Carbon emissions in British Columbia have barely budged in the 11 years since British Columbia introduced North America’s first carbon tax, but advocates say that’s because the measure alone cannot solve the problem.
Merran Smith, executive director of the Clean Energy Canada think tank, based at Simon Fraser University, said emission results released this week reflect inaction by the provincial government for the past seven years.
“You need to keep strengthening your policies or doing new policies if you’re going to keep addressing climate change,” Ms. Smith said on Tuesday.
According to data released by the provincial Environment Ministry this week, carbon emissions in British Columbia in 2017 were only slightly below 2007 levels despite a long-running strategy to fight climate change that includes the carbon tax enacted in 2008.
The data released Monday measured 64.46 million tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions in 2017 compared with 64.76 million tonnes in 2007.
“The results from 2017 … are just a product of inaction,” Ms. Smith said.
Climate change policies in B.C. have not kept up with population and industry growth, she said, echoing a point raised by other analysts on Tuesday.
Ian Bruce, of the David Suzuki Foundation, said the carbon tax had an initial impact, and is an essential part of a successful climate change plan, “but it’s not the only thing we need to do.”
Other necessary measures, said the foundation’s director of science and policy, include electric vehicles, cleaner fuels for homes and buildings, and promoting the use of clean electricity for industry.
He said B.C.'s interest in liquefied natural gas, or LNG, might be out of step with the province’s potential to lead in the clean-energy economy.
The NDP government has been criticized for supporting the LNG industry in the province. LNG Canada, a joint venture of five energy companies, has announced plans for a $40-billion project in Kitimat, B.C., that is expected to create 10,000 construction jobs.
Mark Jaccard, a professor in the school of resource and environment management at Simon Fraser, said studies show the carbon tax has reduced emissions from what they would have been.
He said it is not possible to determine the effect of a carbon tax by looking at aggregate emission numbers in an economy over time.
Mr. Jaccard said it’s necessary to have a rising carbon price or more stringent regulations on vehicles, gasoline use and electricity plants. “It’s either or or you can do both,” he said.
The carbon price now stands at $40 a tonne and is to increase to $50 a tonne by 2021. The current carbon tax amounts to about eight cents per litre of gasoline and other fuels.
The results led Environment Minister George Heyman to say this week that the province has a lot of work to do, but that the 2017 data don’t include results from the CleanBC plan.
CleanBC will require new buildings to be net-zero energy by 2032 and all new cars sold to be zero-emission by 2040. Carbon tax revenue will be used to offer incentives to energy-efficient initiatives.
Ms. Smith said the “good news” is a CleanBC program launched by the NDP last December may eventually help reduce emissions. The plan’s goal is to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 40 per cent by 2030, 60 per cent by 2040 and 80 per cent by 2050.
This week’s data are based largely on the federal government’s National Greenhouse Gas Inventory report, which is submitted to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.
With a report from The Canadian Press