Eight months out from the next provincial vote, Christy Clark is acting like she’s already begun the long election campaign. And based on her government’s recently released B.C. Climate Plan, the premier is betting that British Columbians won’t vote based on their concerns about the global climate emergency.
Clark chose a Friday during the dog days of summer to release her government’s overdue new plan on climate. The announced measures were underwhelming, to say the least, a far cry from what the public deserves from a provincial administration that is on course to fail badly to meet its own legislated targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
Ignoring the key recommendations of the Climate Leadership Team she herself appointed only a year ago, Clark announced that she would not increase B.C.’s $30-per-tonne price on carbon. The carbon tax, which earned the BC Liberals effusive praise from some environmental groups when it was first introduced in 2008, has been frozen since Clark assumed the premiership from outgoing Liberal leader Gordon Campbell in 2011.
Not only have the Liberals acknowledged that they won’t meet their legally required emissions cuts of 33 per cent of 2007 levels by 2020, but they have failed to set any new more ambitious target. In the context of the UN’s Paris Climate Agreement and this year’s record global temperatures – July 2016 was the hottest month in recorded history – this is a grossly irresponsible abdication of responsibility by the B.C. government.
Long-time B.C. environmentalist Tzeporah Berman, who was a member of the premier’s Climate Leadership Team, blasted the new plan as “pathetic and cowardly.” Taking to social media on the day of the announcement, Berman elaborated, “In fact it’s not even policy, it’s just PR. In an effort to protect their failing LNG strategy the BC Liberal Government has put forward a ‘climate plan’ that doesn’t even result in overall emissions reductions for the next decade.”
Scientist and SFU professor Marc Jaccard wrote a scathing op-ed in the Globe and Mail echoing Berman’s critique, “If there were an Olympic event for political cynicism on the climate challenge, B.C.’s new climate plan would be a strong contender for the gold medal.”
The measures that are included in the “climate plan” conveniently include a focus on industries that are already prominent in B.C. So there is mention of efforts to reduce methane emissions from liquefied natural gas projects, but the underlying assumption is that the expansion of oil and gas industries can continue indefinitely, rather than being phased out as quickly and equitably as possible. Clark’s plan also puts great emphasis on tree planting efforts to absorb carbon from the atmosphere, increasing B.C.’s stock of so-called carbon sinks.
This is all well and good, but climate scientists worldwide emphasize that a reduction of fossil fuel emissions must be the priority of all jurisdictions if we are going to avoid catastrophic warming scenarios. Forests acting as carbon sinks are not as reliable or effective as a cut in greenhouse gas emissions, because forest fires and other scenarios can cause stored carbon to be released back into the atmosphere.
Tree planting is something B.C. already does a lot of, so for the B.C. government it’s really a cop out. What we need is a visionary government willing to invest massive public dollars into developing solar, wind, tidal and geothermal energy, and to revolutionize public transport and the province’s housing stock to drastically improve energy efficiency. And we need a government committed to reducing inequality, because ultimately it is the rich and the super-rich who contribute the most to global warming, and who are most insulated from its dangerous consequences.
Given the fact the federal government has said it’s counting on the provinces to step up in order for Canada to live up to the promises made in Paris, B.C.’s do-nothing Climate Plan is downright shameful. Faced with a global climate emergency, the powers-that-be in Victoria are fiddling while the world burns, confident that the electorate is too short-sighted to punish their irresponsibility at the ballot box. Let’s hope they’re proven wrong.