B.C. should follow through on climate plan

May 17, 2016
Thomas Pedersen
Nancy Olewiler
Ian Campbell
Michelle Edwards
Merran Smith
various old Pembina Institute logos
Matt Horne
Former Associate Regional Director, British Columbia
Tzeporah Berman

Premier Christy Clark introduces the Climate Leadership Team a year ago. Photo: Province of B.C.

British Columbia faces a crossroads: Either we take new action to cut carbon pollution and restore B.C.’s legacy as a climate leader, or we fail to meet our commitments and forfeit our hard-won reputation for leadership. The province’s carbon pollution is rising, and new action is required for B.C. to get back on track.

B.C.’s carbon tax has stalled at a level that is not providing enough incentive to reduce carbon pollution. To fix that, B.C. needs a stronger carbon tax and new and improved regulations that cover a broader range of emissions.

That’s just part of the solution. As members of Premier Christy Clark’s Climate Leadership Team, we developed a blueprint to reduce B.C.’s carbon pollution while growing our economy. Our recommendations provide a strong foundation for long-term prosperity for British Columbians.

Navius Research modelled how policies similar to the Climate Leadership Team’s recommendations would affect jobs and B.C.’s economy. Provincial GDP would grow at essentially the same rate with or without new climate action; 270,000 new jobs would be created within the next 10 years.

Those jobs show up in emerging sectors, such as clean technology, but also in more traditional sectors such as forestry, agriculture and services.

With stronger climate leadership, B.C. would attract up to $5 billion in additional investment for renewable energy alone over the next 10 years.

New climate action would unlock other surprising benefits. Navius found that households in the Peace River region could save up to $1,200 a year by 2030 on energy costs by switching to cleaner and more efficient vehicles, home heating and energy sources.

Our recommendations were designed to protect and support vulnerable households. Many rural communities would attract new renewable energy projects and job opportunities. Our economy would grow while we reduce carbon pollution and develop innovative expertise to market to the world.

There’s less risk — and more reward — in taking action than in avoiding it.

So what’s the issue? The province is due to announce its next phase of climate action, but it has not committed to act on any of the Climate Leadership Team recommendations.

That’s concerning, because we were asked to come up with a plan to cut carbon pollution while creating jobs and contributing to a strong and growing economy — and we did.

If the government doesn’t adopt our full package of recommendations, then it needs to show how its plan would achieve those same goals.

Here are three ways to tell if the next phase of B.C.’s climate plan will deliver the leadership British Columbians deserve.

To start, the plan must reduce carbon pollution in line with B.C.’s 2050 commitment.

If carbon pollution continues to grow as currently projected, B.C. cannot credibly call itself a climate leader. We’ll once again be part of the problem.

Next, the plan must help to build B.C.’s economy and create new jobs right across the province. Already, more than 68,000 British Columbians work in the “clean economy” — green buildings, clean energy, professional services, waste management and more — and contributed $6.3 billion to B.C.’s GDP in 2014, according to the Delphi Group.

Workers in such communities as Tumbler Ridge, Pemberton, Fort St. James and Taylor are building more than 20 renewable-energy projects.

Finally, we need to start gradually raising the carbon tax again. It’s among the best tools we have to reduce carbon pollution and stimulate innovation. We know it works and that it had positive environmental and economic benefits.

Let’s build on our success. A serious climate plan will unfreeze the carbon tax and set out a schedule that provides certainty so businesses and families can plan for the future.

We know from experience that B.C. can lead on climate and enjoy a thriving, resilient economy. In fact, we see climate leadership as essential to our province’s long-term prosperity. It’s now up to the government to follow through.

Written by members of the Climate Leadership Team: Thomas Pedersen, professor of oceanography, University of Victoria; Nancy Olewiler, professor, school of public policy, Simon Fraser University; Chief Ian Campbell, hereditary chief, Squamish Nation; Chief Michelle Edwards, Cayoose Creek Band; Merran Smith, executive director, Clean Energy Canada; Matt Horne, B.C. associate director, Pembina Institute; Tzeporah Berman, adjunct professor, faculty of environmental studies, York University.

(This op-ed originally appeared in the Times Colonist on May 17, 2016.)