want the government to change immigration policies or whether they are willing to accept higher costs to gain the alleged benefits of mass immigration. But voters are entitled to be informed about the costs involved in these choices. The ministers of immigration and environment should take responsibility for providing this information to Canadians — and to Prime Minister Trudeau before he sets off on another pilgrimage to an international forum to talk about his government’s commitment to eliminate CO2 emissions or increase immigration.
Herbert Grubel, formerly MP for Capilano-Howe Sound, is an emeritus professor of economics at Simon Fraser University. Patrick Grady is withglobal-economics.ca.
This study has been published by the Financial Post on January 23, 2021 at https://financialpost.com/opinion/opinion-immigration-may-make-global-net-zero-harder