Martyn Brown: Andrew Weaver’s worthy war on climate apathy

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      Assume for just a second that you are a premier who actually really gives a tinker’s damn about reducing British Columbia’s greenhouse gas emissions, mitigating global warming, and adapting to climate change.

      You could do a lot worse than appoint to your cabinet someone who was a lead author in four United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change scientific assessments that earned that group, and U.S. Vice President Al Gore, the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize.

      You might consider inviting that individual to lead your climate action efforts.

      An elected MLA who also authored and coauthored over 200 peer-reviewed papers in climate, meteorology, oceanography, earth science, policy, education and anthropology journals. An individual who was the Canada Research Chair in climate modelling and analysis in the School of Earth and Ocean Sciences at the University of Victoria.

      Why would you not ask that person to sit at your cabinet table? Surely not because he is additionally a fellow of the Royal Society of Canada, Canadian Meteorological and Oceanographic Society, American Association for the Advancement of Science, and the American Meteorological Society.

      He might just be a valuable asset, this person who was awarded the Order of British Columbia, the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Medal, a Killam Research Fellowship, a Guggenheim fellowship, the Royal Society of Canada Miroslaw Romanowski Medal, and the A.G. Huntsman Award for Excellence in Marine Science.

      And, oh yeah, he also wrote a couple books about coping with the challenge of global warming.

      Why would you not beg that brainiac to lead your government’s climate action efforts?

      In a word, because you are stupid. Partisan politics makes normally wise people act in the dumbest ways.

      The only conceivable reason that a John Horgan NDP administration, which purports to care about climate action, would not ask that individual to come aboard is because his name is Andrew Weaver. A too Green leader, who is at this moment, a partisan adversary and a serious political threat to the NDP’s traditional coalition.

      It raises the intriguing question: if reelected and if asked, would Andrew Weaver ever agree to serve in a Horgan cabinet?

      Please, God, I hope so. Because of all Weaver did in shaping the Campbell government’s climate action plan in 2008, as a crucial member of its Climate Leadership Team (CLT). Unlike Christy Clark’s CLT 2.0, that expert advisory body was actually listened to. Its advice was actually heeded.

      This I know firsthand, as someone who also played a key role in developing that administration’s globally applauded climate action strategy.

      Politics does make strange bedfellows. It also has a way of estranging natural allies like Weaver, whose B.C. Green party has once again showed why its voice is so valuable on issues like climate action.

      Relax, New Democrats. Put away the garlic and holy water. You can drive a stake through my heart later.

      I am not here to shill for the Greens in some nefarious effort to help split “your” vote and reelect the only party that I’m sure I won’t be voting for on May 9. The last thing I want is to reward the Clark government with another term in office.

      What I do want, however, is to really believe that Horgan’s New Democrats are truly committed to meaningful climate action in government.

      Sadly, their recently released climate action plan does not give me that confidence. It just doesn’t measure up, compared to the B.C. Green party’s climate action platform, which was largely written by a former long-serving head of the Climate Action Secretariat.

      Indeed, I find it rather disheartening that the Greens’ more aggressive and pointedly prescriptive plan did not garner the public support it deserved. Especially from the jilted members of Christy Clark’s Climate Leadership Team, whose advice was utterly ignored.

      Last May, seven members of that group issued a letter slamming the Clark government for its lack of action. It warned that the “Climate Leadership Team recommendations, implemented in their entirety, provide the blueprint for a B.C. climate plan to put the province back on track for the 2050 and interim 2030 targets. Anything less is not climate leadership.”

      The Pembina Institute followed up with a release stressing that “anything less than the full package of recommendations, including an increasing carbon tax, will mean B.C. will miss its 2050 target”.

      Yet many of those same individuals tripped over themselves to applaud the NDP’s plan, when it came out, even though it substantially watered down the CLT’s carbon tax recommendations and ignored all but a handful of its 32 recommendations.

      The Greens’ plan did get a thumbs-up from the David Suzuki Foundation, which said it was "the first platform we've seen from a major B.C. party that goes beyond the minimum standard for carbon pricing set by the federal government". It was also mildly applauded by the Pembina Institute.

      Other than those organizations, however, the comparative silence on Weaver’s much more detailed, considered, and committed vision on climate action was deafening.

      NDP Leader John Horgan supports the Climate Leadership Team's emissions targets for 2030, but hasn't explained how this will be achieved. 

      NDP's climate strategy differs from Weaver's

      My strong hunch is that the NDP’s traditional support organizations and backers did not want to do anything to either negatively rock John Horgan’s world, when his plan was released, or to breathe added new momentum in Andrew Weaver’s Green ranks, when his plan was put out—notably without even being properly covered by his hometown paper, the Times Colonist.

      As such, the “nonpartisan” partisans circled their orange wagons in a decided attempt to marginalize, or at least not elevate, the Green party. And that’s a shame.

      In large measure, the NDP’s climate “action” strategy is a plan to develop a new plan, under the auspices of a reconvened Climate Leadership Team. Although it embraces the CLT’s GHG emissions reduction targets for 2030—as the Greens’ plan also does—it says virtually nothing about how it will achieve them.

      Fact is, neither the NDP’s plan nor the Green party’s plan embraces anywhere close to all of the CLT’s recommendations, which I have extensively critiqued in a four-part series on DeSmog, for anyone masochistic enough to read my detailed assessment.

      As I argued, the CLT’s plan was largely a gift to Big Oil, insofar as it proposed massive new subsidies to facilitate LNG and other fossil fuel development. By accepting the Clark government’s pipedreams for LNG and oil sands pipelines, the truly green members of the CLT got coopted and politically outplayed by the resource industry representatives.

      The CLT was faced with the impossible project of somehow enabling British Columbia to meet its target of an 80 percent reduction in GHGs by 2050, while also more than doubling carbon emissions from increased fossil fuel development. Ludicrous.

      Its solution? A more than ten-fold increase in the carbon tax over the next 34 years that would see that tax rise from today’s current level of $30 a tonne of CO2e emissions, to $360 a tonne by 2050. It was never going to fly, politically, as I explained in DeSmog.

      About the only CLG recommendation that the Clark government did accept in its preposterously named climate “leadership” plan was to eliminate the industrial sales tax on electricity—a whopping gift to Big Oil, aimed at further subsidizing LNG exports.

      Bottom line is, the CLT’s plan had some great aspirational content, with toothless targets that did not even kick in until 2030, and that were devoid of any meaningful political accountability.

      It, too, was largely just a plan to develop a tangible climate action plan through subsequent reviews and planning processes, its proposed targets and taxes notwithtstanding.

      Nevertheless, the B.C. Green party accepted the CLT’s primary recommendation to increase the carbon tax by $10 per tonne annually for at least the next four years, starting in 2018. That is real leadership, politically perilous though it may be.

      The Greens’ plan would therefore increase B.C.’s carbon tax by $40 per tonne over that period, more than doubling the current rate, to $70 by 2021. It would likely be another $10 per tonne higher by 2022, hitting $80 by 2022.

      The NDP effectively rejected the CLT’s advice and instead only promised to implement “the full scope and intent of the team’s recommendations in a manner that is consistent with our five core principles and the federally mandated carbon tax”.

      You could drive a dirty-diesel Mack truck through that intentionally open-ended “commitment”.

      The NDP would only raise the carbon tax to meet the federally mandated $50 per tonne by 2022, starting in 2020, with a $6 hike in that year, followed by $7 increases in each of the next two years.

      The NDP’s carbon tax plan is not dissimilar to the Liberals’. They too only plan on meeting the minimal federally prescribed carbon pricing levels, but with $10 increases in 2021 and 2022.

      Fact is, neither the Liberals’ or NDP’s plans will have a prayer of enabling B.C. to reduce its emissions by 40 percent by 2030, as the Greens and NDP would imagine, echoing the CLT’s proposed new target.

      The proposed Pacific Northwest LNG project would boost B.C. greenhouse gas emissions by 8.5 percent.

      Megaprojects carry megacosts to the public

      The Greens’ plan starts earlier and not only increases the price of carbon pollution as the CLT suggested, but it also goes further than that advisory body or than the NDP have proposed in taxing so-called “fugitive” and “vented emissions”.

      Those unintentional emissions mostly relate to the production, processing, transmission, storage, delivery of fossil fuels, and to the intentional combustion of fossil fuels not used to generate useful heat or electricity. All unwanted byproducts of the fossil fuel industry that will impose much higher carbon taxes and other costs on the rest of us than would otherwise be required, if simply did not encourage its expansion.

      Today, those emissions account for some 19 percent of B.C.’s carbon emissions, yet the fugitive emissions are not even covered by the carbon tax. The Greens want to change that by subjecting all those CO2e emissions to a $10 a tonne carbon tax, starting in 2018, which would rise to $50 a tonne by 2021.

      They also want to apply the carbon tax to forest slash pile burning, which accounts for about 15 percent of B.C.’s GHG emissions.

      Bravo, I say.

      That would go a long way towards meeting the CLT’s proposed goal of a 40 percent reduction for fugitive and vented methane within five years—an issue, target, and problem that the NDP plan does not even mention and that the B.C. Liberals only pay lip service to.

      I won’t bore you with the many other glaring comparative weaknesses in the NDP plan, which like the Green plan, envisions investing new carbon tax proceeds in clean technologies, transit enhancements, and other priorities aimed at reducing emissions.

      Sparse as Weaver’s plan surely is on specific mitigation measures, it at least speaks to the main pathways to GHG reductions. Namely, behavioral changes, energy efficiency, low carbon fuels and materials, and carbon “sinks”.

      Most materially, the Greens are the only party flat-out rejecting the expansion of fossil fuel resource development.

      The NDP is also admirably opposing specific projects, including the Pacific Northwest LNG project and the Kinder Morgan oil sands pipeline project.

      The Greens go further in saying that massive increases in natural gas extraction and heavy oil extraction should have no place in our carbon planning future. Not if we hope to stand any chance of meeting the Trudeau government’s international emission reduction commitments, which right now, are a sad joke. Not if we hope to meet B.C.’s legislated GHG reduction targets.

      The Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency said that the proposed Pacific NorthWest LNG plant alone would increase provincial greenhouse gas emissions by 8.5 percent. That project’s related upstream emissions would represent 10 to 14 percent of provincial emissions, based on 2013 levels.

      Noted economist Robyn Allan has calculated that the Kinder Morgan project alone will cost B.C. motorists over $100 million extra every year, on top of the carbon tax. That’s because the project’s $7.4 billion capital cost for Trans Mountain's expanded pipeline will increase the tolls for delivering light oil and petroleum products by 156 percent.

      We will all pay through the nose for project like those and the heavily subsidized Woodfibre LNG project near Squamish, which will cost all B.C. Hydro ratepayers untold sums in hidden electricity rate increases.

      This is nuts, folks. The mostly short-term construction jobs those projects will create will largely be filled by foreign skilled workers, not by British Columbians. They will all generate whopping wads of dough for the Big Oil companies, as they compound our existing emission challenges and cost us all way, way more than whatever we imagine we might get in return as a province.

      No party is calling for climate accountability

      The Greens speak to general strategies on each of those points, without proposing many concrete tactical actions for meeting their related objectives. Still, their plan offers far more than what the NDP or Liberals have proposed—or than what the CLT specifically prescribed or contemplated.

      Which is to say, their climate plan is the only real one worthy of that claim, though it still needs a lot of work.

      Most obviously, all of the parties’ plans lack any short-term targets or any measures for political accountability.

      I can tell you, if it were not for the short-term legislated emissions reductions that the Campbell government put in place for 2012 and 2016, British Columbia would not have reduced its emissions in that period.

      The Clark government’s answer to its failures in leadership was to formally abandon B.C.’s legislated GHG reduction targets for 2020. Big deal, you say?

      No doubt, that is exactly the B.C. Liberals’ response.

      There are no consequences for failure or for blatantly ignoring the law. And that’s a big problem, if we are really serious about being accountable for meeting any legislated targets.

      With no GHG reduction targets at all until 2030, and no penalties for those who fail to act in the public interest to meet, I can assure you, they will not be met.

      If anything, we should be putting in place annual targets that are reviewed each year by a newly created climate action auditor.

      Just as cabinet ministers have a portion of their salary held back each year which is only returned if they live up to their balanced budget obligations, we should hold back a further five percent of their cabinet pay that they would only get back if the climate auditor determines they have acted responsibly.

      That would be real accountability. It would sure focus the politicians’ minds on that vital task at hand, as compared to the status quo, where climate action is entirely off the radar and our government breaks its own laws with impunity.

      Regardless of what you think of Weaver and his Greens, they have gone further than any other party has in making climate action a significant platform priority. They have already raised the bar for the NDP in ways that should be applauded.

      Nothing would make me happier—or more confident about the NDP’s true commitment to climate action—than to see Weaver one day leading that charge in cabinet. 

      Then again, his party might elect more than one MLA. It could hold the balance of power in a minority government.

      In either of those scenarios, look out. Because the Greens might well make a serious impact for the better in mitigating British Columbia’s greenhouse gas emissions.

      Weaver’s plan did not have anything much to say about adapting to climate change, which is equally important and problematic, as Charlie Smith has highlighted in his stories on the implications of rising sea levels.

      Stay tuned. I expect that the Greens will have much more yet to say about that climate action challenge.

      In the meantime, it is worth remembering Weaver’s words from last June about his own future in public office. He said, “If I am alone in the B.C. Legislature, hear it first and hear it now, I am not going run a third term … I will not run three terms if I do not get a substantial number of MLAs joining me in the B.C. Legislature.”

      Alone or not, his voice and his party’s contribution is important, on this issue especially.

      Horgan would impress the hell out of me if he vowed to acknowledge and respect that fact, if his party forms the government, come what may.

      A snowball’s chance in B.C.’s white-hot political climate, you say?

      Too true, at present, in the heat of the campaign. But after? Who knows?

      Martyn Brown was former B.C. premier Gordon Campbell’s long-serving chief of staff, the top strategic advisor to three provincial party leaders, and a former deputy minister of tourism, trade, and investment in British Columbia. Contact Brown at