Climate change touches all our lives, and many of our jobs. First responders, energy workers, and municipal workers are among those whose jobs become more dangerous and more important in the face of more frequent extreme weather events.

This fall the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released a report warning that the world must take drastic action over the next 12 years if we hope to limit the risk of extreme heat, droughts, floods, and the resulting human casualties. The IPCC is an international body that was set up in 1988 to assess the science related to climate change, and relies on the work of hundreds of scientists to collect and analyze the evidence required to take action to both mitigate the extent of climate change, and adapt to our changing climate.

The work of the IPCC has spurred governments around the world to commit to action. Over 180 countries have ratified the Paris Agreement, pledging to reduce emissions by setting national targets and reporting regularly on progress.

We need many tools to combat climate change. The one getting the most attention right now is a carbon tax. CUPE’s national environmental policy supports putting a price on carbon, but it must be done in a progressive manner that enhances public services and environmental justice and doesn’t hurt lower-income, working and Indigenous peoples.

So why have a carbon tax at all? The idea is that the higher up-front cost of fossil fuels will spur changes in behaviour for companies, governments, and individuals.

In 2016, the federal government released their Pan-Canadian Framework on Clean Growth and Climate Change. The framework gave provinces two years to implement their own carbon tax. Provinces that didn’t develop a plan faced a federally-implemented price on carbon.

Ontario, New Brunswick, Manitoba, and Saskatchewan have refused to develop their own plan, with several of these premiers launching or threatening legal challenges of the federal carbon pricing plan. The federal carbon tax for these provinces starts at $20 per tonne in 2019 and rises to $50 per tonne by 2022. The two-part pricing system puts a charge on fossil fuels paid by producers or distributors, and levies a separate system of charges for large, emissions-intensive industrial facilities. Most households will see an increase in the price of gas of about 4.5 cents per litre, and $1 more per gigajoule of natural gas for home heating.

The federal Liberal government has promised that revenues will go back to residents of the province where they’re collected, through a “Climate Action Incentive payment”. The rebate amount will be based on where you live, your family size, and your tax return. Residents in small communities and rural areas will get a 10 per cent bonus based on their increased energy needs. Since the rebate is based partly on income, it counteracts the regressive nature of a flat carbon tax. The federal government says most people will end up getting more back than they pay.

Economists agree the price will have to be closer to $200 per tonne to significantly change behaviour, which is why the price is expected to rise over time. It’s the most free-market response to climate change, and there’s no question that by itself it won’t be enough to prevent a climate catastrophe, but it’s a start.