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Yes, We Can Have a Healthy Environment and Economic Development: Reconciling Conflicting Planning Objectives

I am sorry to report that, Canada, my chosen country (I immigrated here in 1993), recently withdrew from the Kyoto Accord, which sets international climate change emission reduction targets. It’s worth noting that this decision was made by the ruling Conservative Party which received less than 40% of total votes, but the other four parties split the more progressive votes and are unable to form a coalition, resulting in federal policies that are far more politically conservative than the average Canadian would prefer.

Todd Litman | December 30, 2011, 2pm PST
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I am sorry to report that, Canada, my chosen country (I immigrated here in 1993), recently withdrew from the Kyoto Accord, which sets international climate change emission reduction targets. It's worth noting that this decision was made by the ruling Conservative Party which received less than 40% of total votes, but the other four parties split the more progressive votes and are unable to form a coalition, resulting in federal policies that are far more politically conservative than the average Canadian would prefer.

Climate change is a wicked problem because it involves a complex mix of differing values and perspectives, plus a high degree of uncertainty, so there is no single "correct" solution. However, this does not reduce the justification for action. Many planning decisions involve diverse perspectives and uncertainty, and there are normal ways to address these factors. In particular, decision-makers can implement no regrets actions that reduce risks with minimal costs and maximum co-benefits.

The most common objection to emission reduction targets is that they are economically harmful. However, this is not necessarily true. There are many no-regrets or win-win strategies that can reduce emissions and support economic development. Many of these involve policy reforms that increase transport system efficiency. Let me explain.

 

Theory

According to economic theory, an efficient market must reflect the following principles:

·        Consumer options (also called consumer sovereignty). Consumers need viable options and information about those options, so they can choose the combination of goods that best meets their needs.

·        Cost-based pricing. Prices should reflect costs as much as possible. There should be no significant external costs unless specifically justified.

·        Economic neutrality. Public policies (laws, taxes, subsidies, and investment policies) should apply equally to comparable goods and users.

 

These principles apply to transport and land use "markets," which includes the supply, design, pricing and management of facilities (sidewalks, paths, roads), inputs (vehicles and fuel), and locations (land use development patterns). Inadequate transport options, underpricing of transport inputs, and planning practices that unintentionally favor automobile travel over more resource-efficient modes tend to reduce economic efficiency. Policy reforms that correct these distortions tend to both support economic development and reduce pollution emissions. 

Below are examples of win-win emission reduction strategies:

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