'Enough Hot Air': Critics Knock Delays on BC Climate Action

With second-round consultations open, enviro groups see little 'leadership plan' progress.

By Andrew MacLeod 5 Feb 2016 |

Andrew MacLeod is The Tyee's Legislative bureau chief in Victoria and the author of A Better Place on Earth: The Search for Fairness in Super Unequal British Columbia (Harbour Publishing, April 2015). Find him on Twitter or reach him here.

A second round of consultation that the British Columbia government opened last week on how to tackle climate change is more talk that will further delay taking action, critics say.

"Clearly we've had enough hot air," said NDP environment critic Spencer Chandra Herbert. "The government's trying to pretend they're leaders while carbon emissions continue to go up."

On Jan. 25 the provincial government launched a 60-day public consultation asking for submissions on what to do about climate change. Chandra Herbert said the consultation "almost looks like a redo" of a similar open-ended process held last year.

"I think consulting is important, but I certainly want [the consultations] to be about something specific," said Chandra Herbert. "This is designed to kick the problem of climate change down the road so they don't have to do anything before the election."

The government frequently cites figures showing carbon emissions dropped between 2007 and 2012 while the economy grew, but it's also true they bounced back up in 2013 and are projected to keep rising.

No draft plan

Since the first round of consultation, the government has received and released a report from its Climate Leadership Team, a body that included representatives of the provincial government, businesses, First Nations, local governments and environmental groups, as well as academics.

That report had 32 recommendations including increasing the carbon tax starting in 2018, requiring new buildings to be energy efficient, feeding the province's electricity system with 100 percent renewable energy by 2025 and cutting methane emissions from the natural gas sector.

Modelling included in the team's report showed that even following the recommendations, the province would fall short of meeting its targets for reducing carbon emissions over the next 35 years, but would come much closer than it would following the government's current policy.

582px version of CHART.Climateforecast.png
Even with current recommendations implemented, latest emissions forecasts fall short of 35-year target. Source: Climate Leadership Team report.

Government representatives had previously said they would develop a draft plan based on the first round of consultation and the Climate Leadership Team's recommendations, upon which it would seek public comments in the second round of consultation. And while there's a new 30-page consultation guide, there's no draft plan.

"They haven't done that," said Matt Horne, who was on the Climate Leadership Team and is the associate regional director for B.C. at the Pembina Institute environmental group. "From a decision making perspective, we're not really any further ahead than we were last October."

After the earlier round of consultation and receiving the Climate Leadership Team's report, a more detailed plan from the government should have been possible, Horne said. "I'd prefer to see the province start to take a bit more of a stand," he said. "It's just not clear where they're going [on the] next steps."

On the other hand, it's good news that the government hasn't dismissed any of the ideas, he said. "The options still seem to be on the table."

Consultation continues

Environment Minister Mary Polak, in Ottawa this week, was unavailable for an interview.

A ministry spokesperson provided bullet points by email saying the government is working on a new climate leadership plan that is "being assembled with the advice of the Climate Leadership Team and through public consultation."

The ministry's points failed to directly address The Tyee's questions about why the draft plan wasn't ready for the second round of public consultation, why the consultation is open-ended and whether there would be further consultation once the draft plan is released.

They did note that in January Premier Christy Clark announced "she will chair a new cabinet working group on climate leadership to keep B.C.'s climate plan current and effective in meeting our long-term goals."

That committee includes Polak, Energy and Mines Minister Bill Bennett, Natural Gas Development Minister Rich Coleman, Finance Minister Michael de Jong, Transportation Minister Todd Stone, Jobs, Tourism and Skills Training Minister Shirley Bond, and Community, Sport and Cultural Development Minister Peter Fassbender.

Though some of those members may be seen as individuals likely to put a low priority on climate action, Horne said they hold files that are key to making changes. "I personally take that as a positive."

Government greenwashing, says NDP

Others worry that the province has gone too far in limiting its options. "We all know the B.C. government is developing a package of recommendations that by no means is allowed to interfere with their LNG vision," said Jens Wieting, forest and climate campaigner for the Sierra Club of BC. "That's a big problem."

It's inconsistent for provincial politicians to say they are contributing to the global fight against climate change but not do anything to avoid the emissions that would come with developing an LNG export industry, Wieting said.

The NDP's Chandra Herbert said he expects "a few token actions" in the Feb. 16 budget, but no decisive plan in place before the 2017 election.

Clark and the government will continue to talk about climate change and hope that people mistake the talk for action, he said. "It's about greenwashing their image."

Chandra Herbert said his party is supportive of the plan the Climate Leadership Team developed. While they might disagree with the proposal to use increased carbon tax revenue to cut the PST and would instead use the money to support transit or other transportation options, he said, "Broadly speaking it's a good plan."

The consultation will remain open for comments from the public until March 25, with the government saying the final plan will be released later in the spring.

Update, Feb. 5, 12:20 p.m.: Following publication of the above story, The Tyee received a response from the environment ministry about its lack of a draft plan. "Initially we thought a draft plan could be in place in December," reads the emailed statement. "However, we needed to take the necessary time to properly review and consider the very detailed and thoughtful recommendations we’ve received from the Climate Leadership Team. In addition, since the federal election we have an entirely new climate action landscape in Canada, and we want to ensure the actions we take in B.C. support a national climate vision."  [Tyee]

Read more: Energy, Environment

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