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What is a carbon tax, and will it make a difference?

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Many experts agree that a carbon tax is the cheapest way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but the jury is out on whether the Canadian government’s new plan will achieve that in a major way.

On Tuesday, the federal government announced a carbon tax on the provinces and territories that did not sign on to the pan-Canadian framework on climate change.

“Starting next year, it will no longer be free to pollute anywhere in Canada,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said. “And we’re also going to help Canadians adjust to this new reality.”

Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario, New Brunswick, Yukon and Nunavut will have to pay a tax of $20 per tonne of emissions. The tax will increase by $10 a year until it reaches $50 per tonne by 2022, but most of it will be returned to residents in the form of rebates — which for many Canadians will be more than what it will cost them, the government said.

It’s a plan not everyone agrees with, particularly Ontario Premier Doug Ford. Trudeau made the announcement at Humber College, in Ford’s riding of Etobicoke.

But Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Romer says carbon taxes are the solution to climate change.

University of Calgary associate professor of economics Trevor Tombe agrees.

“Economists for a long time have been pointing to carbon taxes, or carbon pricing, as the most efficient or most cost-effective way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions,” Tombe said.

How it works

The idea of a carbon tax is straightforward — a price is levied on each tonne of emissions from fossil fuel sources, be it from coal, natural gas, gasoline, etc.

Opponents say a carbon tax is a cash-grab by the government that will cost taxpayers dearly. But supporters say the tax has to be high enough to dissuade people from making choices that cause emissions in the first place.

“What a carbon tax does is put an incentive in place for every individual and business to think about their own unique situation, to think about if they have low-cost ways of avoiding an emission and thereby saving on the tax,” said Tombe.

“It’s, in general, a way to lower emissions in the least-possible-cost manner. This would be contrasted to the government deciding on mandates — which type of appliance to adopt, which kind of light bulbs to use and so on.”

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaks to the media and students at Humber College regarding his government’s new federally imposed carbon tax in Toronto on Tuesday, October 23, 2018. (Nathan Denette/Canadian Press)

The federal government said 90 per cent of the carbon tax revenue collected will go back to households in the affected provinces and territories through Climate Action Incentive payments; the remaining 10 per cent will go to hospitals, schools and businesses in order to help develop greener solutions.

“The intent is to neutralize that concern people have about ‘Is this going to cost me too much?’ by giving all the money back to people,” said Nic Rivers, professor and Canada research chair in climate and energy policy at the University of Ottawa. “That’s the intent — but I think it remains to be seen how it’s going to play out.”

Carbon across Canada

B.C. already has a provincial carbon tax.

It started off at $10 per tonne in 2008 with a planned increase of $5 per tonne over four years. Beginning on April 1, 2018, the government increased it by another $5, raising it to $35 a tonne. It will continue on its $5-a-year-plan until it reaches $50 per tonne in 2020.

Some residents in the province receive a Climate Action Tax Credit.

So is it effective?

According to the B.C. government, since implementation GDP grew by 17 per cent and net emissions dropped by 4.7 per cent. There are estimates that B.C. could see a reduction of anywhere between five and 15 per cent under this plan.

A federal carbon tax has been a hot topic for debate for many provinces who that don’t have one — but B.C. has for the last ten years. The National looks at the effect B.C.’s carbon tax has had on the province. 2:08

Still, that reduction falls well short of B.C.’s initial plan of 33 per cent below 2007 levels by 2020. But it’s a step in the right direction, Tombe said.

“Small carbon tax, small effect. Larger carbon tax, larger effect,” Tombe said. “But it’s not the case that the initially modest carbon tax will have no effect.”

Alberta became the second province to introduce a carbon tax on Jan. 1, 2017, when it began levying a $20-per-tonne charge on emissions from fossil fuels. That rose to $30 per tonne in 2018, and it’s set to follow the federal increase to $50 by 2022. 

The Alberta NDP government expected it would bring in $5.4 billion over three years, some of which would go back to consumers through rebates; the rest was earmarked for various infrastructure projects.  

Other provinces have implemented other methods to reduce emissions, such as cap-and-trade. In this form, the government sets emission targets for businesses and organizations. Companies that know they will exceed the limit can buy credits from others who have leftover ones. It was the intention of Ontario to use such a system until Ford was elected and scrapped those plans.

2020 goals

While a carbon tax is widely lauded by economists as an effective — and cost-effective — way to reduce emissions, it remains to be seen what the results of Trudeau’s plan will be.

“Certainly we shouldn’t expect to see a big change [in emissions] suddenly. But it’s not the case that a $20 per tonne will have no effect on emissions,” Tombe said. “And as the carbon tax level increases, the effect on emissions — because there will be a stronger incentive to lower emissions — we’ll see a bigger effect.”

Rivers said the way to reduce emissions significantly is to raise the carbon tax even higher — more than the 2020 goal of $50 a tonne — or implement more effective ways of reducing fossil fuel emissions that would work in tandem with the carbon tax.

Even then, Rivers says, “It’s too early to tell if whether that will get us there.”

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Top 5 Analytics Trends That Are Shaping The Future

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Digital transformation is increasingly becoming the focus for many CIOs around the world today—with analytics playing a fundamental role in driving the future of the digital economy.

While data is important to every business, it is necessary for businesses to have a firm grip on data analytics to allow them transform raw pieces of data into important insights. However, unlike the current trends in business intelligence—which is centred around data visualization—the future of data analytics would encompass a more contextual experience.

“The known data analytics development cycle is described in stages: from descriptive (what happened) to diagnostic (why did it happen), to discovery (what can we learn from it), to predictive (what is likely to happen), and, finally, to prescriptive analytics (what action is the best to take),” said Maurice op het Veld is a partner at KPMG Advisory in a report.

“Another way of looking at this is that data analytics initially “supported” the decision-making process but is now enabling “better” decisions than we can make on our own.”

Here are some of the current trends that arealready shaping the future of data analytics in individuals and businesses.

  1. Growth in mobile devices

With the number of mobile devices expanding to include watches, digital personal assistants, smartphones, smart glasses, in-car displays, to even video gaming systems, the final consumption plays a key role on the level of impact analytics can deliver.

Previously, most information consumers accessed were on a computer with sufficient room to view tables, charts and graphs filled with data, now, most consumers require information delivered in a format well optimized for whatever device they are currently viewing it on.

Therefore, the content must be personalized to fit the features of the user’s device and not just the user alone.

  1. Continuous Analytics

More and more businesses are relying on the Internet of Things (IoT) and their respective streaming data—which in turn shortens the time it takes to capture, analyze and react to the information gathered. Therefore, while analytics programspreviously were termed successful when results were delivered within days or weeks of processing, the future of analytics is bound to drastically reduce this benchmark to hours, minutes, seconds—and even milliseconds.

“All devices will be connected and exchange data within the “Internet of Things” and deliver enormous sets of data. Sensor data like location, weather, health, error messages, machine data, etc. will enable diagnostic and predictive analytics capabilities,” noted Maurice.

“We will be able to predict when machines will break down and plan maintenance repairs before it happens. Not only will this be cheaper, as you do not have to exchange supplies when it is not yet needed, but you can also increase uptime.”

  1. Augmented Data Preparation

During the process of data preparation, machine learning automation will begin to augment data profiling and data quality, enrichment, modelling, cataloguing and metadata development.

Newer techniques would include supervised, unsupervised and reinforcement learning which is bound to enhance the entire data preparation process. In contrast to previous processes—which depended on rule-based approach to data transformation—this current trend would involve advanced machine learning processes that would evolve based on recent data to become more precise at responding to changes in data.

  1. Augmented Data Discovery

Combined with the advancement in data preparation, a lot of these newer algorithms now allow information consumers to visualize and obtain relevant information within the data with more ease. Enhancements such as automatically revealing clusters, links, exceptions, correlation and predictions with pieces of data, eliminate the need for end users to build data models or write algorithms themselves.

This new form of augmented data discovery will lead to an increase in the number of citizen data scientist—which include information users who, with the aid of augmented assistance can now identify and respond to various patterns in data faster and a more distributed model.

  1. AugmentedData Science

It is important to note that the rise of citizen data scientist will not in any way eliminate the need for a data scientist who gathers and analyze data to discover profitable opportunities for the growth of a business. However, as these data scientists give room for citizen data scientists to perform the easier tasks, their overall analysis becomes more challenging and equally valuable to the business.

As time goes by, machine learning would be applied in other areas such as feature and model selection. This would free up some of the tasks performed by data scientist and allow them focus on the most important part of their job, which is to identify specific patterns in the data that can potentially transform business operations and ultimately increase revenue.

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Waterloo drone-maker Aeryon Labs bought by U.S. company for $265M

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Waterloo’s Aeryon Labs has been bought by Oregon-based FLIR Systems Inc. for $256 million, or $200 million US.

The acquisition was announced Monday. 

Dave Kroetsch, co-founder and chief technology officer of Aeryon Labs, says not much will change in the foreseeable future.

“The Waterloo operations of Aeryon Labs will actually continue as they did yesterday with manufacturing, engineering and all the functions staying intact in Waterloo and ultimately, we see growing,” he said.

“The business here is very valuable to FLIR and our ability to sell internationally is a key piece of keeping these components of the business here in Canada.”

Aeroyn Labs builds high-performance drones that are sold to a variety of customers including military, police services and commercial businesses. The drones can provide high-resolution images for surveillance and reconnaissance.

The drones already include cameras and thermal technology from FLIR. Jim Cannon, president and CEO of FLIR Systems, said acquiring Aeryon Labs is part of the company’s strategy to move beyond sensors “to the development of complete solutions that save lives and livelihoods.”

‘A piece of a bigger solution’

Kroetsch said this is a good way for the company to grow into something bigger.

“We see the business evolving in much the direction our business has been headed over the last couple of years. And that’s moving beyond the drone as a product in and of itself as a drone as a piece of a bigger solution,” he said.

For example, FLIR bought a drone company that builds smaller drones that look like little helicopters.

“We can imagine integrating those with our drones, perhaps having ours carry their drones and drop them off,” he said.

FLIR also does border security systems, which Kroetsch says could use the drones to allow border agents to look over a hill where there have been issues.

“We see the opportunity there as something that we never could have done on our own but being involved with and part of a larger company that’s already providing these solutions today gives us access not only to these great applications, but also to some fantastic technologies,” he said.

Aeryon Labs has done a lot of work during emergency disasters, including in Philippines after Typhoon Hagupit in 2014, Ecuador after an earthquake in 2016 and the Fort McMurray wildfire in 2016.

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Inuvik infrastructure may not be ready for climate change, says study

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The Arctic is expected to get warmer and wetter by the end of this century and new research says that could mean trouble for infrastructure in Inuvik.

The study from Global Water Futures looked at how climate change could impact Havipak Creek — which crosses the Dempster Highway in Inuvik, N.W.T. — and it predicts some major water changes.

“They were quite distressing,” John Pomeroy, director of Global Water Futures and the study’s lead author, said of the findings.

Researchers used a climate model and a hydrological model to predict future weather and climate patterns in the region. They also looked at data gathered from 1960 to the present. 

If greenhouse gas emissions continue at their current rate — which Pomeroy said they are on track to do — the study projects the region will be 6.1 C warmer by 2099 and precipitation, particularly rain, will increase by almost 40 per cent.

The study also found that the spring flood will be earlier and twice as large, and the permafrost will thaw an additional 25 centimetres. While the soil is expected to be wetter early in the summer, the study said it will be drier in late summer, meaning a higher risk of wildfires.

John Pomeroy is the director of Global Water Futures. (Erin Collins/CBC)

“The model’s painting kind of a different world than we’re living in right now for the Mackenzie Delta region,” Pomeroy said.

He noted these changes are not only expected for Havipak Creek, but also for “many, many creeks along the northern part of the Dempster [Highway].”

Pomeroy said the deeper permafrost thaw and a bigger spring flood could pose challenges for buildings, roads, culverts and crossings in the area that were designed with the 20th century climate in mind.

He said the projected growth of the snowpack and the spring flood are “of grave concern because that’s what washes out the Dempster [Highway] and damages infrastructure in the area.”

Culverts and bridges may have to be adjusted to allow room for greater stream flows, Pomeroy said. And building foundations that are dependent upon the ground staying frozen will have to be reinforced or redesigned.

Pomeroy said the ultimate solution is for humans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

“This study is the future we’re heading for, but it’s not the future we necessarily have if we can find a way to reduce those gases,” he said.  

“It’d be far smarter to get those emissions under control than to pay the terrible expenses for infrastructure and endangered safety of humans and destroyed ecosystems.”

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