B.C. likes to claim it has a wonderful, world-leading climate action plan. So it is perhaps surprising that the Sierra Club B.C. announced in February that it is taking the B.C. government to court “for failing to present plans to achieve several key climate targets, as required by its own climate change legislation.”
Represented by Ecojustice, their suit alleges not only that B.C.’s 2021 report, required by the Climate Change Accountability Act, “falls woefully short, by failing to include a plan for the 2025, 2040 and 2050 climate targets,” but that “it also omits the government’s plan to cut carbon pollution from the oil and gas sector, which could rapidly grow in coming years — fuelled largely by the B.C. government’s support for fracked gas.”
In fact, the Sierra Club B.C. notes, “the B.C. government continues to support and subsidize the expansion of fracking operations,” adding that the LNG Canada terminal in Kitimat “and other proposed LNG terminals would almost certainly make it impossible to meet 2030, 2040 and 2050 targets.”
One factor that helps to increase production is the extensive subsidies and other financial supports the fossil fuel industry receives from the federal and provincial governments. A February report from the International Institute for Sustainable Development found that, among the provinces, B.C. was the second-highest subsidiser after Alberta, providing at least $492 million in royalty relief (more than Alberta), $232 million in various tax measures and $41 million in direct transfers, in the 2020/21 financial year.
While some of the tax relief and direct transfers might have been due to Covid relief, the institute report notes that they could not count all the supports provided, as they are buried in other budget lines or programs. So their estimate is conservative, the institute states, and “provincial subsidies to fossil fuel production and consumption are likely much higher.”
All in all, the report concludes, “provinces are diverting significant public funds to incentivize fossil fuel production that may not otherwise occur, and provincial governments are missing out on millions in uncollected royalty and tax revenue from fossil fuels” (although it is to be hoped that B.C.’s still to be completed royalty review may change that somewhat).
Unsurprisingly, this is aided and abetted by a large and active lobbying campaign by the fossil fuel industry. Last year, the Wilderness Committee started it’s @BCGasLobbyBot, a Twitter bot account that lets the public know every time a new lobbying activity is registered. In December, the Wilderness Committee reported that “in total, the gas industry lobbied the government 768 times as it prepared its royalty review.”
A particularly pernicious aspect of the industry’s lobbying is providing classroom “education” materials to schools in B.C. In a March open letter to the B.C. Minister of Education, the B.C. branch of the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment, supported by almost 100 health, education, and other groups, called for a ban on such fossil fuel promotion.
Specifically, they called on educators and school divisions across B.C. to “reject the use of the FortisBC Energy Leaders K-12 curriculum,” an industry-focused curriculum that “is carefully constructed to promote and normalize the use of fossil fuels to children of all ages.” The letter said “the lessons are solely focused on natural gas, normalizing its use and falsely touting it as a clean and renewable energy source.” In particular, the letter added, there is “no mention of the negative impacts of hydraulic fracturing, burning natural gas, or methane emissions on human health, climate change and the environment.”
Importantly, a March report commissioned by the IISD found that wealthy oil- and gas-producing countries, such as Canada, must reduce production by 74 per cent by 2030 and phase out production entirely by 2034, if we want to limit global warming to 1.5°C.
So, if we are to meet our obligations to future generations, private-sector lobbying has to be reined in and fossil fuel subsidies and supports have to go, as do misleading private sector “education” curricula for school children. Failure to do so will earn the B.C. government the sobriquet of being “dangerous radicals” engaged in “moral and economic madness”, as the United Nations secretary-general recently put it.
Dr. Trevor Hancock is a retired professor and senior scholar at the University of Victoria’s School of Public Health and Social Policy.