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BC government bodies spent $18.8 million on carbon offsets in 2012

In 2012 the British Columbia government took $5.7 million from health authorities, $4.5 million from school districts and $3.8 million from colleges and universities to buy carbon offsets.

The purchases are part of an $18.8 million expense that allows the government to claim for the third year in a row that it is carbon neutral, meaning that any greenhouse gas emissions are balanced by buying carbon offsets.

"Even with the best efforts to reduce GHG emissions, it is difficult, if not impossible, to get to zero emissions," explains the Carbon Neutral Government 2012 report released today. The report includes a statement from new environment minister Mary Polak. "To be carbon neutral (net-zero emissions), organizations reduce emissions as much as possible each year, measure any remainder and purchase an equivalent amount of reductions (offsets) to get to zero."

A full list of what public sector bodies spent in 2012 on carbon offsets is available in the report's appendix. Among the top purchasers were:

University of British Columbia: $1,702,815

Vancouver Coastal Health Authority: $1,138,800

Fraser Health Authority: $1,033,500

Interior Health Authority: $1,029,700

Vancouver Island Health Authority: $859,125

BC Hydro: $720,300

BC Housing: $650,525

ICBC: $603,900

School District 36, Surrey: $523,125

School District 39, Vancouver: $427,775

The B.C. government requires public sector organizations to buy those offsets at $25 per tonne from the Pacific Carbon Trust, which in turn invests the money in private sector projects aimed at reducing carbon emissions.

In March the province's auditor general released a report that looked closely at two projects from which the PCT bought offsets. "This claim of carbon neutrality is not accurate, as neither project provided credible offsets," it found, concluding both projects would have happened without the money for the carbon offsets.

On June 27, Finance Minister Mike de Jong mentioned the Pacific Carbon Trust as somewhere the government might find cost savings while still achieving its environmental goals.

Andrew MacLeod is The Tyee's Legislative Bureau Chief in Victoria. Find him on Twitter or reach him here.

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