Editorial: Level with us on B.C.’s climate plan

Premier John Horgan says he wants B.C.’s greenhouse-gas emissions reduced by 40 per cent by 2030. Former premier Gordon Campbell promised a 33 per cent reduction by 2020. But that target was not met, hence the new date.

Beyond that, Horgan is promising a 60 per cent reduction by 2040 and 80 per cent by 2060.

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While his plan is well-intentioned, the question is how these objectives are to be met. As tends to happen with this government’s policy announcements, the new legislation that lays out the targets is long on promises and short on details. There are also no penalties for failure.

Nevertheless, we can envisage the scope of changes that might be required. B.C. emits slightly more than 60 million tonnes of greenhouse gases each year. A 40 per cent reduction would mean cutting that figure by about 25 million tonnes.

By way of perspective, the global total of GHGs emitted annually is 36,060 million tonnes. That means if the government meets its 2030 target, we will have reduced global emissions by less than one-10th of one per cent. Surely that can be managed?

The reality, though, is formidable. The two main sources of GHG emissions in B.C. are transportation (mainly cars, buses and trucks) and heating buildings, homes included.

The province cannot come near its emissions targets without imposing radical changes on both these aspects of our lives. What might that mean?

Cars emit an average of five tonnes of GHGs a year. In purely mathematical terms, we would have to take several million gasoline powered cars off the road to meet the target. Put another way, huge numbers of natural gas furnaces would have to be converted to either an electric heat pump, or 100 per cent renewable fuel.

While no one is proposing such extreme, indeed unachievable, measures, it brings the challenge into perspective. And Horgan has said that he anticipates “government directed innovation on things like transit and giving people incentives to improve their own footprint in their houses.” So some degree of compulsion seems imminent.

To date, most of the climate-change policies that have been enacted were modest. The province has gone some way to reducing GHGs by increasing the carbon tax, electrifying oil and gas operations, and adopting federal rules on heavy-duty vehicle emissions.

But forcing homeowners to convert their heating systems is hugely expensive. The average cost to install a heat pump is between $4,000 and $7,000.

And how are owners of gasoline-powered cars to be compensated if their vehicles are either forced off the road or converted to clean energy?

Does anyone know how many small businesses, or large ones for that matter, would be affected? And the elephant in the room: How much will all of this cost?

So far, every European country has failed to meet its climate-change target, and for reasons that are apparent. GHG-emitting technologies are deeply entrenched in our society and have been for generations. It has proved far more difficult — and expensive — to root them out than anyone expected.

So if Horgan intends to proceed with this strategy, he first owes us some answers.

How will the reduction targets affect individuals and businesses? How much will these impacts cost? And how much of that cost will be underwritten by the government?

No sensible person disputes the underlying argument — that we can and must take better care of our planet. However, when governments announce new policies but offer few details, it means one of two things: Either they have no details, or they are afraid to tell.

In either case, this plan will fail unless the government levels with us, and more than that, recruits our willing support.

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