BC Government Closes Chapter on Climate Action

Premier Christy Clark opens international LNG Conference (February 25, 2013). Photo: Government of British Columbia

This last week the provincial government of British Columbia introduced some important new legislation, Bill 2 — Greenhouse Gas Industrial Reporting and Control Act, that effectively gives up on the province's previous ambitions of acting on climate change introduced by the previous Premier, Gordon Campbell.

During the election, Premier Christy Clark campaigned on a platform of aggressive exploitation of the province's natural gas resources. She promised to introduce an LNG tax that would create a $100 billion "prosperity fund" that would make BC "debt-free" within 15 years.

I was following Andrew Weaver, the BC Green Party candidate (now MLA) for Oak Bay-Gordon Head. During his campaign he raised some red flags over the BC Liberal promises, which he repeated whenever he was given the opportunity.

  1. It's an economic "pipe dream"
  2. Christy Clark's bullishness on natural gas - in particular, exploiting the previously large differential between prices in Asia and North America - was "foolish" and, said Weaver, "it is irresponsible to make assumptions about funds that will come in a decade from now". Putting aside the boom and bust nature of natural gas prices, Weaver maintained throughout the election that Russia would provide China with the natural gas. Sure enough, a year after the election a big gas deal was settled between the two countries. Even before the first big LNG terminal has been built the government revealed this week that it will slash in half its LNG tax from 7% to 3.5% (until 2037 when it rises to 5%), as well as throw in other tax break sweeteners, to woo these multi-billion dollar LNG projects to the province.

  3. BC will miss it legislated climate targets
    British Columbia has climate targets, enshrined in legislation. Weaver, a climate scientist, said: "There is simply no way you can reach our targets with the proposed expansion of LNG."
  4. The future is renewables
    With the world transitioning to a low-carbon economy, BC should be steadily raising the C$30 carbon tax and growing its burgeoning renewables industry rather than trying to build an economy based on the export of fossil fuels.

So the new legislation introduced this week, softening up the climate legislation and paving the way for LNG was not a major surprise.

Still, Weaver began his speech in reflective mood as he compared the current government's tack with the ambitious climate action plan of previous years.

He opened his statement saying:

Today marks a day when the BC Liberals took a page from the Harper Tories and destroyed a legacy of climate leadership in British Columbia... Bill 2 represents a shameful betrayal of future generations.

Strange to think that this is the same political party that Weaver was praising for its progress on climate change when on 19th February 2008 Carole Taylor unveiled a vision for British Columbia, that "attempted to redefine the legacy we would leave our children."

He reiterated what he has been saying for years about Christy Clark's LNG plans:

There are no two ways about it. The emissions from LNG are too big for accounting tricks and numbers games, and no bill can fix it.

He warned that the scientific basis for action on climate was even stronger now than it has ever been.

Just this week September 2014 was announced as the warmest September on record. This announcement came a month after a similar one citing August 2014 as the warmest August on record. Before that June 2014 was the warmest June on record. Before that May 2014, the warmest May on record. And April 2014, the warmest April on record.

In fact — this statistic is very important — the last time a monthly cold record was set was in December 1916. Yet every monthly heat record has been post-1997. All around us we see the impacts global warming is having on the magnitude and frequency of extreme weather events. It is therefore incumbent upon all of us to step up, to show leadership and to put our province back on the right course.

As Weaver urged MLAs to support his amendment to delay the GHG legislation reporting for six months, he once again advocated for an economy where "economic development goes hand in hand with reducing emissions":

When we singularly focus on LNG, we fail to value the sectors in B.C. that actually exhibit promise for growth. For example, the Canadian clean tech sector tripled in size from 2012 to 2013. This was a sector that was growing in B.C. and one that we had all the tools necessary to develop further. The educated workforce; the cheap, renewable power; and the creativity and courage required to show leadership were at one point in British Columbia all present.

He also attacked the government's repealing of cap and trade legislation before opportunities had been seized, closing the door on what could turn out to be a North American harmonized carbon-pricing zone with California, Quebec, and possibly other states such as Oregon and Washington.

Our LNG industry — this hypothetical industry, which may or may not transpire — could actually participate in a broader economic jurisdiction in terms of capping emissions and trading emissions, efficiently reducing emissions broadly in the North American context, as opposed to the made-in-Alberta, Harper Tory, emissions-intensity-non-reduction policies that are being brought forward in this legislation.

You can read the full text of Weaver's speech here. It's a long posting, but provides an important context for the legislation put forward by the BC Liberal Party.