CleanBC’s deferred action, policy gaps worry critics

NDP climate blueprint borrows from plan drawn up by BC Liberals

Carbon emissions reduction targets underlying the B.C. NDP CleanBC climate strategy, announced Dec. 5, and proclaimed as new in May, are anything but that.

Rather, they were set in place under Gordon Campbell in 2007.

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The goal then and now is to get greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions 80 % below 2007 levels by 2050, with 2030 and 2040 targets along the way.

“They’re re-gifting it just in time for Christmas,” Liberal environment and climate change critic Peter Milobar said.

Indeed, the plan is a rehash of old plans with some new items, much involving heavy electrification of homes, infrastructure and industry BC Hydro may not be able to support.

Despite legislation requiring updated BC Hydro resource plans every five years and a promise of a new one in the plan under the NDP, the Crown corporation has not produced one since 2013.

And, while past climate plans have been priced out, the cost now remains a mystery. British Columbians have been told to wait until Finance Minister Carole James delivers her February budget, a departure from past Liberal plans that came with dollar figures.

Holding the plan together is an economy-wide suite of measures to reduce emissions and move to a low-carbon economy. And the government still needs to detail one quarter of the plan.

The plan sets out five areas where change needs to occur:

• Transportation - cleaner fuels, cleaner vehicles and measures to get people out of cars;

• Homes and buildings where we live and work – raising new construction standards and encouraging energy-saving improvements;

• Reducing emissions from organic waste and diverting it from landfills;

• Reducing industry emissions with targeted incentives, and;

• Working with employers, Indigenous communities, labour groups and others to develop future jobs skills.


The missing 25 %

The plan accounts for 75 % of emissions reductions required by 2030 with the remaining 25% to be identified over the next two years. That alone is cause for worry, said Milobar, noting an election could come before that 25% is identified.

Milobar said it’s in that number that the plan’s heavy financial ramifications will come. “We don’t know who’s going to pay,” he said.

Milobar isn’t casting doubt on the good intentions of the plan but said there’s little room in B.C. for climate plans to differ significantly from one another as governments change.

“They wound up in the same spot we did,” he said, calling the plan an opportunity for the BC Green Party to put its brand on climate action to appeal to its base.

The plan does not address one of the most significant sources of everyday greenhouse gas emissions: agriculture

Dr. Kent Mullinix, director of Kwantlen’s Institute of Sustainable Food Systems, said agriculture accounts for 10-15 % of global greenhouse gas emissions. While the CleanBC report claims it only accounts for 3 % of B.C. emissions, Mullinix said the government can’t discount consumption patterns, which largely has to do with industrial farming and its significant contribution to global warming.

“We can’t just look at what were producing; we need to look what were eating,” said Mullinix.

Furthermore, sustainable food systems (such as local food) are also not addressed.

“What isn’t debatable is the food system is a major contributor to global GHGs,” he said. “Simultaneously it has the potential of mitigating GHGs. But were not talking about his much outside of science.”

He added that if B.C. is ready to regulate how we commute, it ought to look at how we eat.

“We estimate in the Southwest bioregion, changing what we grow and what we raise isn’t going to impact our food system GHG emission balance. The thing that will really change it is diet,” he said, citing studies that show ceasing or reducing meat consumption may be the most impactful way to reduce one’s carbon impact.

A number of environmental groups, from Sierra Club BC to David Suzuki Foundation, have generally supported the plan, but have not raised the matter of food consumption and policy publicly. Mullinix said it is imperative to any climate plan to address food systems.


Industry transition

CleanBC promises to return carbon tax revenues to industry as incentives to transition to more green operations. It echoes past federal and various provinces’ plans that such moves would position provinces as attractive to businesses looking to invest in forward-looking, low-carbon economies.

The Business Council of B.C. signed off on that in November, inking a memorandum of understanding supporting the plan’s goals for transforming the business environment.

“The low-carbon strategy will also contribute to a strong, competitive economy that can attract investment to B.C. and further reduce our own emissions intensity,” council president Greg D’Avignon said.

CleanBC proposes using carbon capture and storage (CCS) to reduce industrial emissions. CCS involves capturing carbon before it is emitted and sequestering it below ground. In some cases, it is used for so-called enhanced energy production with carbon pumped into wells oil to force out oil and gas.

The plan acknowledges B.C. gas plants have used CCS for decades and champions research and development of technology and also regulations for such a regime. However, B.C. may be re-inventing a wheel already rolling across Saskatchewan, where large-scale carbon capture has been underway with projects such as SaskPower’s Boundary Dam 3 project.

The 2016 Liberal plan called for the elimination of burning of oil and gas industry byproduct gases and so-called fugitive emissions. The NDP plan has abandoned that. Instead, CleanBC offers industry incentives through the carbon-tax-supported Clean Industry Fund. To qualify for funding, companies would have to detail how much emissions they want to reduce and how they would achieve that.

Hydrogen is also touted as part of the energy mix – with financial support for fuel-cell vehicles, hydrogen production and infrastructure and injection of the gas into the natural gas grid.

While the Liberal 2008 plan included hydrogen plans, those had vanished by 2016. Hydrogen plans gained star power when former California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and Campbell championed the idea of a hydrogen highway between the state and province. The plan was part of a 2007 memorandum of understanding setting targets for GHG emissions below 1990 levels. None of it happened.

The provincial government also aims to eliminate the sale of internal combustion vehicles (ICV) by 2040. This goal is predicated on several assumptions, including the stated expectation that electric vehicle (EV) prices will be the same as ICVs by 2030 and car manufacturers can meet the objective by 2040.

Automakers will be required to sell 10 % EVs by 2025; 30 % by 2030; and 100 % by 2040.

The plan does not outline how existing multi-family units will obtain charging capacity. Rather, this is something the government is “exploring.”

The government said it would expand its EV incentive program (a $6,000 rebate for new EV purchase) to charging infrastructure. It also plans an education campaign.

But numerous municipalities are already addressing charging infrastructure. The City of Richmond, for example, has set a policy to ensure all new multi-family building parking spaces are fitted with charging capacity.

A Center for Climate Protection September 2018 report notes numerous European countries have committed to ICV elimination by 2040 or earlier. B.C. would be the first jurisdiction in North America to do so, although California had a proposed bill that fell off the table this year.

Norway is the most ambitious, with a proposed 2025 ban. In 2017, 40 % of new vehicle sales were EVs (including hybrids).

“Very few countries have taken legislative action regarding incentive programs or ending ICE vehicle sales, and the legislative action that has passed is non-binding,” notes the report.

The report notes no major auto manufacturer has yet committed to 100 % EV production, although many are ramping up production and consumer choices.

In the meantime, CleanBC increases low-carbon fuel standards (fuel blended with renewables, such as organic waste byproducts) to 20 % by 2030, up from 15 % under the 2016 BC Liberal plan.

The plan further states a “goal is to make every new building constructed in B.C. ‘net-zero energy ready’ by 2032.”

The Urban Development Institute has taken a cautious approach to the plan to reform building infrastructure.

“While UDI has generally been supportive of making new buildings more energy efficient to meet climate change goals and the national net-zero standard by 2032, such as the provision of electric vehicle charging infrastructure, we need some additional time to assess this new plan’s details,” noted a UDI statement. 

“As we advised the provincial government in our letter, in some cases, retrofitting older, low-rise public or private apartment buildings and single-family homes that are past their useful life or have seismic challenges, may not be the most cost-effective improvements, even with some partial rebates.”


Lack of criticism

What is a departure from the past is the lack of criticism.

While Liberal premier Christy Clark had her six-member Climate Leadership Team of environmentalists, academics and First Nations leaders, Horgan’s Climate Solutions and Clean Growth Advisory Council has 20 members, putting past critics at the table.

Clean Energy Canada has produced reports in the past critical of various province’s emissions plans but executive director Merran Smith has been promoted from her Clark-era position as a team member to co-chair with Teck Resources Ltd. senior vice-president of sustainability and external affairs Marcia Smith. The committee is composed of environmentalists, First Nations, academics, politicians and industry representatives.

Another past critic is Andrew Weaver, now leader of the BC Green Party and the man holding the balance of power between the BC Liberals and the NDP, keeping John Horgan in the premier’s office. The NDP and Greens in 2017 signed the Confidence and Supply Agreement, key in which was an item on creating jobs, acting on climate change and building a sustainable economy. The CleanBC plan is part of that.

Milobar said as further details emerge, groups not included on the council could begin to cast a critical eye on the plan.

One critical voice is Sierra Club BC, which said the plan would have a better chance of success if liquefied natural gas development were to be removed from the energy mix.

At least two LNG plants are going ahead, despite Weaver’s earlier attacks on Liberal premier Christy Clark for linking B.C’s economic future to the “sunset industry of fossil fuels.”

Sierra Club spokesperson Jens Wieting said the plan does not address how much of a carbon footprint for LNG is acceptable. Auditor General Carol Bellringer said in a February report that meeting future emission reduction targets will be partly dependent on the size of whatever LNG industry that develops and that large-scale LNG production will substantially increase provincial emissions.

The plan stresses further electrification of the industry could offset emissions. Changing of global shipping fleets’ power source to LNG could also attract shipping to the province, the plan said.


Reporting goals

The government has come under auditor general scrutiny for lack of GHG reductions data reporting. Bellringer reported in February the government had met requirements to report progress towards GHG reduction targets every two years, but said detail was falling each year.

The NDP promises to address that shortfall, saying the Climate Change Accountability Act will be amended to publish emissions figures as they arrive; provide the Legislature an annual report of spending, program results and anticipated reductions from the previous year; and to forecast emissions for the following three years.

And that was something lauded by Sierra Club BC. “The plan delivers specific, effective actions with transparent reporting and accountability, which deserves both applause and support,” said campaigns director Caitlyn Vernon. “We will be watching to ensure that the climate advisory council has sufficient budget and capacity to do its work.”


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