The British Columbia government unveiled its much-anticipated climate action plan this week and the timing couldn’t have been better, coming as it did on the same day that a trio of depressing new studies on global greenhouse gas emissions were also released.
Findings in the reports published by the Global Carbon Project included the discovery that the warming of the planet is accelerating again after a brief, three-year hiatus. Worldwide, carbon pollution is expected to rise 2.7 per cent in 2018, compared to 1.6 per cent last year. The course we are on only leads to disaster. That is a given.
It was against this ominous, miserable backdrop that B.C. Premier John Horgan made public his government’s blueprint for aggressively dealing with the proliferation of GHG emissions. It’s a remarkable document that won wide praise from both business and hard-to-please environmental organizations. Even the perpetually-cranky David Suzuki gave it a thumbs up through the foundation that bears his name.
That’s quite a feat.
As impressive is that the province’s target of reducing GHG emissions by 40 per cent by 2030 (against 2007 levels), 60 per cent by 2040 and 80 per cent by 2050 accommodates a massive energy-intensive liquefied natural gas project in the northwestern part of the province. When operational, it’s expected to belch millions of tonnes of GHG emissions into the atmosphere each year.
But B.C.’s plan helps mitigate the damage by forcing industry, including LNG Canada, to shift away from fossil fuels to power their operations to electricity, using the massive supply of clean hydroelectric power at its disposal to make this happen. In the meantime, there will be various rebates and tax credits outlined in next February’s budget that will also help drive change and retrofit homes to be more environmentally friendly.
By 2040, only zero-emission vehicles will be sold in B.C. The carbon tax, which is $35 a tonne now, will rise in $5 increments to $50 by 2021, as mandated under the federal government’s plan. Companies will be able to reclaim any carbon tax they pay if they can meet lower emission standards. And on the plan goes.
Far from stultifying the hottest economy in the country, the scheme is anticipated to provide financial opportunities.
“The orders from Rome have been issued,” Warren Brazier said, a lawyer with Stirling LLP in Vancouver who specializes in energy matters. “Now the hard work begins. Over all, though, I think B.C. will be a cool place to train for the future economy.”
There is still work to be done. Energy supplied by the $10.7-billion Site C hydroelectric project, when finished sometime in the latter half of the next decade, won’t be enough to meet demand stemming from the government’s plan. This may provide prospects for the private sector to fill the gap, perhaps through solar, wind, geothermal and other initiatives. Any plan that hopes to reduce GHG emissions has to have an economic imperative. There are also more measures to be announced in the next few years that will be necessary for the province to meet its targets. So it remains to be seen what is in the offing.
With this plan, B.C. re-establishes its leadership role in Canada on climate matters. This was first recognized in 2008, when then-premier Gordon Campbell introduced the first carbon tax in Canada. But the province took a step back on this file under his successor Christy Clark – although she deserves credit for pushing Site C through. And the governing NDP’s plan doesn’t happen without that project – one the party often denounced and ridiculed when in Opposition.
But the B.C. plan also, sadly, makes the province an outlier when it comes to aggressively trying to bring down emissions. Provinces run by conservative-minded premiers, including in Ontario, are all fighting the federal carbon tax and have not made climate the priority it desperately needs to be.
Alberta, which began to move in the right direction under Premier Rachel Notley, is now in a fight with Ottawa over pipelines. The future of the much-welcomed environmental measures introduced by her NDP government a few years ago now remain very much in doubt.
Mr. Horgan’s plan, which will certainly come at some personal financial cost for those living in the province, is also likely to receive widespread support. The massive forest fires that have become the new normal each summer are all the evidence necessary to remind people the planet is in deep trouble and we all need to do something about it.