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The soon-to-be-developed national targets will determine whether British Columbia will be forced to amend the province’s climate-change law, Premier Christy Clark said.

John Lehmann/The Globe and Mail

British Columbia is poised to abandon its legislated targets for reducing greenhouse-gas emissions, but the decision will be shaped by how the rest of the country steps up to the climate challenge set by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

Premier Christy Clark said in an interview Wednesday the B.C. targets for 2020 will be extremely difficult to meet – the stark but unsurprising conclusion of her own climate leadership team in a recent report. However, the Premier said soon-to-be-developed national targets will determine whether she is forced to scrap or amend British Columbia's climate-change law.

"I don't dispute what [the climate leadership team] said, but how we deal with that is going to be determined in the national context now. We will be part of a bigger national solution to this for the first time," she said.

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The Premier said her government will have to see what direction the national climate agenda takes now; "then it will be possible to come up with a plan to meet whatever target we decide to set."

Mr. Trudeau has pledged to take a leading role in fighting climate change, but he wants the provinces and territories to help develop a national plan in the coming months. Although Alberta has followed B.C.'s lead in embracing a carbon tax, and other provinces have moved ahead with their own regional climate plans, it is expected Canada will have to make further, substantial changes to reduce total emissions.

Ms. Clark said she is willing to make further changes to drive larger reductions in the province's greenhouse-gas (GHG) output, but she said British Columbia has already done more than its share in the national context. "We have done better than anyone else in the country. Will the new targets recognize all the work we have been doing for eight years while almost nobody else has been doing anything? We don't have coal plants to shut down. There is no low-hanging fruit left in British Columbia … We want to do more, but we need to think about what that would be."

Environmentalists have argued that the Premier's ambitions to launch a liquefied natural gas (LNG) industry in British Columbia would derail the climate targets that were set in 2007 under then-premier Gordon Campbell.

The law requires that British Columbia B.C. reduce GHG emissions by 33 per cent below 2007 levels by 2020 – which that would mean allowing a total of 41 million tonnes of GHG emissions. The government hopes to see five LNG plants built on the coast, which could increase the province's annual emissions by 13 million tonnes – if industry meets the benchmarks set by the province.

As yet, no company has made a final investment decision on LNG in B.C. British Columbia. But even without LNG, the province's 2020 targets are in trouble. The climate leadership team, in its report in late November, warned that "carbon pollution levels have started creeping up again and are projected to continue rising." Even with the changes recommended in their report, the province would not meet its 2020 targets.

Ms. Clark has not yet committed to the changes put forward by her climate team; the province has promised public consultation before presenting a new plan in the spring. However, she indicated she likes the proposal to raise the carbon tax after her freeze, promised during the last election campaign, ends in 2018. And, she said, the team produced good ideas to bring down emissions from the "built environment" – which includes transportation and buildings.

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"Those are areas we really can tackle which haven't been addressed aggressively because government has been more focused through carbon pricing on fuel use," Ms. Clark said.

The province is eager to talk to Ottawa about the federal Liberal commitment to spend $20-billion on green infrastructure over five years, and to create a $2-billion "low-carbon economy trust" to fund projects that reduce carbon emissions. Those dollars could help British Columbia B.C. move toward its climate targets – the old ones, or more likely, new ones.

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