The British Columbian government unveiled the update to its 2008 climate change strategy last week. The document immediately received a sharply critical response from environmental groups, academics and clean energy think-tanks. They argue that the BC Climate Leadership Plan lacks ambition and, despite a raft of new measures covering all major sources of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, there are few hard targets, explicit regulations or funding numbers. The plan, they say, will not put BC on a path to achieve legislated emissions reduction targets.
The main criticism is that the document leaves the province’s carbon tax indefinitely frozen at $30 a tonne, as it has been since 2012. Last November, the government’s own appointed ‘Climate Leadership Team’ (CLT) of experts, recommended an increase of $10 a tonne in 2018, climbing by ten-dollar annual increments till it hit $160 a tonne in 2030. The plan acknowledges that carbon pricing “will require further action” at some point, but only once the rest of the country catches up to the BC carbon price, and thereafter rising on a pan-Canadian basis.
The 21 key actions outlined in the plan, would see a net annual reduction in greenhouse gases of up to 25 million tonnes (Mt) below what the province is forecast to be emitting by 2050. Critics have argued that this headline figure is something of a sleight of hand, as the reduction would be in comparison to business as usual emissions by mid-century, not in comparison to 2007 emission levels, as is required by provincial legislation. Put more simply, provincial law demands that BC be emitting 13 Mt a year by 2050, an 80 percent reduction on 2007. Meanwhile, if emissions increases projected by the CLT (due to factors such as liquefied natural gas development and energy growth demand) do bear out, then the new plan would be even further from the legislated target by 2050.
Speaking at the plan’s launch in Vancouver, the executive director of the Pacific Institute for Climate Solutions, Sybil Seitzinger, acknowledged that this plan is just the first phase, but that the key actions: “will not even take us half-way towards the 13 Mt target.”
Coincidentally, the six key action areas emphasised in the plan—natural gas, transport, forestry and agriculture, the built environment, industry and utilities, and the public sector—roughly overlap with PICS’ own ‘Big Five’ research projects covering each of the province’s major sources of emissions. This week’s Climate Examiner takes an initial look at the plan from the perspective of these projects.
The plan envisages continued support for the development of an LNG industry in the province, touting its potential as a clean-transition bridging fuel for other jurisdictions. However, the production and processing is extremely carbon intensive. The planned Pacific Northwest LNG project near Prince Rupert alone would emit between 9.6 and 10.5 Mt annually by 2050.
The government does want to see a cleaner natural gas industry however. Under the plan, methane emissions in production and processing would need to be reduced by 45 percent—via making leak detection and repair mandatory and offering business credits for investment in new technology—up from the 40 percent recommended by the CLT. Furthermore, clean electricity would replace the use of natural gas and diesel to power the industry.
The government is also keen to develop carbon capture and storage technology for the sector, similar to Saskatchewan’s emphasis on CCS to scrub its coal-fired power plants of their emissions.
From the perspective of the PICS Natural Gas Development project, the plan could be strengthened by providing a specific timeline for these efforts, as well as a commitment to expand the coverage of BC’s carbon tax, under which the sector is currently exempt, to include methane emissions after five years if the industry has not met its targets.
The plan emphasizes new regulations for more energy efficient buildings and an encouragement of buildings that consume net zero energy once on-site renewable energy production is taken into account. The government also intends to approve use of Portland-limestone cement in public sector infrastructure, a material that reduces GHG emissions associated with existing cement manufacture by about 10 per cent.
From the perspective of the PICS Built Environment project, the worry is that what is outlined is at times vague, and different elements do not seem to be joined up. For example, without effective land use, transport and community planning that works to reduce motorist journey length (such as by encouraging development near transit corridors), the improvements in the fuel efficiency announced elsewhere in the plan will be overwhelmed by people driving longer than they otherwise would.
In addition, the plan targets narrow segments of building sector energy demand, focusing on gas fireplaces and gas-fired heating equipment, but not standards covering walls, windows and roofs. Finally, the plan focuses on new buildings, rather than existing buildings, where there is substantial mitigation potential.
However, opt-in regulations (known as “stretch” codes), will at least allow local governments to pilot energy efficiency improvements in the building code. Currently only the city of Vancouver has this option.
To read the second part of PICS’ initial assessment of the BC Climate Leadership Plan, please visit here.
The Climate Examiner speaks to BC-based Carbon Engineering about the technology, the business and the policies that could make direct air capture, synfuels and carbon sequestration work.