My view of Vancouver from Mt. Seymour (17 Nov 2018)

December 6, 2018

By William Scott

As a climate policy wonk who recently moved from Ontario to British Columbia, I’ve been counting down the days to new climate strategies the way others are counting down to the holidays.

 

What’s Under the Tree?

While it may not have been Christmas morning, yesterday the British Columbia provincial government released CleanBC, their plan for reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 40% below 2007 levels by 2030. The plan focusses on priority emissions sectors for B.C.: transportation, buildings, and industry. Notably, it goes beyond simply addressing climate change: it charts a clean growth path with the aim of B.C. becoming a brand for sustainability, sets out a vision for a just transition for workers affected by the change, and outlines important steps to help the province transition to a low-carbon economy. For more details on the plan, read my quick take on CleanBC.

      

I’ll Be Home for Christmas

Last week, Ontario’s government also released a new climate plan. (See Smart Prosperity Institute’s quick take on the Ontario climate plan by Mike Moffatt). That plan shares some similarities, and many differences, with B.C.’s plan.

  • Neither BC nor Ontario chart a plan that will get them all the way to their 2030 emissions reduction target. The BC plan leaves the last 25% to be achieved by measures to be announced later1, while Ontario started by moving the goal posts (changing its target from a 37% reduction to 30%) and cites innovation for achieving the final 15% of emissions reductions. Clean innovation will be critical to achieving Canada’s emissions targets, and doing so at the lowest cost while building a competitive low-carbon economy. As noted in our report, accelerating clean innovation requires an ecosystem of policies including stringent, flexible, and predictable environmental regulations (like carbon pricing) to drive demand.

 

  • Opposite directions on carbon pricing. Contrary to Ontario’s pontification about the economic threat of carbon pricing, evidence shows that it works. Look no further than B.C.: back in 2008, the province implemented the first broad-based carbon tax in North America, which has reduced emissions by 5-15% at the same time as economic growth has outpaced the rest of the country.i  Earlier this year, BC increased their carbon tax to $35/tonne with scheduled annual increases of $5/tonne until reaching $50/tonne in 2021.

Surprisingly, Ontario’s plan also contains elements of carbon pricing through compliance mechanisms under their proposed industrial performance standards. Though details on program inclusion and stringency remain to be seen, this represents a significant step backward from the province’s previous broad-based cap-and-trade system.

 

  • Differing commitment to accountability. CleanBC includes comprehensive annual reporting under the Climate Change Accountability Act, and continuation of the independent Climate Solutions and Clean Growth Advisory Council (co-chaired by Smart Prosperity Leaders Merran Smith and Marcia Smith) to review progress and provide advice. On the other hand, Ontario recently scrapped the Environmental Commissioner’s office which was responsible for annual reporting on climate change and energy conservation, and will transfer some of those responsibilities to the auditor general.

 

‘Tis the Season

As countries meet in Poland at COP24 this week to continue hammering out the details of the Paris Agreement, they have plenty of new climate reading to consider: a report from 13 US government agencies that notes that climate change could reduce GDP by as much as 10% by the end of the century, and a pair of UN reports showing we have only a few years left to avoid the most catastrophic climate change impacts, and how far we are from reaching targets to avoid those impacts.

Governments can react to this information in vastly different ways. While some jurisdictions are backsliding on climate policy ambition, others are continuing their efforts to build a low-carbon, resource efficient economy for the 21st century. Though neither plan contains everything on my wish list, living in B.C. is certainly no lump of coal.

 


i Murray, Brian, & Rivers, Nicholas (2015). British Columbia’s revenue-neutral carbon tax: A review of the latest “grand experiment” in environmental policy. Energy Policy, 674-683. doi:101016/jenpol201508011

1 Note: BC’s projections do not include innovation in their modelling and full details on their modeling are expected to be released in the coming days.

William Scott

Research Associate