May 6, 2020
BC loves to boast about its climate initiatives, but our emissions keep shooting up.
IN THE FIRST YEAR of BC’s NDP-led government, the province’s emissions headed skywards. In 2018, BC’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions grew faster than the rest of Canada, according to a federal report issued April 20. The three-volume report, comprising 573 pages, forms Canada’s 2020 submission to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.
When the NDP took control of the government in 2017, it didn’t bode well for the planet. After all, it was the NDP that had campaigned against BC’s continent-leading carbon tax in the 2009 election, with its “axe the tax” platform plank.
As well, after winning the 2017 election the New Democrats eliminated tolls on the Port Mann and Golden Ears bridges, making cars—already heavily subsidized—cheaper still. What next, some might ask? Free gasoline for all?
And what to make of the New Democrats’ “make BC a leader in climate action” 2017 campaign promise when the following spring the government tried to convince us that the only path forward for the Province was to develop and subsidize liquefied natural gas (LNG) projects? Don Wright, Premier John Horgan’s deputy minister, had the nerve to put his name to a March 22, 2018 “Update and Technical Briefing” that pushed LNG as the Province’s saving grace. The briefing claimed that climate action, First Nations reconciliation and LNG-driven economic development were “parallel and mutually dependent priorities,” a non sequitur if ever there was one.
In 2007, Gordon Campbell’s Liberal government had promised to reduce BC’s emissions 33 percent by 2020, though progress disappeared long before the deadline. Never one to let the impending annihilation of life as we know it stand in his way, in May 2018 Horgan extended the Campbell government’s deadline to 2030, though he did boost the target reduction to 40 percent beneath 2007 levels.
The NDP’s CleanBC plan of December 2018 specified measures projected to cut the 2030 emissions by 18.9 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent (Mt). This is just 73 percent of the cuts the Campbell government had promised for this year. The NDP measures include subsidizing electric car purchases and home energy renovations, reducing the carbon intensity of transportation fuels, and incenting industry to lower emissions.
Then there was the bizarre November 7, 2019 cabinet order exempting LNG projects from all carbon taxes above $30 per tonne. Hardly a step forward.
And as if to give the proverbial finger to the climate crisis, this spring the NDP government even cancelled the $5 per tonne increase in the carbon tax scheduled for April 1, 2020—an increase specified by CleanBC. The move was purportedly in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, despite the fact that global heating may well end up killing many more people than the virus. The carbon tax is now stuck at $40, a tiny fraction of what it should be.
However, not all subsequent moves have been retrograde. In February this year the government released a detailed update of CleanBC, using revised emissions modelling.
Backed by a technical report commissioned from Vancouver’s highly-respected Navius Research, the Environment and Climate Change Strategy Ministry now says it is closer to meeting its 2030 GHG reductions, in part because the updated modelling projects that BC’s total emissions under a “business as usual” scenario—without CleanBC measures—would be 2.5 Mt less than estimated in 2018.
The main reason for this reduction is that natural gas wells are not quite as dirty, from an emissions viewpoint, as previously believed. (Navius reports that this information was provided by the Energy, Mines and Petroleum Resources Ministry.) The upshot is that the Province now has a smaller gap (5.5 Mt) to meet its goal of a 40 percent reduction by 2030. That’s assuming the reductions estimated to result from the CleanBC initiatives actually come to pass.
And since the Navius report was completed before the government cancelled the scheduled April 1 carbon tax increase, the situation may be a little less rosy than suggested. Navius explicitly relied on the government’s then-current policy to continue increasing the tax annually till it reached $50 in 2021. Revenue from the tax is supposed to help fund further reductions in industrial emissions, meaning that there are several pathways by which a lower carbon tax could affect GHG levels.
Let’s not forget that 2020—this year—is the deadline from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) deadline to begin reducing emissions if we are to avoid making Earth uninhabitable. And we’re going the wrong way.
In 2018, the first full year under the NDP, BC’s emissions grew at a much faster rate than Canada’s as a whole. BC’s emissions jumped 2.2 Mt between 2017 and 2018, according to the new federal report, which offers the latest data available. In 2018 they reached 65.5 Mt, up from 2017’s 63.3 Mt. (For comparison, had the Campbell Liberal government managed to survive and hit its original 2020 targets, BC’s emissions this year would be no more than 39.6 Mt, far beneath 2018’s actual figure of 65.5 Mt.)
At the same time, Canada’s emissions reached 729 Mt, a 2.1 percent increase from 2017, compared with BC’s 3.5 percent. Put another way, BC’s emissions increased 1.7 times faster than did Canada’s.
The Province’s 2018 emissions continue a trend: Since 2015, they have steadily increased each year, and things are not expected to improve in the near future, IPCC warning or not. According to the February update, the government now expects emissions to continue increasing “over the next couple of years,” before beginning a downward trend. By 2021, says the report, emissions would be approximately 3.5 Mt less than in 2018.
In short: BC has yet to do its share in preventing runaway global heating even without LNG, a fortiori with it.
Canada’s GHG emissions by jurisdiction. Source: Environment and Climate Change Canada
Among the untested measures in CleanBC is “carbon capture and storage” (CCS), involving collecting CO2 from the air and storing it underground. The plan projects that CCS will reduce annual emissions by 0.7 Mt. But despite considerable effort expended on various demonstration CCS technologies, there is only one method yet proven to work on a large-enough scale: Planting trees.
The biggest single fossil fuel subsidy in recent memory is BC’s $6 billion dole-out to LNG Canada, not to mention the foreign consortium’s royalty tax credits, and a further $275 million from the federal government. The only bright light on the horizon is that the project may now be at risk from various obstacles, including COVID-19, the related disruption of the chain supplying the Chinese-built modules for the Kitimat plant, and economic turmoil—combined with the growing use of renewable energy—that could slash future worldwide fossil fuel demand.
BC Green House Leader Sonia Furstenau and her Green caucus colleagues have said for years that LNG Canada is neither fiscally worthwhile nor feasible. “I don't anticipate that the COVID-19 crisis will work in its favour,” Furstenau said in a perhaps understated, emailed response to Focus queries.
Furstenau and the two other Green MLAs voted in the legislature no fewer than 14 times against subsidizing LNG Canada. “I don’t think they should have received the benefit to begin with, and argued as hard as I could to make that case to the BC NDP,” she said. “But they felt differently and voted to go ahead.”
(Note: This article relies on the latest emissions data from the federal government. BC’s own emissions inventory does not yet include those for 2018; the updated version is due to be published later this year.)
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