Climate Change Accountability Report reveals rising B.C. greenhouse-gas emissions under NDP in 2019

In John Horgan's second full year in power, emissions rose one percent, which was better than the three percent increase recorded in his first full year as premier

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      In December 2020, the B.C. government released its Climate Change Accountability Report with a fair amount of fanfare.

      There was a news release and a news conference with Environment and Climate Change Strategy Minister George Heyman.

      That led to this article, revealing that gross emissions of carbon-dioxide equivalents rose 2.2 million tonnes in the NDP's first full year in power in 2018. That amounted to a three-percent hike over 2017 emissions.

      This year, the Straight didn't receive a news release or an invitation to a news conference. I only sought out the 2021 Climate Change Accountability Report after spotting some new 2019 B.C. greenhouse-gas-emissions numbers in a recent Vancouver Sun article by Tiffany Crawford.

      The 32-page report reveals that gross greenhouse-gas emissions in B.C. rose one percent in 2019 to 68.6 million tonnes. That's up from 67.9 million tonnes of carbon-dioxide equivalents the previous year. 

      "B.C. applies emissions reductions from validated forest management offset projects to our official emissions total every year," the report points out. 

      As a result, net emissions of carbon-dioxide equivalents were 67.2 million tonnes, up slightly from the net figure of 66.9 million tonnes in 2018.

      From 2010 to 2019, gross greenhouse-gas emissions in B.C. rose eight million tonnes—or 12.8 percent—which went unmentioned in the 2021 report.

      Yet gross emissions rose only five percent by 2019 from 2007 levels, which were highlighted.

      Why the huge difference? It's because from 2007 to 2010, there was a significant drop in provincial greenhouse-gas emissions when then B.C. Liberal premier Gordon Campbell decided to make this a priority.

      The B.C. NDP was unable to match this decline in its first two full years in office.

      In fact, emissions continued growing under Premier John Horgan's leadership, just as they did during the years that Christy Clark was premier.

      The Climate Change Accountability Report echoes the approach of Stephen Harper's former Conservative government by highlighting greenhouse-gas-emission "intensity".

      The report points out that net greenhouse-gas emissions rose by only two percent from 2007 to 2019. Over the same period, the overall economy grew by 30 percent.

      "In last year’s report, the data showed the GHG intensity of our economy was down 16%, meaning GHG intensity continues to fall and is expected to decline significantly more as we reduce emissions towards our targets," the report states.

      Emissions from B.C. wildfires are not included in the figures of gross releases of carbon-dioxide equivalents in the Climate Change Accountability Report.

      Policies expected to drive down future emissions

      Even though the 2019 reporting period covered the startup period of the government's CleanBC program, overall emissions still increased. But the report states that the government expects those numbers to fall as "the full suite of policies take effect in the years to come".

      Those policies include mandating that 100 percent of new cars sold by 2040 be zero-emission vehicles, achieving a target of producing 650 million litres of low-carbon renewable fuel annuallyin B.C. by 2030, and continuing to expand Level 2 charging stations and fast-charging stations.

      New upstream methane-emission regulations took effect on January 1, 2020.

      The first legislated target won't need to be met until 2030, which drew a sharp rebuke from Campbell's former chief of staff, Martyn Brown, in a 2018 column on Straight.com.

      "It’s clear that more needs to be done for B.C. to meet its legislated targets," the Climate Change Accountability Report concedes. "New emissions projections show that existing actions in CleanBC are expected to get us approximately 40% to our 2030 target.

      "To fill this gap, the Province’s new CleanBC Roadmap to 2030 outlines a range of expanded and accelerated actions to fully meet our target by cutting more pollution and building a cleaner economy for everyone."

      The emissions for 2020 have not been released, but they're likely to post a decline, given the impact of the COVID-19 on the economy. Consumption of oil fell sharply worldwide in the months after the World Health Organization declared a pandemic in March 2020.

      However, the 2021 B.C. wildfires have led to massive emissions of carbon dioxide, as Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives B.C. office senior economist Marc Lee pointed out in a policy note.

      "Wildfire numbers are not counted in our official GHG tally because they supposedly represent 'natural disturbances' rather than impacts of human economic activity," Lee wrote earlier this year. "But these wildfires are not acts of God, they represent climate change in action—the consequence of human use of fossil fuels for energy.

      "And our over-heating atmosphere makes no distinction between the GHG emissions we choose to count and those we choose to ignore."

      So how big of a contributor are B.C. wildfires? Lee noted that in 2017, they released an estimated 163 million tonnes. That was followed by another 200 million tonnes in 2018—almost three times the "official" total. 

      By 2030, B.C. must achieve official emissions reductions of 40 percent below 2007 levels by 2030, and 60 percent reductions below 2007 levels by 2040 under provincial legislation.

      The B.C. NDP's legislated goal is 80 percent below 2007 levels by 2050.

      This is the provincewide breakdown in the Climate Change Accountability Report.

      Transportation generated most official emissions

      In 2019, transportation accounted for the greatest share of emissions in B.C., reaching 26.8 million tonnes of carbon-dioxide equivalents. That was down 0.2 million tonnes from the previous year but was up 22 percent since 2007.

      That's "largely due to increases from heavy-duty vehicles (+29%) and to a lesser extent from passenger vehicles (+14%)", the report states.

      In 2019, emissions from industry ranked second at 14.3 million tonnes, followed by buildings and communities (14.1 million tonnes), and the oil and gas sector (13.4 million tonnes).

      B.C.'s carbon tax was $40 per tonne in 2019.

      The report outlines many measures intended to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions by 2030.

      They include 1.4 million annual tonnes being curtailed by reducing methane emissions from upstream oil and gas operations by 45 percent.

      The government also expects to achieve 1.1 million annual tonnes of reduced emissions by providing clean electricity to planned natural-gas production in the Peace region and by increasing access to clean electricity with new transmission lines and interconnectivity to existing lines.

      Plus, the province hopes to achieve 0.2 million tonnes of annual reductions through carbon capture and storage.

      The province is also betting big on "renewable gas", suggesting that it can achieve a 1.9-million tonne annual reduction by 2030, according to the report.

      Not everyone is enamoured with the idea of renewable gas as one of the solutions to the climate crisis.

      Earlier this year in a commentary on this subject, the Seattle-based Sightline Institute listed for "fatal flaws": availability, cost, carbon intensity, and industry obfuscation.

      "While many electric utilities in the Northwest are beginning to understand that clean, renewable power is their only possible future, the gas utility sector is taking a different tack with a new pipe dream: renewable natural gas (RNG)," wrote Laura Feinstein and Eric de Place on the Sightline website. "These utilities aim to position RNG as the answer to decarbonization.

      "It’s an answer that would allow them to continue to grow their customer base, lock in profits from new infrastructure investment, and green up their image," they added. "Unfortunately, their RNG strategy rests on faulty assumptions and fuzzy math, plus a bit of deception."

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