Today (August 19), the province released a highly anticipated policy document that outlines B.C.’s strategy for limiting greenhouse-gas emissions and combating climate change.
Environmental organizations immediately expressed disappointment and criticized the plan for failing to include key recommendations made by the government’s own “climate leadership team”.
The document, released on a Friday afternoon in August, potentially to attract as little attention as possible, makes clear that B.C. has essentially abandoned its legislated goal to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions by 33 percent below 2007 levels by the year 2020.
In addition, the plan makes no mention of a recommendation made by the leadership team that stated that B.C. should implement a legislated target for 2030 to reduce emissions by 40 percent below 2007 levels by that date.
The provincial government states it is still “committed” to reduce emissions by 80 percent below 2007 levels by 2050. However, the government’s discussion of that goal is somewhat pessimistic.
“The pathway to that goal is not always clear, as true sustainability means balancing environmental, economic, and social concerns,” the document states. “An action that improves environmental performance cannot be considered sustainable if it works against our economic competitiveness, driving jobs, and emissions to other jurisdictions, or if it raises the cost of living so that British Columbians struggle to make ends meet. There is no silver bullet here.”
According to the Pembina Institute, a Vancouver-based think tank, B.C.’s emissions are not projected to significantly decrease over the next decade while those of other provinces are expected to fall.
A second important recommendation that the government’s plan leaves out is an increase of the carbon tax, which has remained at $30 a tonne since 2012.
The leadership team suggested increases of $10 per year beginning in July 2018 in a manner that remains revenue neutral via a one-percent decrease of the provincial-sales tax.
The document released today makes no mention of any planned increase.
“A key area that we know will require further action is carbon pricing,” it reads. “Our carbon tax already leads the country—now we must work with our provincial and federal partners to develop a carbon pricing model that works for all. It is a complex issue that will require extensive coordination to ensure that it is effective.”
Many of the document’s more specific points concern liquefied natural gas and plans to develop a major LNG industry in B.C.
Those plans include reducing gas leaks at production, processing, and transport points; utilizing carbon capture and storage technologies; and improving electrical infrastructure to power LNG facilities more efficiently.
The province has long maintained that the development of a large LNG sector in B.C. will serve as part of a “global climate solution”. It has argued that LNG can be sold to other countries to help them transition away from dirtier fossil fuels.
However, several studies, including a 2014 article published in Nature, present a different picture.
That study sought to examine if burning more natural gas would, on a global scale, result in an overall decrease in the release of greenhouse gas emissions. It will not, the Nature article states. Models predict that more LNG will not replace the burning of coal at any significant rate, and that LNG instead will only add more emissions to the global energy mix.
An October 2014 report by the Pembina Institute presents evidence of the same conclusion.
In an August 19 media release, Pembina’s B.C. director, Josha MacNab, described the provincial plan unveiled today as having “missed key opportunities”.
“Under the Climate Leadership Plan released today, carbon pollution will not start to significantly decline for almost 15 years—assuming all the reductions in the plan come to fruition,” she said. "This falls far short of the level of ambition needed to reach B.C.’s 2050 target and leaves the hard work for a later day.”
Merran Smith, executive director of Clean Energy Canada and a member of the climate leadership team, argued the plan forfeit's B.C.'s position as a leader on the environment.
"A climate leadership plan should do two basic things: cut carbon pollution, and help British Columbians prosper from the shift to a clean economy," she said quoted in a media release. "This plan fails on both counts."
The Wilderness Committee's Peter McCartney similarly maintained the document fails to include measures required to combat climate change.
“After months of stalling, the government has dumped a toothless plan on a Friday afternoon in August with a half-hearted shrug,” he said. “As floods, droughts and a record low salmon run in the Fraser blanket the news, it’s irresponsible and unacceptable that our so-called leaders refuse to act.”
Perhaps the toughest response, though, came from Sierra Club spokesperson Tim Pearson.
"B.C.'s so-called climate plan is a fraud," he said quoted in a media release. "It borders on a criminal betrayal of the health and welfare of future generations and the natural world.
"A credible plan would act decisively to rapidly reduce the extraction, export and use of fossil fuels. Instead, we get an elaborate Trojan horse designed to provide cover for the government's destructive LNG pipedream."
Meanwhile, support for the plan came from the B.C. Chamber of Commerce (BCCC) and the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP).
“B.C. is well ahead of other provinces on carbon regulation and we applaud the government’s decision to freeze the tax until other jurisdictions catch up,” said Maureen Kirkbride, interim CEO of the BCCC.