Analysis: Why the Pacific Coast Action Plan Matters

From left to right: The Hon. Mary Polak, Minister of the Environment, British Columbia, with John Kitzhaber, Governor of Oregon, and Jay Inslee, Governor of Washington.

You wouldn’t know it from the lacklustre media response, but Monday’s signing of the Pacific Coast Action Plan on Climate and Energy, by the elected leaders of British Columbia, Washington, Oregon, and California, is a big deal.

Though the agreement is non-binding—and landed with no funding commitments attached—it’s been entered into by leaders who collectively represent 53 million people, and an economic region with a combined GDP of $2.8 trillion—which would make it the world’s fifth largest economy. Further, all three West Coast states are significant British Columbia trading partners and competitors.

Combined, these three states and British Columbia accounted for 670 million tonnes of greenhouse gas pollution in 2010 (the most recent date for which we can compare numbers across all four jurisdictions). To put this in perspective, that’s almost as much carbon as our entire country emitted that year (692 Mt C02e).

The fact that four jurisdictions—spanning an international border, no less—have reached this agreement is a testament to their commitment to tackling the issue.


2010 Greenhouse Gas Emissions (Mt C02e)

British Columbia










* = projected

Recent research shows that B.C.’s carbon tax shift is working as planned, reducing pollution while the economy continues to grow. Even the head of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development recently called the province’s tax shift a ‘textbook case’ of carbon pricing done right.

But British Columbia’s leadership position has left the province feeling somewhat exposed.

The premier recently mandated her environment minister with the task of encouraging “other jurisdictions to follow our carbon initiatives.” The minister was present at Monday’s announcement, which includes new commitments from Oregon and Washington to implement carbon pricing.

Also noteworthy is the fact that this Action Plan spans climate and energy—coupling carbon reduction policies with plans to support the adoption of clean energy technologies and infrastructure. As we argued this past summer in Policy magazine, carbon and energy are two sides of the same coin—though in Canada they land in different policy portfolios.

Monday’s ceremony also included a none-too-subtle nod that China could be a future signatory to the Action Plan.

“We have to get more people joining the collaboration,” said governor Jerry Brown at the meeting. “This is an initiation of a very important agreement on the west coast, but it has to spread east and it has to spread west. And we are doing that. California has already signed a memorandum of understanding with several provinces in China, and with the national government itself, and this will spread. I am committed to that.”

While we hear a lot in Canada about the prospects for exporting our oil and gas resources to China, there are also abundant opportunities in that nation’s clean energy sector.

An economic complementarity study completed by the federal department of foreign affairs, trade and development concluded that significant opportunities exist for Canadian cleantech companies involved in bioenergy, renewable energy, and energy efficiency—including green building solutions.

It appears Canadians are on board with the prospect of boosting clean energy trade—a poll for the Asia Pacific Foundation in April of this year found that 68 percent of respondents felt Canada should prioritize cleantech and renewables in promoting energy exports to Asia.

We’ll be candid: As an initiative working to accelerate the shift to a prosperous clean energy economy, the new Action Plan injects a fresh dose of optimism. We look forward to rolling up our sleeves and working with these leaders to help them deliver on this plan’s promise.

Photo: Ian Thomson, Waterfall Group.

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