News / Vancouver

British Columbia climate plan rules out increasing carbon tax

Premier Christy Clark announces 21-step climate action plan that experts say only goes halfway to meeting its 2050 emission reduction target.

Chevron Refinery in Burnaby, B.C. on Monday March 18, 2013.

THE CANADIAN PRESS/Eric Dreger

Chevron Refinery in Burnaby, B.C. on Monday March 18, 2013.

Environmental groups are criticizing British Columbia’s carbon cop out after Premier Christy Clark unveiled the province’s new climate action plan on Friday.

The plan proposes 21 steps, including making electric vehicles more affordable, reducing methane gas emissions, electrifying liquefied natural gas upstream activities, aggressive re-forestation and regulating more energy efficient buildings.

Clark said the plan will reduce B.C.’s emissions by up to 25 megatonnes below current forecasts by 2050.

What it won’t do, however, is raise the carbon tax beyond its current $30 per tonne rate or fully adopt the 32 recommendations made by the province’s own Climate Leadership Team.

The premier spent as much time in her opening remarks explaining why government won’t increase the carbon tax as she did playing up the 21 items in the plan.

“As premier, the proposal to double the carbon tax in just four years is one that we just weren’t able to implement because I have to balance the need to make sure that our carbon tax remains world-leading with the obligation to ensure that family affordability is at the forefront of our minds, as well as job creation,” Clark said. “Our response to the Climate Leadership Team recommendations today is about that balance.”

As the only jurisdiction in Canada with an existing carbon tax, Clark challenged the other provinces to catch up before B.C. takes further steps to increase its own.

“We will consider raising the carbon tax as other provinces catch up,” she said. “To stand alone would mean that here we are at $60 at 2020 (as recommended by the Climate Leadership Team) and Alberta will just be finding its way at $30 (when it implements a carbon tax),” said Clark. “What happens in situations like that is polluters just move right across the border and pollute where it’s cheap.”

The plan has already drawn sharp criticism from environmental circles.

Invited to speak at the plan’s announcement, Sybil Seitzinger, executive director of the Pacific Institute for Climate Solutions, said the plan, as is, will only take the province halfway to its 2050 goal of reducing emissions by 80 per cent over 2007 levels.

“In a nutshell, we have a long way to go,” said Seitzinger. “While the 21 actions announced in this new plan hit all the major sources of emissions, collectively, according to what I can see, they will not even take us halfway towards the 13 million tonnes target.”

The plan calls for the biggest decreases in emissions to be in the forestry and agricultural sectors, but Seitzinger said the there needs to be “much more detail” to see how exactly that will be achieved.

Pembina Institute B.C. director Josha MacNab called the plan a failure.

“The B.C. government decided not to take the recommendations of the premier’s own panel and so we’re disappointed with that. We were certainly hoping for more,” she said. “This plan will only see B.C.’s emissions start to reduce below current levels by 2030. That’s far too long in the future and that leaves the work for another day.”

Tzeporah Berman, an adjunct professor at York University and co-founder of ForestEthics (now called Stand), voiced her displeasure with the plan announced Friday over social media.

“I sat on the BC Climate Leadership Team,” Berman tweeted, ”Number of our 32 recommendations accepted in full today? Zero.”

Merran Smith, executive director of Clean Energy Canada, said in a statement that the plan “is full of holes”.

“Instead of bold action, B.C.’s climate leadership has fizzled,” Smith said. “The only actions British Columbians can count on are the few that come backed by regulations and dollars. That means more than half of the emissions reductions counted in this plan may never materialize.”

Reviews from political circles were equally harsh.

“Not only has the Clark government dismantled many of the existing climate policies, but they are also ignoring key recommendations from their own expert panel on what needs to happen for B.C. to once again become a climate leader,” B.C. Green Party leader Andrew Weaver in a statement. “For the past few years, it has become painfully clear that the B.C. Liberals have chosen to forgo any leadership on this file, instead choosing to chase the LNG pipedream.”

New Democratic Party environment critic George Heyman accused Clark of stalling on climate change.

“The premier set up a very promising Climate Leadership Team, staffed with serious people who made serious recommendations on how she could get back on track, then ignored all of their most important recommendations,” he said in a press release.

The province’s carbon tax has been frozen since Clark became premier.

In that time, B.C.’s emissions have dipped only slightly – 63 megatonnes in 2014, from 65 in 2005, according to the federal government – and the province is unlikely to meet its initial target of reducing emissions 33 per cent by 2020.

Under the plan, the provincial government will:

- Develop a strategy to reduce methane emissions.

- Introduce incentives to encourage companies to convert their vehicles to renewable natural gas.

- Expand its Clean Energy Vehicle program to encourage greater use of zero-emission vehicles by increasing point-of-sale incentives for eligible vehicles.

- Support more charging stations for electric vehicles and develop regulations so local governments can require that new buildings install adequate charging facilities.

- Improve the transportation network thought its B.C. on the Move program, a 10-year plan that includes increasing the number of BC Transit buses that use compressed natural gas, and expanding public transit to reduce congestion, particularly in Metro Vancouver.

- Increase tree planting over an area of up to 3,000 square kilometres over the next five years to store more carbon.

- Require all of the electricity acquired by BC Hydro to be renewable or clean.

- Provide more incentives for marine vessels to be fuelled with cleaner burning liquefied natural gas.

- Introduce policies to encourage the development of buildings that are carbon neutral.

-with files from The Canadian Press

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