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British Columbia British Columbia finally updates its eight-year-old climate change plan

B.C.'s Liberal government has been dining out on former premier Gordon Campbell's climate-change agenda since 2007. Heading into the United Nations' Climate Change Conference in Paris later this year, the Clark government is finally refurbishing the model.

British Columbia has enjoyed international recognition for its eight-year-old climate policies, in particular North America's first revenue-neutral carbon tax. Environment Minister Mary Polak is still in demand at conferences around the globe to explain how the province succeeded in curbing greenhouse gases without igniting a tax revolt.

But in recent years, the province's leadership on the climate file has amounted to little more than trotting out the old hits.

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In order to meet its ambitious targets for reducing greenhouse gases, B.C. cannot continue to drift along with the same plan. The carbon tax has been frozen since 2012, and the clean-energy law has been watered down to accommodate the possibility of a new liquefied natural gas industry.

Last spring, the province acknowledged it needs to do more, and it named a new climate action team to develop what is billed as "Climate Action 2.0."

Ms. Polak says there will be a new framework in place that she and Premier Christy Clark will take to the Paris conference. Her panel of advisers will provide recommendations by the end of this month that she in turn will bring to cabinet. That will lead to a new framework, but even that is just a draft plan – which means any effective changes will have to wait until next spring's legislative session.

If the B.C. government is planning bold new action to curb the province's emissions output, Ms Polak is keeping expectations low.

"All along, we have been working to build on what we had," Ms. Polak said in an interview. "Even then, we knew we would have to do more to keep the momentum going, to keep the reductions in emissions going. But I would be surprised if you would see something dramatically new."

Matt Horne of the Pembina Institute is on Ms. Polak's climate leadership team. He said the province doesn't need to reinvent the wheel, but it will miss its 2020 targets for reducing greenhouse gases without significant new measures.

"You need new, ambitious actions on top of what is already in place," he said.

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The executive director of Clean Energy Canada, Merran Smith, who is also on the advisory panel, said, "The good news is that B.C. has a bunch of policies in place that took our emissions down – we know how to do it. Now we need to turn up the dial."

Environmental organizations that heartily endorsed the climate action plan of 2007 have been increasingly concerned that under Ms. Clark, B.C. is losing ground.

Back in those heady days of the Green Budget and the photo ops with then-California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, Gordon Campbell wanted to compete with Ontario to become the nation's clean-energy powerhouse.

Last month, Ms. Smith's organization issued a report that shows Ontario is now clearly in the lead, attracting more than half of the country's investment in new clean power capacity. B.C. is a distant third after Quebec.

Ms. Polak said that B.C. is so far ahead of the pack because it already gets most of its electricity from emissions-free sources. She said she doesn't have any coal-fired plants to shut down and replace with clean energy, which is why Ontario's progress outpaces British Columbia's.

Clean Energy Canada has also demoted B.C. from leadership status on clean-energy policy, in part because the Clark government has adjusted the definition of clean energy in order to claim that liquefied natural gas won't derail its emission reduction targets.

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Ms. Polak said there is no more low-hanging fruit and the next steps will be challenging.

Squeezing GHG emissions at the source – transportation, buildings and industrial activity – will require political courage. It will take more than a new coat of paint keep the province's climate agenda on track.

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