Pembina Institute

Plenty of positive signals from B.C. on climate change

About a month ago, there was concern that the wheels could be coming off British Columbia's efforts to build a clean energy economy.  In particular, B.C.'s continued involvement in the Western Climate Initiative's cap-and-trade system looked to be at risk. Thankfully, recent statements from B.C. Liberal leader Christy Clark and NDP candidate David Eby — contests in today's Point Grey by-election — tell a different story.

At a high-level, both candidates clearly support continued leadership from B.C. to tackle climate change. Compared to some of the debates we see in other parts of North America, it's a good starting point when political parties agree that climate change is a problem that we need to solve.

Given the negative speculation regarding B.C.'s involvement in cap-and-trade, Clarke and Eby's commitments to move ahead with the system are notable. Both candidates want B.C. to lead the way, and their statements demonstrate a commitment to having B.C. ready to go for the start of that system early in 2012. There's still a lot of work to do to make sure we get the rules right for 2012, but those rules will only get set if we stay in the game.

Both candidates also made some important statements about the future of the carbon tax. They are both committed to the current schedule of increases to 2012, and both have raised the possibility of using revenues to help fund priorities like transit. David Eby has also stressed the importance of protecting low-income families and making sure the carbon tax doesn't give any polluters a free ride. Neither of them has talked about increasing the price of  the carbon tax after 2012, but they haven't closed that door either.

Whatever the outcome of today's Point Grey by-election, both parties will need to follow-through and build upon these commitments. For cap-and-trade, regulations need to be implemented soon if B.C. is going to meet the 2012 deadline. For the carbon tax, any changes to the way revenue is invested, or how it increases after 2012, should be decided this year.

Looking beyond the debates in Point Grey and Victoria, it's important to recognize the breadth of support for strong action on climate change and clean energy in B.C. Through the recent leadership races, and through Christy Clark's transition to premier, businesses, civil society groups and local governments have been very supportive. Business leaders (see their letters here and here), mayors, academics, environmental groups, faith leaders, students and youth groups have all chimed in, voicing their support for continued climate leadership in B.C. as well as recommendations for next steps.

As one of those supportive voices, and as someone who cares deeply about finding solutions to the climate crisis we're facing, it's encouraging to know how many other British Columbians are also calling for those solutions to be put into action. It seems that our politicians just might be listening.

Roger Gagne — May 18, 2011 - 06:10 PM MT

Hi Matt,

Thanks for your response and comments.

As I said I hold the Pembina Institute in high regard, and your organization's optimism towards cap and trade is one of the scant few reasons I haven't yet slammed the door on it.

My earliest copy of my many Letters to the Editor on the carbon tax, however, is from 1995 and I see no reason yet to diminish my enthusiasm for this clear, honest and predictable measure as the preferred mechanism for leveraging market forces and consumer choices to create a more sustainable future.

joe Lanteigne — May 14, 2011 - 12:05 PM MT

I'll believe it when the new coal mine proposal near Comox is scraped. I'd like to see a law that says absolutely no coal mine proposals will even be considered. Its embarrassing and dangerous that we even entertain the idea.

Roger Gagne — May 13, 2011 - 07:26 PM MT

While I hold the Pembina Institute in high regard, I don't share their faith that a fair and effective cap and trade scheme can actually make it through the design process and then into implementation. It hasn't happened yet.

The European Trading System showed price volatility, corruption, and unverifiable carbon offsets. The Waxman-Markley Bill in the US, at a bloated 1400 pages, was full of giveaways to the oil and coal sectors, and never passed the Senate; the Kerry-Lieberman bill, at 800 pages, was no great improvement.

Now we learn from The Tyee, and Lorrie Goldstein at the Sun newspapers, that
BC's Pacific Carbon Trust has taken millions of dollars in carbon offsets from school boards, and paid it out to EnCana; one of Canada's largest and most profitable corporations. Can this get any worse?

BC already has North America's most rigorous and effective carbon tax; simple, honest, transparent, and predictable. Can we not build on that instead of the cap and trade shell games?

Matt Horne — May 17, 2011 - 05:32 PM MT

Hi Roger,

For both cap-and-trade and B.C.'s carbon tax, we're looking
at two fairly big "ifs".

If #1 - If the WCI ends up being a fair, effective and transparent
cap-and-trade system, it could be a key building block for climate
action in North America.

If #2 - If B.C. builds on its carbon tax and other jurisdictions
follow suit, it could be a key building block for climate action in
North America.

Both of these "ifs" are going to be challenging to overcome, but it
doesn't seem appropriate to close the door on either of them as long
as they are possibilities. That's why we've been trying to create
space for both carbon taxes and cap-and-trade systems. We've also
been recommending that B.C. use its carbon tax as a backstop to the
cap-and-trade system to prevent any backsliding in the event there
are problems with the regulations.

In response to your specific comment about the Pacific Carbon
Trust purchasing offsets from EnCana: The concerns are more related
to the province's carbon neutral requirements as opposed to cap-and-
trade. Another way to look at the offset purchase is as a reason to
get cap-and-trade up and running. If EnCana, and other major
emitters in B.C., were regulated by a cap-and-trade system, they
wouldn't be eligible for this sort of deal.

Thanks for your comments.

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