The BC NDP government has set itself up for a major test this fall: It promises to unveil a clean-growth strategy that will drive the province’s greenhouse-gas emissions down dramatically, somehow making room for a huge new GHG-producing industry.
Premier John Horgan is increasingly confident that his government will celebrate a positive final investment decision for the LNG Canada project in October. The proposal by a Shell-led consortium for an LNG export facility in Kitimat and a pipeline across northern British Columbia means an investment in the province of an estimated $40-billion.
If it goes ahead, it will be an economic coup for the NDP – it was former BC Liberal premier Christy Clark who laid the foundation for an LNG industry, but she never got to cut a ribbon. For the New Democrats, who were branded by Ms. Clark as the “party of no” on economic development, it will be a delicious irony to secure this investment.
But Ms. Clark didn’t stress about meeting climate action targets − under her watch, the province abandoned its legislated reduction targets for the year 2020.
Mr. Horgan, however, has promised to get the province’s climate plan back on track by 2030, and that means major reductions in GHG emissions across the board.
From wellhead to dockside, the emissions from LNG Canada would be massive. The company says two megatonnes of GHGs a year would be produced in the first phase of the project − but it doesn’t include the significant amount of GHGs produced in extracting gas from the ground and sending it to the coast by pipeline. The Pembina Institute, a non-profit think tank that promotes clean-energy policies, does include upstream production, and estimates the project would add 8.6 megatonnes of GHGs to the atmosphere in 2030 – the year B.C. is supposed to have reduced its total emissions below 39 megatonnes.
Whatever the final number, LNG Canada will have what Mr. Horgan says is a significant GHG footprint. Which would mean that every other sector – transportation, the built environment (such as home heating) and industry will have to cut far more to make room for LNG Canada – if the project goes ahead.
In an interview, Mr. Horgan said he believes it can be done but acknowledged it will take sacrifices from other sectors to land LNG and still meet the targets. He stressed that the business community in B.C. is prepared to make it happen.
“We have been speaking to industry broadly, and they are almost unanimous – the Board of Trade, the Business Council, the Chamber of Commerce – they want to see this development take place. Those same organizations have also said they are supportive of climate action and want to see emissions reduced across the board," he said. "So if we have an increase in emissions from the advent of LNG, then we are going to have to see concurrent reductions in other sectors.”
Even if business supports the plan, Mr. Horgan needs to win another ally.
Green Party Leader Andrew Weaver says he is optimistic about the coming clean-growth strategy – but says he is struggling to figure out how it is possible to accommodate an LNG industry in that.
Mr. Weaver, the climate scientist-cum-politician whose party holds the balance of power in the minority government, has softened his stand from an absolute “no” on LNG, although he maintains that the NDP efforts to secure an LNG industry is “galling” and a “generational sellout.”
After an indecisive provincial election, the Greens agreed to a formal alliance with the NDP in 2017, allowing Mr. Horgan to take power after 16 years of Liberal government. Mr. Weaver said in January that he would bring the government down if Mr. Horgan pursued the “folly” of LNG.
Now he says: “I’m giving the NDP the benefit of the doubt.” He wants to see the plan, which won’t be released until after the proponents of LNG Canada have made a final investment decision.
But Mr. Weaver accepts the Pembina Institute’s estimates for the project’s GHG emissions, and said at that rate, it is difficult to see how the NDP government could meet its new legislated targets for emissions reductions. He said his caucus is prepared to withdraw his support for the NDP government if they aren’t persuaded the new climate plan adds up.