The government of British Columbia has released details on its Climate Action Plan that will take BC three quarters of the way to the stated goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 33% by 2020. BC Premier Gordon Campbell calls it the most aggressive environmental plan in North America. Based on the breadth and depth of issues covered in the Plan, he may be right.
'The plan outlines a roadmap to a new, prosperous, green economy for British Columbia, with a wide range of specific actions which will make the province more efficient, competitive and productive while reducing greenhouse gas emissions,' said the Premier.
Many initiatives detailed in the Action Plan were outlined in the February 2008 provincial budget. But the Action Plan goes into much more detail on the strategies that will guide emission-reducing efforts in all sectors of the BC economy, as well as outlines what will be required to close the gap on the province’s 2020 emissions reduction target.
It is the breadth of the Action Plan that sets it apart from climate change plans put forward by other jurisdictions in Canada and elsewhere. Virtually every business area with a significant environmental impact is covered, from Agriculture to Waste Management.
In addition to outlining the legislated rules that will govern how various industry sectors must contribute to the emission reduction efforts, the Plan provides a variety of incentives that will entice businesses and individuals to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
These include the new LiveSmart BC home retrofit incentives, designed to reward smart choices that save energy, water, fuel, time and money. The Plan also outlines how British Columbia’s business sector can capitalize on an emerging and rapidly growing global green economy.
The plan, which contains an independent GHG emissions modeling assessment by M.K. Jaccard and Associates Inc., uses conservative estimates to outline how emissions will be reduced in each of the province’s major sectors.
The modeling is based on the price of oil averaging $US85 a barrel through 2020, a forecast that is significantly below the current price of oil. It is also based on the assumption that the revenue-neutral carbon tax does not increase beyond 2012, and assumes the use of existing and available technologies.
The plan presents four key avenues for successful climate action:
- Entrenching greenhouse gas reduction targets in law,
- Taking targeted action in all sectors of the B.C. economy,
- Taking steps to help British Columbians adapt to the realities of climate change, and
- Educating and engaging British Columbians on climate action.
Areas where province-wide actions are taking place are outlined in the Plan, along with strategies specific to seven sectors:
Transportation - Improved vehicle efficiency, an expanded 'Scrap-It' program to provide up to $2,250 in cash incentives to get older, polluting cars off the road; increased use of hybrid vehicles in government; a $2,000 provincial sales tax exemption for hybrid and fuel-efficient vehicles; cleaner buses and trucks; reduced carbon content in fuels; and expanded public transit and cycling networks.
Buildings - A new Green Building Code, a new Energy Efficient Buildings Strategy, encouragement for compact, green communities, solar roofs on 100,000 B.C. buildings, and requirements for all new government buildings to meet LEED Gold or equivalent standards.
Waste - Keeping organic waste out of landfills, turning waste into energy while reducing greenhouse gases, cleaning up landfills, increasing composting, and making manufacturers more responsible for packaging and other waste created by their products.
Agriculture - Working with the agriculture industry on strategies that may include digesters to capture methane from manure, improved fertilizer application, community biogas digestion/electricity generation projects, research on biomass fuels, green city farms and encouraging local purchase of agricultural products.
Industry - A carbon emissions cap and trade system to provide an economic incentive for large emitters to reduce their emissions, in many cases by implementing made-in-B.C. technological solutions.
Energy - BC Hydro’s PowerSmart incentives, a First Nations and Remote Community Clean Energy Program, alternative energy development, support for the energy efficiency of local governments, investments in solar energy, smart electricity meters, and the BC Bioenergy Strategy.
Forestry - Strategies in forest management such as Forests for Tomorrow, Trees for Tomorrow, accelerated forest growth and net-zero deforestation, and new opportunities such as biomass energy and cellulosic ethanol production.
The most talked-about aspect of the plan is the introduction of a carbon tax, which added 2.34 cents per litre on all fuels, including gasoline, beginning July 1.
In its first three years, the carbon tax is expected to generate $1.8 billion in revenue, every dollar of which the government states will be returned to citizens and businesses as tax cuts. As well, a $100 climate action dividend is being paid to British Columbians as an incentive to go green.
Despite the breadth of the provincial Action Plan, the main focus of public (i.e. voter) concern with the plan will likely be the cost at the gas pump for consumers to fill up the family car or the business vehicle. Many commentators have noted that this could be the Achilles heel to an otherwise sound policy framework for dealing with emissions reductions.
B.C. Environment Minister Barry Penner said people are getting recent fuel-price hikes and the carbon tax mixed up. 'I think the two things are being confused in people’s minds,' he said.
Penner said people should remember that the carbon tax is revenue-neutral. 'Every penny raised from the carbon tax will be recycled back to British Columbians with income tax cuts, small business tax cuts and other financial benefits,' he said.
A coalition of environmental groups supports the Minister’s claims. Led by the David Suzuki Foundation, the coalition released a 'Reality Check' fact sheet on the top five misconceptions about the tax.
'We want all British Columbians to work together to solve the problem of global warming, and we believe a carbon tax can provide the signal for all of us to shift to cleaner energy and greener practices,' said Ian Bruce, a climate change specialist with the David Suzuki Foundation.
'Reality Check' addresses the top five misconceptions about the B.C. carbon tax:
- Myth 1 - The B.C. carbon tax won’t reduce emissions.
- Myth 2 - Big industry is left off the hook.
- Myth 3 - B.C.’s carbon tax is a 'tax grab' or additional tax.
- Myth 4 - B.C.’s carbon tax will hit consumers who are already reeling from high international oil prices.
- Myth 5 - B.C. has introduced a 'gas tax'.
With respect to Myth 2 (Big industry is let off the hook), the Brief states clearly: Not true: B.C.’s carbon tax covers emissions from burning fossil fuels, for both business and individual consumers. Because industry and business burn more fossil fuels than households, they will pay more of the carbon tax. The carbon tax applies to about two thirds of the total greenhouse gas emissions produced by industry.
It further points out that 'B.C.’s carbon tax applies to 70 per cent of total greenhouse gas emissions. Of the remaining 30 per cent, about 14 per cent are associated with emissions produced by agriculture and decaying garbage in landfills. Another 16 per cent are associated with industrial emissions that do not come from burning fossil fuels.'
'The political risks associated with the BC Climate Action Plan are great, particularly in an election year,' notes GLOBE Foundation President and CEO Dr. John Wiebe, 'but with careful management of the message, the immediate and long term benefits of the Action Plan should become apparent to all.'
'Leaving aside the political dimensions and risks of the Action Plan,' Dr. Wiebe added, 'one cannot diminish the fact that it is bold, courageous and progressive. It has put British Columbia at the top of the list for jurisdictions around the world that are serious about dealing with climate change. The BC Government must be given full credit for its leadership.'