Three Big Questions About British Columbia’s Climate Plan

In the introduction to the Government of British Columbia’s new climate plan, Premier Christy Clark declares: “Our province is committed to being at the forefront of this fight and continuing to demonstrate climate action leadership.”

Unfortunately, the Premier’s leadership will be measured by credible action and results—two things that are noticeably absent in this plan.

The government’s plan would see carbon pollution remain the same in 2030 as today—and that’s an optimistic scenario where the government follows through on every single commitment in the plan.

We’re skeptical that’s going to happen, because more than half of the carbon pollution reductions government says this plan will achieve would come from measures that aren’t backed up by either the dollars or the regulations. And looking out to 2050, the government also relies on questionable forestry reductions to get about halfway to its long-term target. That kind of creative accounting leaves it up to future governments to deliver the results B.C. is trying to get credit for today.

Another weak spot in the government’s plan is its determination to keep B.C.’s carbon tax on ice indefinitely. The longer B.C. puts off raising and expanding its carbon price, the more it undermines the best tool B.C. has to cut carbon pollution — and to stimulate clean tech and innovation in our province.

According to a World Bank study, B.C.’s carbon tax sparked the development of “an entirely new clean technology sector of over 200 companies” in the province, and billions of dollars of revenue. The same study found that while Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, France and California also charge a price on carbon pollution, “none have experienced adverse effects in industrial production or economic growth” as a result of carbon pricing—British Columbia included. Yet the B.C. government has not been swayed.

These are just a few of the fatal flaws in British Columbia’s climate plan. To get a closer look at where this plan falls short, there are three key questions worth asking.

1. What impact will this plan have on carbon pollution?

If the primary goal of a climate plan is to cut carbon pollution, the B.C. government is planning to fail.

Under this plan, British Columbia’s carbon pollution will be as high 15 years from now as it is today. Even looking out to 2050, this plan would leave B.C.’s carbon pollution four times higher than its legislated 2050 target. And as we describe in the next section, this is the best-case scenario.

Now, you won’t find those carbon pollution projections explained in the government’s plan. It conveniently leaves them out of the neat graphic on page 12. Our version, below, shows where B.C.’s carbon pollution is headed under the government’s plan.

We’ll take a closer look at the numbers in the next section, but here’s the big takeaway: the government’s plan does not put B.C. on track to hit its 2050 target. Not even close.

Emissions graphic BC
GRAPHIC: Emissions Projections and Targets Based on Reductions Stated in B.C.’s Climate Plan

Any athlete who plans to compete in the Olympics sets performance milestones and develops a rigorous training plan to get there. We need to take a similar approach to meeting our climate targets, or we risk putting off the hard work until the goal is completely out of reach.   

This is why the Climate Leadership Team recommended adopting a 2030 target to keep B.C. on track between now and 2050 (shown in the graphic above). It’s going to be tough enough to get to 2050 without leaving the biggest reductions for future governments to figure out. That’s not leadership.

2. What are the gaps in the government’s plan?

The B.C. government claims its plan will cut carbon pollution by 13 million tonnes (Mt) by 2030. Years of experience and evidence makes it clear that the only promises in this plan we can really bank on to cut carbon pollution are the ones backed by new or stronger regulations, carbon pricing or spending commitments that are implemented soon. Right now, very few of the reductions are bankable, but we hope that changes over time.

Here’s how we think the numbers would likely break down, based on the carbon pollution reductions that are realistic by 2030. This is an estimate based on available information in the plan. We will modify this assessment as more information—or new policies and funding commitments—becomes available.

Table: Projected and Likely Emissions Reductions in B.C.'s Climate Plan (August 2016)
Table: Projected and Likely Emissions Reductions in B.C.’s Climate Plan (August 2016)

If you factor in just the likely reductions, B.C.’s projected emissions look more like the purple line on this graphic:

Likely emissions reductions in B.C.
GRAPHIC: Revised Emissions Projections Based on Most Likely Reductions in B.C.’s Climate Plan

There are some good ideas in B.C.’s plan, but to be a climate leader these ideas must be backed up by regulations and committed spending and the other policy tools the climate leadership team recommended—like the carbon tax. Otherwise, they may look good on paper but they won’t achieve the necessary results.

3. Does this plan balance climate action, job creation, affordability and economic growth?

The Climate Leadership Team—a group of business, First Nations, community, academic and environmental leaders—developed a package of pragmatic recommendations that balanced economic growth, job creation and affordability with measures to reduce carbon pollution to a level that would put B.C.’s 2050 target within reach.

Unfortunately, the plan the government came up with watered down those recommendations and threw off the balance the Climate Leadership Team worked so hard to achieve.

British Columbians have seen first-hand the benefits climate leadership brings: international recognition, new clean technology jobs, investment in clean energy and technology, a low-carbon competitive advantage and a healthier environment.

British Columbia’s early climate leadership helped create a thriving clean economy in the province that now employs 68,165 people and contributes $6.31 billion to British Columbia’s GDP.

Clean technology companies thrive when faced with the challenge of developing a sustainable business that cuts carbon pollution. Lessons and technology learned at home can then be exported at a profit, in a growing cleantech market now valued at an estimated $2 trillion.

As Achim Steiner, executive director of the UN Environment Programme said in a CBC interview earlier this year, “the future markets, the technologies, the energy systems will be low-carbon….Whether you’re building the next pipeline or not…the economy of Canada will not be centred around a fossil-fuel based extractive economy.”

British Columbia was ahead of that curve, but the competition is now hot on our heels. Just when we needed a bold move to regain our lead, the B.C. government is pulling up lame.

Today’s plan makes it clear that the B.C. government’s commitment to climate leadership has fizzled. It’s not too late to stage a comeback—but it will take a lot more ambition and effort than what this plan contains.

With analysis by Jeremy Moorhouse. 

Note: For the above graphs, we used the climate leadership team business-as-usual scenario and then measured emission reductions in the B.C. plan against that baseline. Source of original graphic: “British Columbia’s Climate Leadership Plan,” Government of British Columbia.

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