Climate leadership can take on many roles: it involves setting realistic targets rooted in scientific principles, developing an effective plan to achieve those objectives, and perhaps most important of all, inspiring citizens to take meaningful climate action.
Climate leadership can be carried out at different scales; most notably governments should be responsible for leading by example, therefore encouraging citizens to follow along their footsteps.
Let’s start with an example of climate leadership. In 2008, the province of BC became the first jurisdiction in North America to establish a revenue-neutral carbon tax. The environmental and economic responses have been remarkable: BC’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and fuel consumption have declined, personal income and corporate tax in BC are the lowest in Canada, and investment in renewable energy has been on the rise ever since its introduction in 2008. The carbon tax model has received international acclaim by organizations such as the World Bank, the Economist and the OECD, representing a cornerstone of effective climate policy. The success of BC’s carbon tax was instrumental in enhancing the potential for carbon pricing in Canada. This is particularly relevant in light of the recent establishment of a national carbon-price plan earlier this month. Way to go, carbon tax!
Unfortunately, the same level of success cannot be attributed to the 2016 BC Climate Leadership Plan which seems to have failed in all three of aspects of leadership. Following up with BCSEA Policy Director, Tom Hackney’s article “BC’s Climate Leadership Plan: cute graphics; no plan”, the plan itself doesn’t have a plan. The document does not fully follow through with any of the 32 recommendations made by the Climate Leadership Team. The recommended increase to the carbon tax has been ignored, therefore prolonging the years of fixed carbon price to 9 years (from 2012 to 2021) also as a result of the changes at the federal level. The fixed price of carbon (30$/tonne) is believed to cause a rise in the provinces emissions up to 2021, clearly a counterproductive and lousy outcome. The plan ignores the failure of meeting the targeted 33% reduction in GHG emissions by 2020*. No additional targets are established before the long term 80% reduction by 2050*, another of the suggestions made by the Climate Leadership Team. Expectations for achieving the reductions by 2050 are low, especially considering the dubious measures outlined in the plan.
How are citizens expected to make household-level changes towards sustainability in the energy sector when the ruling government sets out a disappointing plan that undermines the climate leadership status the province once had?
One strategy can be to confront the psychological barriers that often impede individuals from taking meaningful climate action. A study released by the University of Oregon investigates the moral intuition that climate change triggers in people. The researchers conclude that because of the uncertainty associated with climate change, it seems to occupy less of a moral imperative therefore resulting in less motivation to take action against it. Some of these features include the fact that climate change is abstract and difficult to process cognitively, it is perceived as an unintentional action. Furthermore, because of how climate change is often framed, people tend to minimize how responsible they feel at a personal level which leads to climate inaction. It is imperative that these barriers are overcome in order to mobilize and encourage climate action.
There are numerous ways to reinforce the argument in favour of climate action and climate leadership. While provincial legislation is undoubtedly important in establishing targets and plans for climate action, we mustn’t neglect the importance of the actions of households, families, and younger generations. Education is a critical ingredient in the recipe for climate action; it is a major contributor in the shaping of our current and future societies. In particular, education instills in students the ability to think critically about real world problems. Critical thinking is an important practice for students to acquire: it can help filter through media bias and determine what information is actually important, and may aid future generations in developing innovative solutions to the climate crisis. Indeed, the power of information sharing is boundless.
Programs such as BCSEA’s Cool It! Climate Leadership Training and its free Cool It! In Your Community workshops strive to educate elementary school students about climate change and ways to reduce their impact on the environment. The program features a contest which encourages families to make easy and effective changes to their lifestyles in order to reduce their household carbon footprint. Initiatives such as Cool It! are an excellent way of bridging the generational gap between family members, allowing the household members to be unitedly devoted towards a common objective.
Be it at a provincial, municipal, or household level, the time has come to foster climate leadership by taking meaningful action, overcoming the psychological barriers of climate change, and by facilitating climate education to younger generations. After all, we are truly all in this together.
* These reductions are based on the 2007 baseline GHG emission level
Marco Sanelli is a 4th year student in the Natural Resource Conservation major in the Faculty of Forestry at UBC.
Interested in learning more about GHG emissions, reductions and climate policy in BC? Join BCSEA's mailing list and receive regular updates on climate and energy policy, news and information on events.