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B.C. responds to Kyoto withdrawal with a shrug

" [The withdrawal]really doesn't impact British Columbia because we've got our own climate action targets," says Environment Minister Terry Lake after the federal government announces its withdrawal from the Kyoto Protocol.

Is Ottawa irrelevant to B.C. on the issue of climate change? Last week, Vancouver municipal politicians could not pinpoint what would actually change for Vancouver if Canada withdrew from Kyoto. Vancouver has a "greenest city action plan" with a target of reducing greenhouse-gas emissions by 33 per cent of 1990 levels by 2020.

City programs have been developed to cut greenhouse-gas emissions from transportation, waste disposal and buildings. A federal retrofit program or national transportation plan would have helped – but the city is moving ahead on its plans regardless of Ottawa's involvement.

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Similarly, the B.C. government is carrying on with one of Gordon Campbell's most innovative ideas – the carbon tax and a commitment to a carbon-neutral public sector – regardless of Canada's commitment to the international protocol.

Mr. Lake responded with a shrug to Canada's withdrawal from the international accord. The only concern he raised in an interview was whether federal regulations on greenhouse-gas emissions would duplicate what B.C. has already done.

"B.C. [has]set its own climate action targets. So we are independent of what Canada is doing," he said.

B.C. developed its targets almost a decade ago by looking to California and parts of Europe, not Ottawa. The carbon tax, which started at $10 per tonne in 2008, will rise to $30 per tonne next July 1. "That's when we will start to see people change their driving habits," Mr. Lake said, adding that the government has not yet decided whether the annual increases of $5 a tonne will continue beyond 2012.

Ottawa has a different approach to putting a price on carbon, Mr. Lake said. The federal plan is to set limits for each sector of the economy, which in effect impose a cost on carbon by requiring measures to be taken in order to comply with regulations.

The province wants to work with Ottawa to ensure B.C. industries are not subject to two different sets of rules. For instance, Ottawa has indicated that greenhouse-gas limits will be set for the natural-gas industry. But the businesses are already paying a price for the carbon they use. "Let's give them credit for their earlier actions," Mr. Lake said. Federal regulations should be in harmony with what was already being done.

But he did not anticipate federal regulations would change what B.C. was doing.

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Ian Bruce, a climate-change specialist with the David Suzuki Foundation, said B.C. could do so much more if Ottawa would be an active partner.

But he felt the federal decision to step away from Kyoto will not lead to much of a change in the federal-provincial relationship. Ottawa's withdrawal emphasizes the need for cities, provinces and Canadians to continue to lead on climate-change actions, Mr. Bruce said.

Mark Jaccard, a sustainable-energy economist at Simon Fraser University, said the announcement this week of withdrawing from Kyoto reflected Canada's unofficial position since the late 1990s. Neither former Liberal governments nor the current Conservatives adopted a plan to reach Kyoto targets, he said.

Both Liberal and Conservative governments endorsed similar targets within roughly the same time frame, he added, but neither put a price on emissions or regulated in a way to achieve the targets. "The Kyoto Protocol has been irrelevant to what is going on here for at least 11 years," he said.

China's official news agency, Xinhua, condemned Canada's withdrawal from Kyoto as irresponsible action that will scar global climate-change efforts. But in B.C., contrary to the harsh criticism, the decision has not really changed anything.

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