The road to hell: B.C. will struggle to meet its emissions targets

Photo of B.C. environment minister George Heyman by the Canadian Press

In the elongated aftermath of the May 19 election cliff-hanger last year, the NDP and Greens negotiated a Confidence and Supply Agreement (CASA) between them that allowed the NDP to govern BC. The CASA specified that the Government was to “Implement a climate action strategy to meet our (legislated emissions) targets”. 

Easy to say – much less easy to do. In 2007, at a time when British Columbia was thought of as an international leader in the effort to reduce planet-warming emissions, the Greenhouse Gas Reduction Targets Act was passed. That Act had a 2020 target of reducing GHG emissions by 33 per cent below those of 2007. Because we are about to miss that mark by a mile, the Government revised the act, which now commits British Columbia to:

  1. reduce emissions by 2030 to at least 40 per cent lower than the 2007 level of 64.7 million tonnes;
  2. reduce emissions by 2040 to at least 60 per cent lower than the 2007 level; 
  3. reduce emissions by 2050 to at least 80  per cent lower than the 2007 level; 

Translated to numbers, that means emissions must be reduced to 39 million tonnes per annum (MTPA) by 2030 and to 13 MTPA by 2050.

B.C.’s 2015 emissions - the latest year available – clocked in at 62 MTPA, barely below 2007’s 64.7 total of eight years earlier. This is a full 23 MTPA short of the 2030 target and 49 MTPA shy of 2050’s. This glacial rate of progress is mostly attributable to wobbly Government resolve to enact the changes necessary to achieve the targets. The former BC Liberal government stubbornly refused to hike the tax on carbon pollution or to take climate change seriously. This despite the ominous signs represented by wildfires, floods, melting glaciers, disappearing arctic sea-ice, rising ocean levels and beetle infestations. 

 The figure below – published by the B.C. government - shows the sectoral composition of BC’s 2015 emissions.  The biggest - Industry- emits over 25 million tonnes per annum (MTPA), followed by Transport (mostly cars and trucks) at 24 MTPA, Built Environment (mostly houses and office buildings) at 10.5 MTPA and Deforestation, which do not include that caused by wildfires, at 2.5 MTPA. 

Graph from the B.C. Ministry of Environment website 


The figures are an indicator of the difficulties facing us in getting to the targets, and why this week’s LNG Canada decision will make it so much tougher to achieve them. 

B.C.'s steep challenge to meet climate targets

It was always clear that B.C. would struggle to make these targets, even before this week’s announcement. In full buildout, LNG Canada will send another 8.5 MTPA of GHGs into Kitimat’s already-polluted air (asthmatics take note). That’s much the same as the 8.6 MTPA all three million of BC’s passenger vehicles spew out in a year. 

Environment and Climate Change Strategy Minister Heyman has a problem — how to climb a hill even higher than the one he faced when starting out?

This fall, his ministry is due to publish a strategy for achieving the targets. All of B.C., and Andrew Weaver’s Green Party MLAs, will be watching intently for the “how” details.  Here’s a sobering summary of seven steps necessary to reduce emissions by the now 57 MTPA (the current 49 MTPA gap plus LNG Canada’s 8.6 MTPA emissions) required to meet 2050’s 13 MTPA target:

 

*: Current emissions in this sector are likely underestimated. 

**: Natural Resources Canada estimates that BC's 2017 forest fires emitted 160 million tonnes of GHGs - 2.6 times BC's reported emissions. Wildfire emissions are not counted in the current Provincial GHG emissions total.

Those are each daunting tasks. Collectively, they seem an insurmountable barrier.

Of course, there are alternatives to this scheme. We could (a) ignore climate change, do business-as-usual and take our chances with how that goes; (b) retreat, with 100,000 coastal residents fleeing rising sea-levels flooding their houses and our best farmlands; (c) try to combat local effects, starting with a $10B spend on higher dikes and bigger pumps in Delta, Richmond, False Creek and Downtown or; (d) to feel better, but be no better off, buy 57 million tonnes of carbon credits from other countries who do cut their GHG emissions. That’s at least a cool $3Billion.  Every year.

To salve our conscience about all those Pacific islands disappearing beneath the waves,  we could give them an apology in the Legislature. That would be nice.

We await Minister Heyman’s report. And will certainly question its answers. 

 

Eoin Finn B.Sc., Ph.D., MBA is a 40-year resident of BC and a retired Partner of a major accounting/management consulting firm.  

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