It is unlikely that British Columbia will meet its 2020 greenhouse gas reduction target and is off track to meet its 2050 target, according to the province’s auditor general, who also highlighted BC is not prepared for climate risks such as rising sea levels and increased frequency and intensity of wildfires.
These are the stark conclusions of a yearlong process led by Auditor General Carol Bellringer, painting a picture of a series of administrations that have set lofty goals but without the supports needed to achieve them.
BC is limited in its ability to adapt to unavoidable climate risks because there is no centralized authority, the AG found, with responsibilities spread across different agencies, often with insufficient staffing and technical capacity.
Flood plain maps are largely outdated, she added, and while monitoring stations to collect climate-relevant data such as precipitation and temperature are spread throughout the province, they do not meet international standards for station density (the number of stations for a certain geographic area). Dike infrastructure likewise may not be sufficient to withstand expected rises in sea level.
In 2010, the government issued a climate adaptation plan, but it only provides a general direction, the AG noted, and does not include any risk prioritization, list of deliverables, timelines or distribution of roles and responsibilities. It also has not been updated since its drafting eight years ago, despite the emergence of new information on climate impacts.
Bellringer’s team also concluded that beyond a sketch of emissions mitigation actions in 2016’s Climate Leadership Plan, there is no detailed pathway to meet its these targets. The auditor general says there is insufficient planning, no schedule for when actions will be carried out, no minimal performance indicators, no interim targets, no monitoring process, and no procedure for corrective action.
Environment minister George Heyman immediately responded that the government accepts the shortcomings and so is in the process of establishing a new 2040 target.
BC is not alone in suffering from a gap between climate targets and policies needed to support them. Canada as a whole is on course to overshoot its 2030 target of a reduction in emissions by 30 percent on 2005 levels, equivalent to a drop of just two percent if compared to 1990 levels—the baseline year more commonly used in international climate targets. Meanwhile, the European Union is on track to meet its 2030 target of a 40 percent reduction on 1990. Norway, outside the EU, earlier this year hit a major decarbonization milestone with a majority of all new vehicles purchased being electric. For context, in Canada, under one percent of all new cars are electric.
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.