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BC's new climate pact with US states: PR stunt or 'big deal'?

In case you didn't notice, California, Oregon, Washington and B.C. this week signed a climate pact -- a.k.a. the Pacific Coast Action Plan -- promising "meaningful coordination and linkage" in the fight against global warming.

"It's great news," B.C. Environment Minister Mary Polak said in a statement. To who exactly is still hard to say: the government's public relations department, or those advocating real, urgent progress towards a low-carbon economy?

First the pros: together these four jurisdictions represent 53 million people. Taken as a whole, their combined GDP of $2.8 trillion would constitute the world's fifth largest economy.

The pact commits Oregon and Washington to place a market price on carbon emissions -- the precursor, many believe, to a truly sustainable economy -- and make the fuels powering their cars and trucks cleaner.

Both those initiatives are already underway in California and B.C., with varying degrees of success.

This week's Action Plan also promises to cut red tape for new clean energy projects, and move towards a more integrated electrical grid -- and hence common market -- for low-carbon power.

"That will make the Pacific states a far more attractive and predictable investment for solar and wind developers and financiers as well as even more of a magnet for green technology entrepreneurs," writes Todd Woody at Quartz.

Now for the cons: the pact is not legally binding, and won't be funded by any of the jurisdictions signing it. Both Oregon and Washington have previously tried -- and failed -- to get cap-and-trade laws passed by their legislatures.

Premier Christy Clark, who's been lukewarm at best on B.C.'s climate policies, didn't attend the San Francisco signing in person. She sent her underling Polak instead.

And her Liberal government also used the milestone to promote its export plans for B.C. natural gas, an industry that might someday create more carbon emissions than Alberta's oil sands.

Like all climate agreements, then, the details are a little messy. But they aren't enough to dissuade Clean Energy Canada's Dan Woynillowicz -- and other green observers -- from calling it "a big deal."

"We'll be candid," Woynillowicz wrote. "The new Action Plan injects a fresh dose of optimism. We look forward to rolling up our sleeves and working with these leaders to help them deliver on this plan's promise."

Geoff Dembicki reports on energy and climate change for The Tyee.

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