A strange thing happened in British Columbia last month. The provincial government released a climate plan touting its success as a climate leader as a result of the groundbreaking carbon tax and strong emissions reduction targets for 2020 and 2050 that were legislated in 2008. It then proceeded to lay out a new plan that ignores the recommendations of its own Climate Leadership Team to meet those targets and build on the carbon tax success.

The government’s new plan will not meet the 2020 targets, nor did the province accept our recommendation to set a new 2030 target. Under the new plan, provincial emissions will not be reduced for over a decade. At least half of the “emissions reductions” the government outlines in its new plan come not from reducing fossil fuel emissions but from tree planting, a dubious claim at best.

Here is how it breaks down. Instead of taking action to cut carbon pollution relative to today’s levels — which was the original goal — the government’s plan would maintain today’s carbon pollution levels for the next decade and a half. Under a do-nothing scenario, carbon pollution is expected to climb by 11 million tonnes from today, the equivalent of adding 3 million cars to the road. The government plan will then cut carbon pollution by 12 million tonnes, and so the actual drop in carbon pollution by 2030 is just 1 million tonnes compared with today.

BC’s Climate Leadership Team recommended that the province aim for a 28-million-tonne reduction by 2030 from today’s levels (a 40 percent reduction from 2007 levels) to be on track to meet its 2050 targets. This plan is nowhere close to that target.

Berman figure

GRAPHIC: Emissions Projections and Targets Based on Reductions Stated in BC’s Climate Plan. (Modified by Clean Energy Canada from p. 12 of B.C.’s Climate Leadership Plan.) 

In the hours and days that followed, the government responded to heavy criticism of the plan by arguing that it needed to “wait for other jurisdictions to catch up” and to study concerns about the competitiveness of industry and affordability.

As a member of the government-appointed Climate Leadership Team, I know these comments to be disingenuous at best. When we were given the task of making recommendations to get BC back on track toward its legislated targets, we were told that addressing affordability and competitiveness was a critical task of the team. In the months that followed, we studied the impact that the carbon tax had had to date and found that the tax credits put in place for low-income households, rural and northern communities were working.

We found (as did the World Bank in its groundbreaking study on carbon pricing and competitiveness released earlier this year) that there was little evidence of competitiveness concerns, and that if we adjusted other costs (we recommended decreasing the provincial sales tax) in concert with an escalating carbon tax, BC would maintain a high carbon price to stimulate investment in clean technology, while ensuring a competitive business environment.

Had the government been serious about addressing these issues, it would have met with the Climate Leadership Team and industry in the nine months since we tabled our recommendations and worked to identify and address any other competitiveness or affordability concerns. It did not. Of the 32 recommendations from the Climate Leadership Team, not a single one was accepted in full. The government press release notes that its new “plan” “works on” 18 of our recommendations.

The bottom line is that last week British Columbia solidified its new position as a climate laggard, a fall from grace under way since Premier Christy Clark was elected and made the decision to “freeze” the carbon tax despite all the reports showing that it was working to reduce emissions while maintaining a strong economy.

Sadly, given that it is an election year in British Columbia, it seems that climate policy has become a political football once again. Just days after the announcement, the BC Liberals put out a press release claiming, “The BC NDP would hit BC families with higher taxes, with increases year after year.” Ironically, in 2008 it was the NDP that campaigned against the Liberals and the carbon tax with its “axe the tax” campaign.

It is also likely that this climate plan is a result of the BC Liberals’ fear that a strong climate plan could further spook the liquid natural gas (LNG) companies that they have been courting with so little success. Or maybe this non-climate plan is simply a provincial jurisdiction holding its cards close to its chest and waiting for the federal government to make the first move. Climate policy in Canada is a complicated poker table these days – the federal government faces decisions on whether to approve the giant Petronas LNG project that the BC Liberals desperately want, as well as the controversial Kinder Morgan Transmountain pipeline. Meanwhile, Ottawa is in the midst of developing a national carbon pricing strategy and a climate plan to meet Canada’s commitments made at the Conference of the Parties in Paris last year.

In the end, climate leadership should be defined by whether a jurisdiction is doing its fair share to reduce emissions, meeting its emissions reductions targets and setting a direction that provides certainty for clean tech investments and a clear pathway to our global commitment of net zero emissions by the second half of the century. California’s Zero Emission Vehicle targets, Ontario’s coal phase-out and its target of zero greenhouse gas emissions for small buildings by 2030, and Alberta’s new commitment to limit emissions from the oilsands are, in my opinion, directional leadership that sets a higher bar for other jurisdictions.

What does BC’s plan signal to the marketplace or to other jurisdictions? Apparently that we “lead” by waiting for others.

Photo: Darryl Dyck / The Canadian Press


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Tzeporah Berman
Tzeporah Berman was appointed to British Columbia's Climate Leadership Team in 2015. She is currently the co-chair of the Alberta government’s Oilsands Advisory Group. She has been designing environmental campaigns and policy for over 25 years in Canada and internationally. An adjunct professor at York University’s Environmental Studies Program, she is the author of This Crazy Time: Living Our Environmental Challenge (Knopf Canada, 2012).

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