B.C. Premier John Horgan released his government’s latest plan to meet its commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 on Monday, even as new data shows pollution levels steadily rising since the climate action target was set 14 years ago.
Mr. Horgan told a news conference the measures in his new “road map” will slash the annual output of carbon dioxide equivalent by 16 million tonnes by the year 2030. Combined with previously announced measures, he said the province can meet its legislated target to cut greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 40 per cent of 2007 levels by the end of this decade.
The plan will accelerate the shift to low carbon fuel standards, and promises to meet or exceed Canada’s carbon tax benchmark by 2030. The province aims to reduce the distances travelled by light-duty vehicles and to boost sales of electric vehicles. But critical details remain on the table for negotiations with the province’s heavy industrial polluters, particularly in the oil and gas sector.
Mr. Horgan said he wanted to release the plan ahead of the United Nations COP26 climate change conference in Glasgow, Scotland, that starts on Oct. 31, to showcase what can be done. “We can say to the world that we need to take these steps – here’s a practical, achievable outcome that British Columbia has put in place, and we invite the world to follow.”
Representatives of some of the province’s heavy polluters, such as the cement and mining industries, welcomed the plan. “The CleanBC road map offers new and exciting ways for the sector to … further reduce emissions and create new opportunities in a global clean economy where B.C. cement is competitive and thriving,” Michael McSweeney, president and CEO of the Cement Association of Canada, said in a statement.
But environmentalists say the province has more work to do to demonstrate that the plan will deliver the promised GHG reductions.
“We squandered decades with incrementalism and now it is not sufficient,” B.C. Green Party leader Sonia Furstenau said in an interview. “We’re going in the wrong direction and it is going to take a paradigm shift to reverse that trend.”
Karen Tam Wu, B.C. regional director at the Pembina Institute and a member of the provincial government’s Climate Solutions Council, said the plan will help B.C. reach the 2030 targets, but the government’s ambitions to build a liquefied natural gas industry remain a challenge. “The plan allows for continued natural gas development in B.C., which is out of line with recommendations from leading international scientific climate and energy bodies. Their advice was clear: If we are to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius to have a hope of a safe climate for all, we cannot allow new oil and gas fields post-2021.”
Mr. Horgan told the news conference that British Columbians understand the need for climate action, noting that in the four years he has served as Premier, the province has seen three record-breaking wildfire seasons, along with deadly, extreme weather events such as the heat dome in June that was responsible for 570 sudden deaths.
His government revamped the province’s climate action agenda three years ago, but that first Clean B.C. plan did not lay the groundwork for enough GHG reductions to meet the 2030 target. Despite years of climate-minded initiatives in B.C., including the introduction of North America’s first carbon tax in 2008, the province’s emissions have stubbornly increased.
New data released on Monday shows that between 2007, when the province set its ambitious climate action targets, and 2019, the most recent year’s information available, emissions in the province have increased by five per cent.
B.C. Environment Minister George Heyman said he expects to see that trend line to change when the data for 2020 and beyond becomes available. “We expect emissions that are being reported today and in the next year or two to plateau and then to begin to head down,” he told reporters.
Merran Smith, executive director of Clean Energy Canada and co-chair of B.C.’s Climate Solutions Council, told the news conference the new plan is “bold and courageous.” But she said the province needs to act quickly to pin down the details.
“This is really a significant world-leading and continent-leading plan,” Ms. Smith said. She noted that the province has committed to reducing oil and gas emissions over time.
“Details regarding how this will be achieved over the next six months will be critical as the sector is responsible for one-fifth of all emissions in the province,” she added. “Regulations are essential for credibly demonstrating that this plan will meet its target.”
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