In case you weren't poring over government news releases on the Monday before Canada Day, you might have missed B.C.'s 2014 Climate Progress Report. This is the sort of release time slot typically reserved for bad news that governments don't want to draw attention to. Instead, while the Climate Progress Report has some controversial elements, it's predominantly positive news that merits attention.
Carbon pollution was reported to be six per cent lower in 2012 (the most recent data available) relative to 2007, when B.C.'s Climate Action Plan came into effect. This six per cent drop aligns with B.C.'s first interim climate target.
Just as important, government policy has helped achieve that outcome -- and it has happened while encouraging innovation and economic growth in the province. This means that government policies -- like the carbon tax and a ban on dirty coal-fired electricity -- are working to reduce carbon pollution.
The province isn't alone in praising the effectiveness of its climate change policies. Research from Sustainable Prosperity, University of Ottawa and the OECD among others has found that the carbon tax is helping to reduce carbon pollution in B.C.
However, claiming to have met its 2012 interim target isn't without controversy because one quarter of the reductions are from the government investing in forest offsets. In a 2013 audit, B.C.'s Auditor General criticized the credibility of two major offset projects (one of which was forest-based), so there will be legitimate questions about the credibility of the offsets being used to meet the target.
While the role of offsets in B.C.'s climate strategy should be discussed, that discussion shouldn't detract from the progress that has been achieved. With or without offsets, government policies are helping to achieve modest cuts in carbon pollution levels in a way that works with provincial economic objectives.
As with its previous progress report, the government continues to be transparent about the need for stronger policies if B.C. is going to hit its targets. Without stronger policies, carbon pollution is likely to increase.
This year's report goes further. It begins sketching out where the province should go with its next steps. You have to connect some dots and read between a few lines, but here are some examples of where the report suggests the province has something in mind for the next phase of its Climate Action Plan.
- Acknowledgment that the province's current climate policies don't address carbon pollution from sources other than burning fossil fuel (page 7). For example, the methane released along the natural gas supply chain accounts for almost one quarter of the carbon pollution from B.C.'s natural gas sector.
- Acknowledgment that the carbon tax needs to increase if it is going to be a strong enough incentive for British Columbians to continue reducing the amount of fossil fuels they use (page 7).
- In reference to the promised rules to limit carbon pollution from liquefied natural gas (LNG) development, the report presents performance benchmarks, technology funds and offsets as possible policies (page 11).
- A promise to have all carbon pollution from electricity generation in the province offset by 2016 (page 7). This commitment was made in the 2009 Energy Plan, but it wasn't clear that the province was moving forward until this was clarified in the progress report.
When you combine these tidbits of information scattered throughout the report with the commitments government has made on electric vehicles and energy efficient homes and buildings, you find a potential outline for Climate Action Plan 2.0.
Clearly there's a difference between trying to read the tea leaves on where the government could be going with climate action in the province, and government actually laying those directions out for British Columbians. And for all of the potential directions policy could go, their impact on carbon pollution will depend on how they are designed.
The province's past accomplishments on climate change are something to be proud of; those achievements should also inspire confidence in the government's ability to take steps that satisfy both economic and environmental objectives. The onus is now on the government to clarify where B.C. is heading next on climate.