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B.C.’s shiny new climate plan: A look under the hood

BY MARC LEE

Special to the News

B.C.’s new climate plan, Clean BC, is a big and visionary document and was instantly lauded by environmental groups and businesses alike. While there is a lot to like in the plan, a reality check is in order, particularly the challenge of fitting in liquefied natural gas (LNG). 

Clean BC integrates climate, employment and industrial policies into a coherent economic development strategy for the province, including many skills and training support programs. It is important to have a vision of a low-carbon B.C. in which different sectors of society can imagine themselves. 

The plan includes a requirement that 10 per cent of new vehicles sold in 2025 be zero emission, rising to 30 per cent in 2030 with all new passenger vehicles zero emission by 2040. 

All new buildings must be “net zero ready” by 2032, meaning their annual energy needs, on average, could be met by rooftop solar panels. Existing buildings will be eligible for a new retrofit program, including social housing. 

The measures contained in the plan will be funded in the 2019 B.C. Budget although we will have to wait until February for full costing in many cases. Importantly, the plan includes stronger annual reporting and forecasting of emissions and independent assessments. There do not appear to be any gimmicks like using carbon offsets to meet targets.

Ultimately, the new climate plan only gets us 75 per cent of the way to our 2030 target and the government promises future measures to close the gap within the next 18 to 24 months. By the time those new measures get implemented, however, it will be close to 2030. 

In the lead-up to launching the new climate plan, the B.C. government repeatedly stated that LNG would fit into it. But as the 75 per cent number tells us, it does not. It is possible that the recently announced LNG Canada project can be made to fit within B.C.’s 2030 targets, but emissions that are locked-in will make it extremely difficult, if not impossible, for B.C. to meet its 2040 and 2050 targets of 60 per cent and 80 per cent emission reductions. 

Rather than slowly winding down fossil fuel production, the government’s objective is to increase production while powering upstream fracking and processing with electricity from the Site C dam. This poses a range of environmental challenges including greenhouse gas emissions associated with construction and flooding of land. A new transmission line to connect Site C to gas fracking and processing operations will likely cost hundreds of millions of dollars, an amount that all BC Hydro ratepayers will pay. 

If anywhere can make the leap to zero carbon it ought to be B.C. Unfortunately, the new climate plan reflects “all of the above” thinking that says yes to everything: new green industries and technologies and more fossil fuel development. 

Marc Lee is a senior economist with the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, BC Office.