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Trevor Hancock: B.C. fails to take adequate action on climate crisis

By recognizing that “humanity is waging war on nature,” the United Nations arrived at the idea of making peace with nature. Regrettably, the B.C.
People occupy the front steps of the B.C. legislature in a protest stemming from the building of a pipeline from northeastern B.C. to a liquefied natural gas plant in Kitimat. Trevor Hancock points to an article that states: “The biggest flaw in CleanBC is that it permits LNG development.” ADRIAN LAM, TIMES COLONIST

By recognizing that “humanity is waging war on nature,” the United Nations arrived at the idea of making peace with nature. Regrettably, the B.C. government pays ­little heed to calls to make peace with nature, whether from the UN or its own citizens. On the contrary, it continues to make war on nature even though, in the words of UN Secretary General António Guterres, this is suicidal.

This week, I consider B.C.’s inadequate action on the first of three global ecological crises the UN recognizes — climate change. Next week, I will look at B.C.’s inadequate action on biodiversity loss and pollution, as well as on the wider economic, social and other transformations needed if we are to make peace with nature.

The B.C. government produces an annual greenhouse gas inventory. The last one, ­published in August 2020, covers 1990 to 2018. It charts progress in meeting the ­“legislated emissions reduction targets (a 16 per cent decrease by 2025, 40 per cent by 2030, 60 per cent by 2040, and 80 per cent by 2050)” — all compared with the baseline year of 2007.

In 2018, our emissions were seven per cent above 2007 levels, having risen four years in a row, suggesting we are not likely to come anywhere near a 16 per cent ­reduction by 2025, never mind the one-third reduction by 2020 that was set by the Liberal government in 2007.

In a critical article in January, Marc Lee, a senior economist with the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives and co-director of the Climate Justice Project, pointed out that the modelling and assumptions in the NDP’s 2018 CleanBC plan are inadequate and that “CleanBC does not include any planning to meet B.C.’s 2040 and 2050 emissions t­argets.”

Even worse, he notes, “the biggest flaw in CleanBC is that it permits LNG [liquefied natural gas] development.” When LNG ­Canada opens in 2025, he writes, it “will become the province’s largest point source emitter of GHGs the day it opens” and its future emissions “will make it extremely difficult, if not impossible, for B.C. to meet its 2040 and 2050 targets.” Note this is only for the emissions created in extracting, processing and transporting the fuel for export, not the emissions that result when these exported fossil fuels are combusted elsewhere.

On top of that, an independent review of B.C.’s natural gas royalty system, released in September, concludes: “The B.C. ­royalty ­system for natural gas and oil is broken. It does not support and contribute to ­government and societal goals,” which include supporting B.C.’s climate ­commitments. Specifically, the report notes, the production rate incentives, introduced in 2001, encourage low-production wells to keep operating, which “does not help meet GHG targets.”

While not really this government’s fault — this is a failure long in the making — it does suggest continuing to provide supports to this industry that are not then adequately recovered through royalties is throwing good money after bad.

Furthermore, adding insult to injury, the NDP continues to support fracking and other fossil fuel investments. Indeed, it has almost doubled its support since coming to power, to $1.3 billion annually, ­according to a ­September 2020 report from the ­environmental organization Stand.Earth.

This in spite of the fact that one of the important actions proposed by the UN is to “eliminate environmentally ­harmful ­subsidies,” which includes fossil fuel ­subsidies. Instead, says the UN, “redirect that support to low-carbon and nature-friendly solutions and technologies.” ­Meanwhile, support for CleanBC in the April 2021 budget is only $506 million. So we could triple the support for CleanBC by shifting all that fossil fuel support there.

Moreover, these supports are not popular with the public. As part of its “Stop Funding Fracking” campaign, the Dogwood Initiative recently released the results of a survey conducted by Insights West. The survey found 58 per cent of B.C. respondents are opposed to B.C. offering financial support to oil and gas companies, while 62 per cent would like to see subsidies reduced or ­eliminated altogether.

So if B.C. really wants to be a climate leader, it needs to get serious with its CleanBC program, shift all its fossil fuel supports to low carbon solutions and stop funding fracking. Those would be good first steps in making peace with nature.

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Dr. Trevor Hancock is a retired professor and senior scholar at the University of ­Victoria’s School of Public Health and Social Policy.