The B.C. government's new law for greenhouse-gas emissions tabled this week tacitly declares a key part of the province's ambitious climate-change agenda a failure.
The legislation Environment Minister Mary Polak introduced on Monday sets out a benchmark for GHG emissions from any new liquefied natural gas facilities that may be built in B.C. At the same time, it would repeal the Cap and Trade Act, which was part of the government's Climate Action Plan rolled out six years ago.
"We've been looking for other jurisdictions to place a price on carbon; it's very clear that cap and trade as it was envisioned when the carbon tax was first brought in; it just has not proceeded the way we expected," Ms. Polak said in an interview Wednesday.
Under former premier Gordon Campbell, the province introduced the cap and trade program to impose hard caps on GHG emissions from large polluters, and allowed industry to buy offsets for excess emissions.
The new Greenhouse Gas Industrial Reporting and Control Act would establish pollution limits for industry, but critics worry the law would effectively undermine another pillar of Mr. Campbell's Climate Action Plan – the tough greenhouse-gas reduction targets for the province as a whole.
"This is a shameful piece of legislation," said Andrew Weaver, the B.C. Green Party MLA. "We had leadership on the climate change file, but now we have given that up."
The new rules target the "intensity level" of pollution rather than the absolute amount of pollution, he said
The government hopes to see five LNG plants built on the coast, which would increase the province's annual emissions by 13 million tonnes – if the industry meets the benchmarks set out in Ms. Polak's legislation.
The new law would establish a benchmark for allowable GHG emissions from LNG facilities that is lower than any other LNG facility in the world – an "intensity level" of 0.16 carbon dioxide equivalent tonnes for each tonne of LNG produced.
Mr. Weaver said the province needs to impose hard caps on emissions from LNG, and a plan to aggressively reduce emissions overall.
"It is a grand illusion from the government is conducting to convince British Columbians that we can have wealth and prosperity from a hypothetical LNG industry and still meet our climate targets and continue to be good stewards of the environment," Mr. Weaver said.
In June, the B.C. government released a progress report that found the province has met its interim GHG reduction targets, according to the most recent data available. Between 2007 and 2012, the province cut its carbon pollution by 6 per cent. But to meet the goal of cutting one-third of 2007 emission levels by the year 2020, the province has more work to do, the report warned.
"Some policies lose effectiveness over time if they are not updated. For example, the carbon tax impact effectively diminishes if the rate remains unchanged," the progress report stated. "Policy will need to adjust to keep us on the longer-term emissions reduction trajectory."
Matt Horne of the Pembina Institute said this week's law would do nothing to help push the province toward meeting the 2020 targets. "Those targets are going to be a challenge even without LNG. In 2012, B.C. hit its target, but fair to say the climate action plan has stalled out. And if the government doesn't build on that, it won't meet its targets."
Ms. Polak maintains her government still expects to meet its GHG reduction targets by 2020 even with LNG. "The one won't have an impact on the other," she said. "We in British Columbia are going to measure the actual amount of emissions and whether or not we have met our targets. The fact that the benchmark for LNG is measured in intensity, the two don't conflict with each other."