When B.C. Premier Christy Clark announced the formation of a climate-action leadership team this week, the news caught many by surprise.
This is not a file that has been a priority for the government in recent years. The government has mostly been satisfied with taking bows for a carbon tax that was introduced by a previous administration. Since former Liberal premier Gordon Campbell made climate change a temporary enthusiasm midway through his tenure, the province's action on this file has stalled.
Recently, federal Environment Minister Leona Aglukkaq sent letters to the provinces admonishing them for the dismal job they've done in reaching targets to cut greenhouse-gas emissions.
It was noted in reports about Ms. Aglukkaq's missive that Alberta and British Columbia are furthest behind their goals.
B.C.'s efforts will be further compromised if the liquefied natural gas industry the province hopes to develop becomes a reality.
It is against this backdrop that Ms. Clark has convened a group to develop the next phase of the province's climate-action strategy.
The group's mandate includes responsibilities for: developing new programs to meet current CO2 targets while not compromising economic development; finding ways to collaborate with local governments on the climate file; and working with First Nations to find climate solutions.
The team itself is massive, with 19 members and an additional four special advisers. And it has an absurdly tight time frame to accomplish anything, with the first deadline being July, when all the group has to produce is a draft framework for a new climate action plan. There will then be a 30-day public consultation period on the document. There will be additional drafts and public consultation before a final plan is released publicly just less than a year from now.
The leadership group includes representatives from all the stakeholder groups you might expect: business, academia, First Nations, cities and towns and environment.
And I must give Ms. Clark credit for including two of her government's leading critics on the environment, Matt Horne of the Pembina Institute, and Tzeporah Berman, who speaks on environmental matters around the world, as members of the group.
Mr. Horne told me this week that, while he's going into the process with an open mind, reaching consensus in a compressed time frame with such a large body will definitely be a challenge.
He likes the terms of reference and is willing to set aside any ideological differences he may have with his committee colleagues if it helps produce policies that have a positive impact on the province's climate strategy.
"I don't know if the government will have an appetite for the recommendations at the end of the day, but I'm optimistic enough that I'm willing to put my time into it," Mr. Horne said.
But he certainly enters the process skeptical of the province's ability to reach its 2020 climate goals, especially if there are any new LNG plants up and running by then.
Currently, B.C.'s climate action plan has a target of reducing emissions by 33 per cent below 2007 levels by the end of this decade. To do that, the province needs to reduce its total carbon footprint to 41 million tonnes of GHG emissions. And again, that's a goal that was established before there was LNG development on the horizon, projects that could produce tens of millions of additional tonnes of emissions, depending on the scale of the industry.
For now, we can only take the government at its word when it says it wants to reassert its leadership on the climate file. Setting up a high-profile climate group like this is not without its risks. If participants such as Mr. Horne and Ms. Berman sense this is merely a public-relations exercise, their involvement will likely be short and sweet. But their exits would almost certainly be loud and messy.
Christy Clark does not want that.
In many ways, she is walking the same tightrope that incoming NDP premier Rachel Notley is in Alberta. Both need to demonstrate meaningful movement on climate change in recognition of a burgeoning public appetite for such action. At the same time, they can't bring in measures that infringe so much on the natural resource industry that it has a corollary negative impact on provincial revenues.
The formation of the climate-action leadership group is a promising step. Soon, we'll see how serious Premier Clark is about doing something significant in this important area.
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