British Columbia Abandons Climate Leadership

George Hoberg
August 19, 2016

Clean Energy Canada corrects BC gov p. 12 graph

After repeated delays, Premier Christy Clark announced British Columbia’s new climate policy today. Friday August 19, at 1 PM. As the announcement has been dragged out, any expectations for meaningful progress were very low. But even by that low bar, this plan is disappointing. The province seems to have abandoned all pretense of being a climate leader.

Climate policy experts from around the world have examined BC carbon tax a model progressive carbon policy initiative. I doubt they will be anymore.

Effective climate policies have at least 2 core ingredients: legally-enforceable carbon pollution reduction targets, and a suite of policies that can be demonstrated to meet those pollution reduction targets. Today’s plan fails both of those tests.

Targets Abandoned

The province has, shamefully, failed to comply with its 2020 pollution reduction target. In fact, the 2020 target is completely ignored in today’s plan. But the province of BC is currently required by law to reduce its GHG emissions by 33% by 2020; it’s right there in the Greenhouse Gas Reduction Targets Act (Section 2.1). While the government never commented on it, the government-appointed Climate Leadership Team acknowledged that the 2020 target couldn’t be met.

But the Climate Leadership Team proposed a sensible alternative: an ambitious 2030 target of 40% reduction below 2007 levels. But the government ignored that call. The only remaining target is for 2050, which is too far in the future to guide near term decisions. So we no longer have meaningful emission reduction targets.

Plainly Inadequate Policies

The policies proposed in the plan can’t credibly put us on a path to meet that 2050 target.

BC uses 2007 as its baseline year. In that year, emissions were 66.3 million tonnes. In 2012, it was able to achieve it 6% interim reduction target, but since then emissions have started to come back up and in 2014 (in the inventory figures just released) BC’s emissions were 62.7 million tonnes, 5.5% below the 2007 baseline.

The plan claims to reduce emissions by 25 million tonnes by 2050 below projected 2050 emissions (It doesn’t provide a 2050 business as usual projection but look like it’s 77 MT). So even if they achieve the projected reductions (see below), 2050 emissions are projected to be 52 million tonnes (this according to Clean Energy Canada – the province did not include the projection in its bizarre graph on p. 12). BC’s legislated emission target for 2050 is 13 MT tonnes – so there’s a 39 MT gap in the plan. In other words, the government’s plan, even if implemented, would not even get the province half way to where it needs to be.

Using forests for reductions

Even the limited policies offered by the plan are poorly supported and not credible in their current form. The plan claims to get half of the reductions by 2050 (12 MT) by “enhancing the carbon storage potential of BC’s forests.” There is no rationale provided in the document for that 12 MT figure, and there are no accompanying commitments to regulation or funding to achieve that level of reduction.

There are real and cost-effective ways to use forests to reduce the province’s greenhouse gas emissions. The challenge is the complexity of designing and measuring forest sector reductions. That complexity makes it harder to ensure that emission reductions are real and verifiable. If the province is intending to rely increasingly on forest emission reductions, it will need a much more vigilant regulatory program, and substantially more investment, than we’ve had in the past.

Forestry can play a role in emissions reductions but, if we want to make the sort of reductions required to meet that 2050 target, it can’t substitute for reducing emissions from fossil fuel use and industrial processes.

Maybe now’s the time for federal leadership

Canada has committed to reducing its emissions by 30% (from 2005 levels) by 2030. BC, once an ambitious climate leader, now proposes virtually no reductions by 2030 (if all their policies are implemented successfully emissions would be only 3% lower (not a typo)). Provincial initiatives are failing to put Canada on a path to meet our international commitments.

I’ve long been skeptical of the Canadian approach of letting provinces lead on climate policy. Today’s disappointing actions by the BC government strengthen the argument that it is time for the federal government to step in and show real leadership on climate policy.

Note: I’m part of the Pacific Institute for Climate Solutions Forest Carbon Mitigation Project, but the views expressed here are solely my own.

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