Les Leyne: New way to get to same place

Les Leyne mugshot genericPremier John Horgan and B.C. Green Party Leader Andrew Weaver will get a barrage of questions today about an upcoming showdown everyone is expecting.

But they’ll likely prefer to dwell on the agreement they’ve maintained on a major part of the NDP-Green confidence arrangement — the new B.C. climate-action plan.

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The fact that Weaver is scheduled to be on stage this morning confirms the two are still on the same general page. The fact the NDP rewrote that page to include a big new carbon-emitting liquefied-natural-gas plant will likely be glossed over and left for another day.

The background for the new plan rests on this basic fact: Everything B.C. has done in the past 10 years to reduce carbon emissions has made a minimal difference.

The most charitable read of B.C.’s emission-reduction record is that the carbon tax and all the other moves set the stage for much more significant progress in the years ahead.

But the province’s total emissions now are only marginally below where they were when then-premier Gordon Campbell converted to the cause and launched his dramatic “war” on climate change.

Emissions dropped about five per cent after the first few years of the carbon tax and the introduction of other measures. But those years coincided with the worst recession in several generations.

And the emission load is estimated to have started inching up again several years ago.

The rate of growth has slowed and it’s lower than it would have been if nothing had been done. But not by much. The initial reduction target of a 33 per cent cut below 2007 levels by 2020 was missed by a wide margin.

The B.C. Liberals conceded two years ago the 2020 mark was missed. The NDP formally abandoned the target and subbed in a new one — a 40 per cent cut by 2030.

That’s the start of a proposed ramp leading to an 80 per cent drop below 2007 levels by 2050, the same goal the Liberals set out.

A big part of today’s announcement is an effort to erase former premier Christy Clark’s fingerprints from the climate plan.
The current plan was last updated in 2016 under her watch. The NDP is not interested in following any of her plans, least of all this one. Even if the goal is exactly the same.

So Environment Minister George Heyman put together a “climate solutions and clean growth advisory council” that has done much of the background work leading to today’s unveiling. With representatives from all the usual sectors, it was a reconstituted version of the climate-leadership team the Liberals relied on.

What’s expected today is a broad outline of various measures with an explanation of how they’ll all knit together.

Two of the most significant measures to get the emission-reduction plan back on track were broken out and announced separately in recent weeks.

The latest one was a promise to “require” that all new light-duty trucks and cars sold in B.C. be zero-emission vehicles by 2040.

A bill next spring will set phased-in targets for ZEVs, which are now a minuscule percentage of sales.

The government will aim to boost that share up to 100 per cent over 21 years, by subsidizing purchases and building more charging stations to make them more convenient.

Also announced was a billion-dollar retrofit program over 10 years to improve energy efficiency in B.C.’s social-housing stock.

The NDP has thawed out the carbon-tax freeze, raised it once and plans to raise it by 66 per cent above the Liberal level in the next few years, to meet the new federal standard. It also ended the revenue-neutrality principle, under which carbon-tax costs on people and businesses were offset by tax reductions elsewhere.

That means the tax will bring in billions in new revenue, most of which will fund green initiatives. The NDP used to campaign against the tax. Now they’re going to live on it.

Also expected this morning is further information on the massive electrification needed to meet the goal. Energy Minister Michelle Mungall is listed as a participant.i

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