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BC Politics

With ‘Piecemeal’ Budget, BC Is Headed Towards Climate Failure, Critics Say

Province’s investments are ‘very, very small compared to the challenges.’

Michelle Gamage 23 Apr 2021 |

Michelle Gamage is a Vancouver-based journalist with an environmental focus who regularly reports on climate for The Tyee. You can find her on Twitter @Michelle_Gamage.

This week’s B.C. budget has set the province up to miss its climate goals, according to critics.

The province has pledged to cut its greenhouse gas emissions to 16 per cent below 2007 levels by 2025 and 40 per cent below by 2030. But Tuesday’s budget doesn’t create a clear path to hit that goal, advocates say.

The most recent data on B.C.’s total emissions is from 2018, when B.C. emitted a net 66.9 million tonnes of greenhouse gasses, 6.2 per cent above 2007 levels.

The climate plan calls on the province to cut that to 53.3 million tonnes by 2025.

But emissions seem to be going up, not down, says Andrew Gage, a staff lawyer with West Coast Environmental Law.

Over the next few years, the budget predicts that carbon tax revenue will increase. Dividing that revenue by the carbon tax rate shows the province expects increasing emissions for the next two years.

In 2020/21, greenhouse gas emissions covered by the tax totalled 41 million tonnes. That’s projected to increase to 44.1 million tonnes this year and 44.4 million tonnes in the next year, before declining to 42.3 million tonnes in 2023/24.

Those numbers don’t tell the whole picture, cautions Gage, because only 70 per cent of emissions are covered by the carbon tax. But planning on increasing emissions until 2023/24 gives the province very little time to course correct and slash emissions to hit its 2025 goal, he said.

“The fact that carbon-taxed emissions continue to rise until two to three years before 2025 raises questions about how we will meet that target. Particularly with LNG Canada coming online in 2025,” Gage said.

In March, when the B.C. government released a list breaking down greenhouse gas emissions and their reduction targets by sector, Gage calculated that B.C. was already seven per cent over its 2007 emission levels.

The 2021 budget continues to fund government climate plans.

The Ministry of Environment and Climate Change Strategy budget includes $472 million over three years for climate action and implementation of CleanBC, the 2018 program to reduce carbon emissions and transition the province to a green economy.

Most of the money — $431 million — is going to the CleanBC Program for Industry. This program subsidizes projects to reduce emissions and offers carbon tax rebates for industries if they can hit emissions reductions targets.

The budget also provides $123 million over three years to build electric vehicle charging stations, provides rebates to people who buy electric cars and offers grants to local governments to build bike lanes.

British Columbians will also be able to skip paying PST when buying a new electric bike, a move the government says will save buyers $7 million.

By fall 2021, all children 12 and younger will be able to ride public transit for free.

But Gage says that funding doesn’t go far enough.

“It’s not that there’s nothing there, but that it’s very, very small compared to the challenges. There’s $500 million in new funding, but we spent that in 2017 fighting forest fires,” he says.

Gage says the budget creates a “piecemeal plan” and “is not the type of major change and major investment we were looking for — particularly at a time when we are trying to rebuild our economy.”

In a statement to The Tyee, BC Green Leader Sonia Furstenau echoed Gage’s disappointment.

“While there are some welcome investments in CleanBC and supporting innovation, the reality is that B.C.’s emissions are rising while the government continues to double down on subsidizing fracking and the LNG industry,” she said.

“This budget is a missed opportunity to invest in things like a worker transition, electrifying the transportation sector and protecting our strongest environmental assets like old-growth forests.”

Karen Tam Wu, B.C. regional director at the Pembina Institute, was also skeptical that the budget will set B.C. up to hit its climate targets.

Pointing to the province’s list of greenhouse gas emissions by sector, Wu says it will take “tremendous effort” for B.C. to hit its 60-per-cent emissions-reduction goal for buildings and communities, for example.

“That’s transitioning 80,000 homes and apartments off of natural gas and on to electric heat pumps every single year,” she says.

Wu welcomed the budget’s funding for a Centre for Innovation and Clean Energy, which she said will help speed the province’s transition to clean energy, and expanded funding for CleanBC’s Renewable Energy for Remote Communities program. The program funds projects to help isolated communities move from diesel-fuelled power generation to clean energy.

Gage says he would have liked to see more money invested in preparing B.C. for climate impacts like floods and fires, which also creates jobs. The budget has $6 million for the first phase of B.C.’s Climate Preparedness and Adaptation Strategy, but making a plan is a lot different than taking action, he said.

In her budget speech, Finance Minister Selina Robinson said “this year has been a year unlike any other,” referring to the COVID-19 pandemic.

But climate change is promising to make every coming year unlike any other. B.C. is already being hit by its first round of forest fires. According to B.C.’s wildfire database there have been 111 forest fires so far this year.

Wu says she hopes to see “that the lessons and the amount of dedication and mobilization of resources and innovation that we’ve seen through the pandemic can be brought to address the climate crisis.”  [Tyee]

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