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Premier has rosy view of BC’s carbon targets, experts say

Premier Gordon Campbell said B.C. is “well on track” to cut emissions to lawful levels by 2020, but climate change and transit experts disagree.

“The province has taken some of the strongest steps in Canada to deal with climate change,” the Pembina Institute’s Matt Horne told The Tyee. “But there’s definitely still more that needs to be done.”

Campbell made his optimistic prediction during the leader’s debate this morning, referencing carbon targets set in law two years ago.

“British Columbia is the only province in the country that’s got a 33 per cent reduction in greenhouse gases by 2020,” he said. “We’re well on track to accomplish that.”

Natural gas development in north-eastern B.C. and transit opportunities created by the Port Mann bridge expansion are important parts of the strategy, Campbell added.

He also committed to a cap and trade system by 2012 and an end to regular oil and gas flaring four years later. The New Democratic Party’s platform calls for similar measures.

Horne said it’s doable for the province to meet its reduction targets, but he's worried unplanned natural gas development could make progress "impossible." And to date, there’s been no study suggesting the Port Mann expansion will reduce greenhouse gases, Horne said.

UBC landscape architecture professor Patrick Condon argues the government could cover the Lower Mainland in zero-emission light rail for the cost of the new bridge.

Instead, the ruling party’s Gateway project – which calls for widened highways and more bridge lanes – will sidetrack sustainable planning for years, Condon told The Tyee.

Expanded vehicle infrastructure causes more people to drive, he added.

“I think the average person understands that building new highways does not reduce greenhouse gases,” he said.

Last June, Campbell announced the province was set to meet 73 percent of its 2020 reduction goals, based on existing policies. In July, the independant B.C. Climate Action Team released a report with 31 recommendations to hit the target.

The David Suzuki Foundation’s Ian Bruce said the government should allocate a portion of carbon tax revenue to fund public transit.

That was the recent proposal most Lower Mainland mayors called for to meet a TransLink funding shortfall. Campbell opposed the initiative.

“I certainly hope the province and whichever government forms after the election takes this proposal seriously,” Bruce said. “I think it’s extremely exciting.”

Geoff Dembicki reports for The Tyee.

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