Losing Leadership on Provincial Climate Policies

This week was a clear reminder of why I decided to run for office.

Back in 2008, I had the honour of working with then Premier Gordon Campbell, his Minister of Environment, the Honourable Barry Penner and the Climate Action Team to outline clear, bold and practical steps that we as a province could take to address global warming.

 

Together with government, academics, industry leaders, and First Nations, we developed a suite of policies that would allow us to reduce our carbon emissions while supporting strong economic growth. Six years later, British Columbia’s climate policies were still seen as leading the way in North America.

On Monday the Liberal government tabled a bill that threatens to undermine that success.

Bill 2: The Greenhouse Gas Industrial Reporting and Control Actwould see British Columbia repeal legislation that would have enabled us to enter a cap and trade framework with our Pacific Coast climate action partners. In its place, we would adopt new legislation that would see us embrace what’s called an “emissions intensity” scheme along the lines of what Alberta and the Harper Tories have done.

Whereas a cap and trade framework would force us to reduce the total amount of carbon we emit into the atmosphere, an emissions intensity scheme would only require businesses to reduce the amount of carbon produced in liquefying a specified quantity of natural gas.

Here’s the problem: Our climate doesn’t care about emissions intensity. Our climate cares about the overall magnitude of emissions. If we increase the production of LNG, even if it is produced more and more efficiently, emissions are still going up. Ultimately, the climate only cares about the total amount of carbon pollution a facility would release and how much carbon pollution is in our atmosphere.

An emissions intensity scheme wouldn’t limit the overall carbon emissions. That’s why if you compare Alberta’s emissions to British Columbia’s, you will see that while British Columbia’s emissions decreased in the last few years, Alberta’s increased.

So why are we going down this path? Because the government knows that emissions are going to skyrocket if we develop our LNG industry. And an Alberta or Harper Government style emissions intensity model will provide the illusion of action on global warming at the same time as our overall magnitude of carbon emissions continue to increase. That’s all this is: The illusion of action.

The simple fact is, if we pass this bill, we may as well say goodbye to all of the progress we have made, for we will be stepping into a new era as one of the most polluting provinces in Canada.

As part of the debate on this Bill, I introduced an amendment that proposed that the Legislature delay debate on this Bill for 6 months. This would allow us as MLAs to put more time and thought  into this Bill, and to ensure that we have carefully thought through the consequences of losing our leadership in addressing global warming. My amendment was voted down 40 to 28, with the BC NDP voting in support of the amendment.

Here is a quick guide to my four main areas of critique for this piece of legislation.

  1. The bill will see B.C. undermine its highly effective climate policies with an Alberta-style emissions intensity framework that has been shown to be ineffective at reducing net emissions. This is the same type of framework that was adopted federally by PM Stephen Harper’s Conservative Government, amidst significant criticism.
  2. Under an emissions intensity framework, the magnitude of net carbon emissions can increase significantly despite the emissions intensity decreasing. Ultimately, the magnitude of net carbon emissions is the only thing that matters as far as global warming is concerned. This change is being made to allow for a dramatic increase in carbon emissions from the proposed LNG industry.
  3. The bill would repeal the Greenhouse Gas Reduction (Cap and Trade) Act that was passed as enabling legislation to allow B.C. to enter into a regional cap and trade framework with other jurisdictions including California, Washington and Oregon. A cap and trade framework would allow B.C. to reduce the magnitude of net carbon emissions.
  4. The bill would give cabinet the power to change the 0.16 emissions intensity limit through regulation without having to bring it back to the legislature for debate. This is the key point of the legislation that the government points to as evidence of their pledge to have the “cleanest LNG” in the world. The fact that “cleanest LNG” is not fixed in legislation, should raise significant concerns about the government’s commitment to this limit.

Please consider reading through the entire text of my speech  for a more detailed explanation of my opposition to Bill 2.

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