Will climate be a winner in British Columbia’s election?

Blog - May 10, 2013 - By Josha MacNab

It’s down to the wire now. The B.C. election is less than a week away. Wondering how the climate will fare? Well, that depends on outcome of the election and, based on our platform assessment (see the Globe and Mail’s story here), there could be significant progress, or significant backsliding.

To help clarify the differences between the four main parties’ positions on climate, we looked at the following four election issues with implications for climate change and the province’s ability to meet its greenhouse gas (GHG) reduction targets: liquefied natural gas (LNG), oil pipelines, the carbon tax and green jobs. Coal exports could have been a fifth category, but party positions on it haven’t been clear enough to make a meaningful assessment.

For each issue, we assessed party commitments based on whether they represent a step forward, or a step backward, for a healthy climate. In some cases, ‘no progress’ or ‘unclear’ ratings were issued. The following table summarizes the results:

Chart comparing party positions on climate change related issues for BC's 2013 provinicial election

One of the most significant steps forward for the climate would be an increase and expansion of the carbon tax. Both the Greens and the NDP have made commitments in this area. The NDP’s commitment to broaden the carbon tax to include natural gas venting would close a significant loophole that currently gives the oil and gas sector a free pass on $100 million of the carbon tax they should be paying. This is an important step in making the carbon tax more fair and effective. The Greens’ additional commitment to continue increasing the rate (to $50/tonne initially) would result in upwards of $1 billion in new revenue and give a stronger incentive for low-carbon options across the economy.

We know the carbon tax is working to help reduce emissions. We know that British Columbians support the carbon tax. And we know that B.C.’s economy has been relatively strong since the carbon tax was implemented. With so much positive evidence, it’s a mystery why the Liberals have promised to freeze the carbon tax (a policy that they implemented) for five years. The Conservatives completely missed the mark here, promising to scrap the tax all together.

Another significant climate issue in the election has been oil pipeline expansion. Although the emissions from the various proposals would occur in Alberta’s oilsands and the eventual export destination where they are burned, and not in B.C., these emissions are still just as important from a global climate change perspective.

Given the province’s ability to influence the approval or rejection of these proposals, it is encouraging to see the NDP and Green Party opposing proposed pipeline expansion projects to Kitimat and Vancouver. The Liberals have placed five conditions on approval of heavy oil pipelines. But, what proponents and governments need to do to satisfy those conditions — and enable the resulting increase in emissions — is currently unclear. The Conservatives support pipeline expansion outright.

The elephant in the room is LNG. Regardless of all other commitments, the emissions released by extracting, processing, transporting and liquefying natural gas will all count against B.C.’s emissions inventory and make it impossible for the province to meet its reduction targets. One large LNG facility and the gas extraction needed to supply it would increase B.C.'s emissions by 21 million tonnes of GHG emissions per year. (This is based on 24 million tonnes of LNG per year, which is equivalent to the output of Shell’s proposed Canada LNG facility at full build out). B.C. is required to reduce its emissions to 40 million tonnes by 2020 and 12 million tonnes by 2050.

The Conservatives, Liberals and NDP all support LNG development, while the Green Party opposes it. While the NDP commitment to expand the carbon tax would result in fewer emissions from LNG development, we have characterized the three parties as taking a step backwards because, even with those improvements, any significant development will make it impossible for B.C. to meet its GHG reduction targets.

In fact, the Green Party is the only one with commitments that would result in major steps forward for the climate in all four areas. They’re also the only party offering a platform that would likely get the province on track to meet its legislated requirements to reduce GHG emissions.

And so, gentle reader, we leave you with this assessment on the eve of the election. We hope that it helps to shed some light on these four key issues that will have a significant impact not only for British Columbia but also for a healthy global climate.

Josha MacNab

Josha MacNab is the national director of policy and strategy for the Pembina Institute. She is based in Vancouver.


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