British Columbia Premier John Horgan is heading off on a trade mission to Asia later this month, hoping to continue with the former BC Liberal government's quest to secure a liquefied natural gas industry for his province.
Just weeks ago, his government tried to bury the latest unhappy news about progress on the province's efforts to curb greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions – a task that is incompatible with the development of LNG.
Since then-premier Gordon Campbell launched his ambitious climate action agenda 10 years ago, the province has barely put a dent in its GHG output. The latest inventory, which goes up to 2015, was published in a spreadsheet posted on a government website, with no news release, in December showing that emissions have been climbing since 2010.
Mr. Horgan departs on Jan. 20 for a tour that will take him to Japan, South Korea and China to promote B.C. He intends to use the visit to meet with the offshore partners in the proposed LNG Canada project. "We want to make sure that we can get our natural resources to higher-priced markets," he explained in an interview with the Alaska Highway News in December.
The minority NDP government wants to be seen embracing the potential economic boon of LNG, at the same time that it promises to get the province back on track to meet Mr. Campbell's climate action targets. How both objectives can be met is unclear.
Mr. Campbell's target aimed to reduce emissions 33 per cent below 2007 levels by the end of this decade. Although the province's total GHGs fell from 64.6 million tonnes in 2007 to a low of 60.5 million tonnes in 2010, they have been climbing since and reached 63.3 million tonnes in 2015.
A key measure in Mr. Campbell's plan was the introduction of a carbon tax, but the rate, at $30 a tonne, has not changed since 2012. The rates were frozen by Mr. Campbell's successor, Christy Clark, as part of her 2013 election campaign. (The NDP government intends to raise the tax by $5 a tonne in April.)
The Pembina Institute estimated in 2016 the carbon pollution from the two phases of the now-cancelled Pacific NorthWest LNG plant and associated upstream operations at up to 9.2 million tonnes by 2030 – the equivalent of adding more than two million cars on the road.
Jens Wieting, climate campaigner for the Sierra Club BC, said Mr. Horgan's LNG promotion abroad runs counter to an agenda to reduce carbon emissions.
"The LNG question is critical," he said in an interview. "The emissions from a single terminal would be large enough to make it impossible for B.C. to meet its targets. That will be the test: Do we really have a government now that is taking climate change seriously?"
A string of documents obtained through a Freedom of Information application and posted on the B.C. government's Open Information website offers some insight on how the question is viewed inside Mr. Horgan's office.
The documents show the work behind the government's response to the July announcement that Malaysia's state-owned energy company Petronas was shelving its plans for a $36-billion LNG investment in the province
Government officials were told to expect a call by 9 a.m. on July 25 from a Petronas executive to provide a heads-up on a public announcement later that morning.
Not knowing what Petronas planned to announce, government communications staff were tasked to prepare briefing notes for the ministers of energy, finance and jobs. Environment Minister George Heyman – responsible for climate action – was not on the list.
The Premier's chief of staff, Geoff Meggs, told senior political aides in an e-mail to prepare for anything: "The nature of their agenda is unknown, but could include everything from shelving the project to proposing new alignments at tidewater."
The subsequent briefing note said the Pacific NorthWest LNG project "would represent the largest capital investment in BC's history" with "extraordinary economic and social opportunities" for the local Coast Tsimshian Indigenous communities. In conclusion, it said the anticipated investment "is of great importance to B.C. and Canada, creating new jobs and securing economic growth."
The government clearly was hoping for a "yes" and there was no assessment provided – at least in the documents released through Freedom of Information – of the impact this plant would have on the province's GHG emissions.
However, on the morning of the 25th, the government learned the project was dead. The cabinet ministers were handed talking points to emphasize that the project was not axed because of the newly formed NDP government, but "because of the economic challenges in the global energy marketplace." The ministers were also encouraged to say: "Our government is committed to working with the LNG industry to ensure we are competitive."
Government officials last week said the NDP will follow through with a commitment to enact legislation that will require the province to reduce GHG emissions by 40 per cent below 2007 levels by 2030. If Mr. Horgan is successful in promoting LNG this month, he is making that target tougher to meet.