B.C. Liberals rein in greenhouse-gas emissions goals, put off carbon tax change

Gordon Hoekstra

August 19, 2016 - The B.C. Liberal government has put off the heavy lifting on reducing greenhouse gas emissions to a later date, under a new plan released today.

The much-anticipated update to a 2008 plan created under then-premier Gordon Campbell recommits the province to achieving an 80 per cent reduction over 2007 levels by 2050.

However, today’s 52-page plan only lays out actions estimated to achieve less than half of the needed reductions by 2050, and much less if the government’s much-hoped-for liquefied natural gas export industry materializes and significantly increases emissions.

While it’s already known that B.C. will not meet its 2020 target of reducing emissions by one-third, the Christy Clark-led Liberals are not setting a new interim target and will have to remove from law the 2020 legislated target.

At a news conference in Richmond, Premier Clark said the plan will need to be updated every year with new measures, although the plan only calls for renewal every five years.

Clark also said the plan would reduce carbon emissions by eight per cent by 2030, which is not mentioned in the plan.

The new, interim target is just one of the many recommendations from a government-appointed 17-member advisory committee that is not being implemented.

Another is that the carbon tax will not be increased in 2018. The province is also not committing to any kind of schedule of increases.

The government says it is not opposed to considering an increase in the carbon tax, but not until it sees what kind of pricing framework the federal government under Prime Minister Justin Trudeau comes up with, possibly by the end of the year. The B.C. government will also not consider increases until other provinces catch up to the $30 per tonne carbon tax level here, frozen since 2012.

The B.C. government says that it needed to apply a lens — that assured the province’s economic competitiveness and affordability to families — to the recommendations of its advisory committee comprised of government, business, academic, environmental, First Nations and community representatives.

“British Columbians expect us to protect our environment and protect our planet, and they also expect us to make sure we are protecting our economy and creating jobs,” said Clark.

The premier touted tens of thousands of “green” jobs to be created in the next decade.

While the B.C. Liberals have put costs to the plan, those details will not be released until a provincial budget is unveiled in 2017.

Committee members had signed off on 32 recommendations in a report last fall, except for a lone dissenting voice from the B.C. LNG Alliance on the recommendation to aggressively increase the carbon tax at $10 per year beginning in 2018. That would have doubled the tax by 2020 and put it at $130 per tonne by 2030, far outstripping any jurisdiction in North America.

The committee had been tasked to provide advice on reducing emissions, while maintaining a strong economy.

They offset business effects of the carbon tax increase with a recommendation to reduce the provincial sales tax by one per cent to six per cent, and eliminate some smaller business taxes.

Those tax offset measures are not mentioned in the B.C. Liberal plan released today.

Clean Energy Canada executive director Merran Smith, a member of the government-appointed advisory committee, said the plan is full of holes and some of the emission reductions are not assured. “Instead of bold action, B.C.’s climate leadership has fizzled,” Smith said in a written statement.

B.C. Business Council president Greg D’Avignon said the B.C. government’s caution in raising the carbon tax is prudent given that it’s the highest in North America, sixth highest in the world and no province has a carbon tax now. “We have to continue to make sure that B.C. businesses can compete,” he said.

The B.C. government also balked at expanding the carbon tax to encompass vented and leaked methane emissions from the natural gas sector, another recommendation of the advisory committee.

Instead, the province is beefing up incentives to encourage methane reduction, introducing in 2018 regulations that require leak detection and repair and setting a target of methane reductions of 45 per cent by 2025.

The plan also calls for the consideration of switching the power source for equipment to process natural gas from gas to electricity. However, that would only take place if LNG projects go ahead, which is doubtful in the near future. B.C. is also looking for help from Ottawa in funding transmission lines to the gas fields.

Forestry plays a major role in the plan, accounting for almost half of the reductions in emissions. However, one plank of that plan — replanting timber destroyed by wildfire or the mountain pine beetle epidemic — is not an emission reduction but an offset program. Forestry offsets are controversial, in part, because accounting for carbon absorption is complex and subject to uncertainty.

While the plan does increase the low carbon fuel standard to 15 per cent in 2030 from 10 per cent in 2020, over 2010 levels, that’s less than the increase to 20 per cent recommended by the advisory committee.

There are other incentives in the plan to encourage the use of natural-gas powered commercial vehicles, electric vehicles and new efficiency standards for industrial gas-fired boilers.

The plan also calls for Hydro to encourage industrial customers to switch to electricity, and encourages a move to lower energy use in buildings.