British Columbia's recently released climate action plan update implies that the policies that once made this province a climate leader are outdated. There's no doubt some truth in that, and such language is often a sign that a government is showing that it wants to remain ahead of the curve. But this provincial government's new plan is partial, hesitant and more heel-dragging than a move forward.
As members of the provincial government's 2008 climate team, we recognize that the world is changing and new action is required. In December, more than 195 countries signed on to the Paris Agreement to limit human-caused climate change to 2 C, with the stretch goal of staying below 1.5 C. In taking on these ambitious but attainable targets, countries took the first step toward ending the fossil-fuel era.
In Paris, B.C. Premier Christy Clark spoke about her province's leadership on the carbon tax and renewable-energy solutions. Now the government has given up its leadership position by laying out weak and unfunded strategies that will not achieve the goals of the province's own plan.
To develop the new climate action plan, the government created a climate leadership team, bringing together experts from government, academia, business and environmental sectors, as well as First Nations. The team came up with 32 recommendations to help the province draft a comprehensive response to climate change, yet only a fraction of them were included in the new plan, and not a single one in its entirety.
Among those left out are legislated emissions-reductions targets, a zero-emissions vehicle standard to make hybrid and electric cars more readily available and an increase to British Columbia's carbon tax, which has been frozen at $30 a tonne since 2012. Assuming that all of the plan's emissions reductions are realized, British Columbia's emissions will not begin decreasing before 2030. That's a best-case scenario.
We looked long and hard to find elements of this plan to support. We want British Columbia to retain its well-deserved reputation as a leader based on its 2008 climate plan. Yes, additional low-carbon fuel standards for new vehicles, a crackdown on methane emissions from natural gas production and financial incentives for electric and low-carbon vehicle purchases are good. But strategies such as these represent only a very small portion of the work that is needed and the plan virtually guarantees that British Columbia will fail to meet its 2020 emissions target, set in 2008. The new plan also fails to account for the jobs and economic growth that stronger climate action would bring.
The government's continued commitment to fossil-fuel production in the form of liquefied natural gas has come at the expense of renewable energy development. It's little wonder that in February, the Canadian Wind Energy Association pulled out of British Columbia, citing a more promising political climate elsewhere in the country. The province is missing an opportunity to create thousands of jobs and build a 21st-century economy.
Rather than taking necessary action to curb emissions and promote growth in renewables and the clean-technology sector, the province has opted to implement new forestry practices in an attempt to sequester carbon from the air. But the climate action plan's policy of planting trees in forests damaged by wildfire and pine beetles will do little to curb overall emissions in British Columbia.
In a post-Paris world, the province will have to do much more to develop solutions and retain its status as a climate leader. Over the past year, government representatives throughout the country have taken meaningful action to combat the defining issue of this generation.
Ontario and Manitoba have announced plans to join Quebec in a cap-and-trade carbon-pricing market to accelerate emissions reductions. Alberta has received international recognition for its planned carbon-tax expansion and for accelerating its climate action and renewable-energy goals. Saskatchewan has announced a target of 50-per-cent renewable energy generation by 2030. Over the same time frame, British Columbia's emissions are expected to grow as the provincial government doubles down on its fossil-fuel strategy and natural gas production.
Climate change is a serious and costly threat to the health and livelihoods of British Columbians and Canadians, as well as a real opportunity for economic growth and creation of well-paid jobs to build a strong, modern economy. Every year, we see the damage done by wildfires, droughts and extreme weather, with dramatic consequences to individuals and communities.
There's no time to pick and choose weak and convenient solutions to this growing problem. The province must step up and take comprehensive action to curb emissions now. The stakes are too high for timid and partial solutions.
Peter Robinson is the CEO of the David Suzuki Foundation. Mossadiq Umedaly is principal, Business Strategy Associates. Previously, he was VP and CFO, Ballard Power Systems; chairman and CEO, Xantrex; and chairman, BC Hydro. Both served as members of the provincial government's 2008 climate team.