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BC’s Climate Leadership Plan: cute graphics; no plan

Tom Hackney
Monday, August 22, 2016

The Ministry of Environment graphics department has done its best. Cute silhouette graphics show how turtles, hikers and bunnies can happily coexist with helicopters, factories and container ships. Photos of eagles and green forests reinforce the bright and cheery prose.

Painfully absent from the 2016 Climate Leadership Plan are the plan and substance that BC urgently needs to address what is arguably the biggest issue facing us and the world.

globaltemp_1.jpgThe 2016 Climate Leadership Plan should be filling in the gaps of its predecessor, the 2008 Climate Action Plan. That plan set out a general framework and some low-hanging-fruit measures that would have taken BC part of the way toward its 2020 greenhouse gas reduction targets. The next step should have been to propose the substantial measures across all sectors of society to reach the end goal: an 80% reduction in carbon emissions below 2007 levels. In other words, by 2050, we need to cut BC’s carbon emissions from about 63 megatonnes (MT) today down to 13 MT.

Despite eight years of time in which to plan and eight years of increasingly serious news of the harmful effects of global climate disruption, the Climate Leadership Plan has advanced so little beyond the 2008 plan as to call into question the government’s intentions.

We need to cut our emissions by 50 MT. The plan claims to achieve half that or less, using easy-to-achieve and often dubious measures, and there is no indication of what will be needed to reach the 2050 target.

The transportation sector gives an example of the general mushiness. We should probably reduce our transportation emissions down to 5 MT, a reduction of 18 MT. The plan would only get us down by at most 3 MT.

The proposed measures include “invest in infrastructure to reduce congestion.” This seems to be a reference to the ten lane bridge that the government means to build over the Fraser River to replace the Massey Tunnel and make it easier to export liquefied natural gas from Fortis’ Tilbury LNG facility. It is, of course, well established that “easing congestion” actually increases traffic and emissions rather than decreasing them. Killing this proposal and cutting several hundred million dollars from BC’s highways budget would help measurably to reduce emissions, but this has no place in this plan.

Another transportation measure is to increase the renewable fuel standard. This is inherently very limited because of the lack of fuel supply and limits to the percentage of renewable fuel that can be blended into the mix, and it still leaves us mainly dependent on fossil fuels, instead of mainly off fossil fuels.

Likewise, encouraging businesses and industry to switch from diesel to natural gas vehicles may yield some climate change advantages (or not, depending on methane leakage), but it is investing in a dead-end measure that will never offer the very deep reductions in emissions that we need.

Using more clean energy vehicles and transit is mentioned, and this is good, but the discussion is merely qualitative. Without numerical targets and commitments, there is no real plan.

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Likewise with buildings. It’s nice to talk about encouraging energy efficiency. But we should have gotten past that stage in the years since 2008. We need a focused plan to upgrade building standards very quickly to a zero-net-energy target, or close to it – and much sooner than the 2032 timeline in the plan. We also need a concerted plan for major energy efficiency upgrades to the existing building stock – not just a few incentives, but a province-wide plan with goals. If the government  needs guidance, on making a strategic plan, it can look at the City of Vancouver’s 2015 Renewable City Strategy.

The plan predictably touts job creation in the natural gas industry. The proposed measures focus on production and processing and ignore the emissions from the eventual end-use combustion. Granted, those emissions would be beyond BC’s jurisdiction if the gas was exported. But climate change ignores geographic boundaries. A meaningful climate action plan would address how we can meet our needs without exporting massive amounts of carbon emissions.

The plan picks and chooses among the recommendations of the Climate Leadership Team, which the government assembled in 2015 from industry, municipal government, academia and environmental sectors. Notably absent is an increase in the carbon tax and a broadening of its coverage, which were two of the Climate Leadership Team’s chief recommendations.

The plan claims to have adopted a 100% clean power target for BC Hydro, which is a worthy target. But the key caveat, “except where concerns regarding reliability or costs must be addressed,” means that it is a rebranding exercise, not a change of policy.

Finally, public engagement on this plan has been minimal, and accordingly, we should expect little public buy-in. There have been no town hall meetings, no round table events, only a couple of badly advertised rounds of inputs on the government’s website. This is absurd for an issue like climate action, which should be aiming at carbon emissions in all sectors of society, necessarily affecting all our lives profoundly. Apparently that thought hasn’t crossed the government’s mind – or perhaps that’s exactly what they want.

 

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