B.C. needs to catch up to global climate action

Blog - Dec. 14, 2015 - By Josha MacNab

Environment Minister Mary Polak and Premier Christy Clark at the Paris climate conference on November 30, 2015. Photo: Province of B.C.

The adoption of the Paris Agreement was a historic moment in the global effort to combat climate change. Amid the tears, hugs and high fives, I was reminded that even though change is hard, it is possible. I’m bringing that sentiment back with me to British Columbia where we are in the midst of determining what role the province will play in fighting climate change. And I have to admit, I’m a bit worried.

Premier Christy Clark did attend the first few days of the conference and B.C. was well represented throughout by Minister Mary Polak. However, it would have been a strong signal that B.C. is back as a climate leader if Premier Clark had stayed for discussions with other premiers and leaders on solutions to climate change. 

Clark’s absence was not the only worrying sign for B.C.’s climate leadership. The Climate Leadership Team has determined that B.C. is currently on track to miss its 2020 targets as our emissions start to creep up and are projected to rise — in large part because the province has failed to build on its initial progress. The B.C. government is currently considering the Climate Leadership Team’s recommendations — the most comprehensive and widely supported plan on climate action that B.C. has seen in many years.

The Paris Agreement that was signed on Saturday was the result of long hours of tireless negotiation on the part of our federal government and governments around the world. It was a significant and laudable step forward in the fight against climate change. As United Nations Secretary-General Ban-Ki Moon said in the closing plenary, it represents a “global U-turn” in our efforts. The agreement isn’t perfect and still has some gaps around financing for the worlds’ most vulnerable countries, but it included the goal to keep global temperature rise to well below 2 degrees Celsius and to aim for 1.5 degrees Celsius. Now Canada needs to match its international commitments with strong actions at home. 

We know that B.C.’s level of ambition will need to increase to do its share to help Canada achieve its Paris commitments. As B.C. heads into discussions with the federal government and fellow provinces and territories on a national climate framework, this is especially important. Premier Clark would be wise to move quickly to establish a strong Climate Leadership Plan that articulates an approach for B.C. that builds on our success and makes sense based on B.C.’s priorities and goals. We’ve recently seen a new level of ambition from Alberta and other provinces and I know B.C. can match or exceed these plans.

Protest signs adorn a mini Eiffel Tower at COP21. Photo: Josha MacNab.

One of the components in the Paris Agreement is what’s called a “ratcheting up mechanism.” This means that each country will need to review and increase its level of ambition on a five-year basis, with the first review cycle starting in 2018. It remains to be seen how Canada will meet this commitment, but it seems like a good bet that provinces and territories will also be required to increase their level of ambition over time. This mirrors a recommendation from the Climate Leadership Team for regular review of the climate plan. So there is no benefit in stalling — that will only make the road ahead more difficult. 

The Climate Leadership Team recommendations provide a clear path forward for B.C. They include:

  • Unfreeze the carbon tax and begin increasing it at $10/tonne/year while maintaining competitiveness of emissions intensive trade exposed sectors;
  • Reduce GHGs from the building sector by 50% by 2030 by requiring public buildings to be super energy efficient starting in 2016 and have the rest of our new buildings follow in 10 years;
  • Set a standard to require an increasing percentage of new vehicle purchases to be zero-emission (I’m pleased to report that the province just announced a target for all new vehicles to be zero-emissions by 2050 — now we just need to see the plan of how we get there);
  • Increase the low-carbon fuel standard to 20% and broaden its coverage;
  • Cut methane emissions from industry by 40% and commit to 100% clean electricity by 2025.

Adopting these recommendations would be a strong next step in B.C.’s efforts in the fight against climate change, and would build off the province’s previous success.

B.C. has often said that it’s waiting for other jurisdictions to catch up to its leadership. In Paris last week, it was clear the world is now moving quickly and decisively to deal with climate change. It is now B.C. that is being left behind.

Josha MacNab

Josha MacNab is the B.C. Director for the Pembina Institute.


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