British Columbia is set to overshoot its 2020 and 2050 emissions reduction targets, according to an independent assessment of the province’s climate policies.
BC has legislated emissions targets for 2020 and 2050 (respectively 33% below and 80% below 2007 levels) of 42.3 megatonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (Mt CO2e) per year by 2020, and 12.6 Mt by 2050.
But computer modelling released this week of the province’s Climate Leadership Plan (CLP), an initial strategy announced in August that is expected to be built upon next year, finds that BC still has a long way to go.
British Columbia’s GHG Emissions by Scenario
The PICS-funded researchers modelled the plan together with the more recently announced federal carbon price of $50 per tonne by 2022. The model did not include carbon abatement from the forest sector, as it does not have that capability. The contribution from that sector was added in after the modelling, using the emissions reduction value cited in the Plan.
The modelling found that the combined emissions from the natural gas sector, industry and utilities, transport and buildings will peak at 68 Mt in 2030—an eight Mt increase on today’s levels—and then decline slightly to 66 Mt by mid-century. For comparison, if the government did not take any new climate action, emissions would clock in at 76 Mt by the middle of the century.
In other words, the report showed that the CLP (excluding forestry) would achieve emission reductions of 10 Mt by 2050 over what otherwise would have happened.
The CLP’s numbers improve with the inclusion of the province’s forecast 12Mt carbon abatement from forestry, which would further lower annual emissions to 54 Mt by 2050. However PICS executive director Sybil Seitzinger points out this is still 41 Mt above the target.
“This analysis highlights the extent of the gap between BC’s legislated emissions reduction target and where this initial plan takes us, which is just a third of the way. Clearly, more reductions are needed across all sectors, and PICS supports the development and implementation of more next steps.”
The province’s strategy to achieve a 12 Mt reduction from forestry has yet to be fleshed out. PICS researchers are currently exploring options for emissions reductions by that sector, through measures such as better forest management, more storage of carbon via greater use of longer-lived wood products in the construction of buildings, and the displacement of carbon-intensive substances such as steel and cement in those buildings by super-strong wood-based materials. Some of that research will be released in the new year.
GHG Emissions by Sector
According to the study, the largest single source of emissions in 2050 is carbon pollution from shale gas operations and liquefied natural gas projects, equivalent to some 28.4 Mt of the 41 Mt gap.
In the absence of natural gas development, BC much more closely approaches its legislated target. The gap would then only be 13 Mt.
Major emissions reductions to close the gap could also come from industry (emissions 20 Mt in 2050) transport (14 Mt), and buildings (4 Mt), or some combination of these along with natural gas. The former could largely be achieved by replacement of fossil fuel combustion with processes that use non-emitting electricity instead.
Energy economist Mark Jaccard helped design BC’s carbon tax, and he still supports it. But he questions just how politically viable a stringent tax—at the level needed to meet climate targets—can really be. So he also continues to explore how other policies that the public find more acceptable could work.