Protests continue over old growth forests in British Columbia

British Columbia has no shortage of environmental flashpoints: the Trans Mountain and Coastal Gas Link pipelines, the Site C dam,  LNG terminals – and protection of old growth forests. Before the 2020 provincial election, The Tyee published a substantive overview of the political policies and issues, now updated with “BC Promised to Protect Old Growth. How Is It Doing?” (March 11) .  

B.C. environmentalists have actively called for protections, based on the recommendations of A New Future for Old Forests: A Strategic Review of How British Columbia Manages for Old Forests Within its Ancient Ecosystems , an independent report submitted to the government in fall 2020 and summarized here. The Sierra Club B.C. published a report card on the government’s progress in implementing the Strategy Report recommendations, here , and conducted its own research, published as Intact Forests, Safe Communities: Reducing community climate risks through forest protection and a paradigm shift in forest management, written by Dr. Peter Wood and released in February. The Intact Forests report documents the relationship of forestry practices and  climate related disasters like flooding, droughts, fires and heatwaves, and makes a series of recommendations to reform B.C.’s forestry practices , and apply Indigenous knowledge before the climate crisis worsens.  

Protests over the government’s inaction continue, with a high-profile hunger strike and blockade at Fairy Creek on Vancouver Island, summarized here . The third annual Forest March B.C.   was held on March 19, organized by a grassroots coalition of community groups, and described in   “In B.C., communities march to protect old growth forests” in The National Observer (March 19 ) .   

B.C. offers incentives for charging infrastructure for EV fleets

British Columbia continues to lead Canada in electric vehicle ownership, with more than 36,000 light duty electric vehicles in 2019.  On February 1, the government announced a new program to encourage fleet ownership,  which offers rebates for the purchase and installation of level 2 and direct-current fast-charging stations for fleets of one or more EVs.  “For a limited time, eligible businesses purchasing and installing level 2 charging stations can access a higher rebate of up to $4,000 per station, representing an increase from 50% to 75% of basic rates. Those purchasing EVs for a fleet are eligible for the same $3,000 point-of-purchase vehicle rebates as the general public in B.C.”.  An overview of all the B.C. incentives for EV vehicles is here.  Electric Vehicle Update 2018 and 2019 Calendar Years is the latest statistical report, which includes  that as of 2019,  B.C. counts direct employment of more than 6,000 full-time equivalent positions associated with ZEV-related activities, an increase from 3,850 in 2015.

A  related report released in February by the  American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy ranks the U.S. states on their policies to encourage the use of EV’s, and identifies the three policies that are likely to be most effective: ZEV mandates and electric vehicle deployment targets, financial incentives for vehicle purchases, and incentives for installing vehicle chargers.  The report ranks California as the national leader as the only state to set deadlines for electrifying transit buses, heavy trucks, and commercial vehicles, and one of few to offer assistance for lower-income drivers to replace high-polluting cars with zero- or near-zero-emissions vehicles.  ACEEE State Transportation Electrification Scorecard is available from this link (free, registration required).

Climate Change Accountability Report shows rising emissions – B.C. government announces new GHG reduction targets

The government of British Columbia issued a press release on December 15 2020,   announcing new carbon reduction targets and the release of the first-ever Climate Change Accountability Report , highlighting progress on the CleanBC action plan.  From the press release: “The new emission target requires greenhouse gases in B.C. to be 16% below 2007 levels by 2025. It provides a benchmark on the road to B.C.’s legislated emission targets for 2030, 2040 and 2050 of 40%, 60% and 80% below 2007 levels, respectively. The Province will also set sectoral targets, which will be established before March 31, 2021, and will develop legislation to ensure B.C. reaches net-zero emissions by 2050.”

“Climate Change Accountability Report discloses that B.C. carbon emissions rose three percent in 2018” in The Straight  (Dec. 16) highlights some findings which the government downplayed – for example,  in 2018, “Gross emissions reached 67.9 million tonnes. That’s up a whopping 7.3 million tonnes from 2010, which went unremarked in the report.” The article also quotes from an interview with Environment and Climate Change Strategy Minister George Heyman, pointing out that “Heyman also admitted that the government has never done any modelling of carbon emissions that goes beyond LNG Canada’s phase one portion of its plant in Kitimat.”

The response by the Sierra Club B.C. summarized the reactions of environmental advocacy groups, which commended the government for the transparency of the Climate Accountability Report, while criticizing the fossil-friendly policies which have led to missed GHG reduction targets.   Reiterating the long-standing criticisms over LNG, notably, by David Hughes of the CCPA-B.C in a July 2020 report,   the Sierra Club B.C. states: “It is clear that if we continue to allow the growth of oil and gas extraction in this province we won’t ever be able to get climate pollution under control” …. “The sooner we begin a serious conversation about the transition away from fracking and all other forms of fossil fuels, the less disruptive and painful the transition will be for workers, our communities, and the most vulnerable among us.”

The Pembina Institute calls the report  “sobering” and “a much-needed wake-up call”, while calling for improvements.  “The report is inconsistent in its provision of details, which makes it difficult to assess whether or not climate programs should be continued, enhanced, redesigned, or replaced to effectively and efficiently make progress to targets. For a fulsome picture of climate progress, we expect future accountability reports to provide more clarity. We need to see the emissions reductions achieved to date by specific programs; annual budget allocations for programs and the corresponding (anticipated) emissions reductions; how the government has acted on the advice of the Climate Solutions Council; and what course corrections will be made to meet our climate targets. Once interim and sector-specific targets are established, the report should evaluate progress against these goals as well.”

British Columbia as part of the myth of eco-friendly Cascadia

Getting to Zero: Decarbonizing Cascadia  is a new investigative series launched on January 11 with an article published in The Tyee under the title “Cascadia Was Poised to Lead on Climate. Can It Still?”.  (At the InvestigateWest website, the same article appeared as “A Lost Decade: How climate action fizzled in Cascadia”) . It documents the rise of GHG emissions in the jurisdictions which compose Cascadia: British Columbia and the states of Washington and Oregon. The article summarizes political developments, summarizes the development of carbon taxes, and argues that weak decarbonization policies  – especially in the transportation sector- are behind the failure to reduce emissions. “Between full economic recovery in 2012 and 2018, the most recent reporting year, California and Cascadia both booked a robust 26 percent increase in GDP. Over that period California drove its annual emissions down by more than 5 percent. Washington’s emissions —and Cascadia’s as a whole — ballooned by over 7 percent.”   According to the article, for the period 2012 to 2018, “vehicle emissions had ballooned by over 10% in Washington and Oregon and more than 29% in BC (in contrast California’s grew only 5% during that period.)”

From the article:

“So why is environmentally-conscious Cascadia stuck in first gear? The consensus answer from experts and activists interviewed by InvestigateWest: a shortage of political will. The region has been beset by partisan wrangling, fear of job losses, disagreements over how to ensure equity for already polluted and marginalized communities, and misinformation obscuring the full potential of well-documented solutions. “The constraining factor has always been political feasibility, not economic feasibility,” says political economist and energy modeling expert Mark Jaccard, a professor at Simon Fraser University in Burnaby, BC, and a former chair of the British Columbia Utilities Commission.”

The series Getting to Zero: Decarbonizing Cascadia  is the result of a  year-long reporting initiative led by InvestigateWest, in partnership with Grist, Crosscut, The Tyee, the South Seattle Emerald, The Evergrey, and Jefferson Public Radio.  It will run throughout 2021, aiming to document and analyse the political and economic forces and barriers to climate action in British Columbia, Washington and Oregon, generally perceived as one of the most eco-friendly regions in the world.

LNG, fossil subsidies as issues in B.C. election on October 24

British Columbia will vote on October 24, and climate and environmental issues are prominent in the Party Platforms of the ruling New Democratic Party (NDP) , the Green Party, and to a much lesser extent, the Liberal Party, which lacks any specific emissions reductions targets, and endorses LNG development.  

The NDP is running on its record and its 2018 CleanB.C. Plan; Sarah Cox wrote a detailed review in The Narwhal in September, “So there’s going to be a fall election in B.C.: has the NDP kept its environmental promises?” . A key NDP commitment  is to reach  net-zero emissions by 2050, but according to David Hughes at the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (and many others), that won’t be possible with the current NDP policy to support the LNG industry –  explained, for example, in BC’s Carbon Conundrum Why LNG exports doom emissions-reduction targets and compromise Canada’s long-term energy security (July) . A related report, Subsidizing Climate Change:  how BC gives billions to corporate polluters  was published by Stand.earth in September, reporting that B.C. is second only to Alberta in subsidies to the oil and gas industry, at $557 million in 2018 (the last year for which data is available).  The Dogwood Institute also reports on this in “Tax-payer funded climate change” (Oct. 2) and “BC NDP candidates quiet as oil and gas subsidies soar (Oct. 7).  The NDP platform promises only “a comprehensive review of oil and natural gas royalty credits”. And on another hot-button issue, the Site C Dam – The Narwhal summarizes two critical reports that call for it to be scrapped in an October 15 article, and even the right-wing C.D. Howe Institute published Site C – the case is getting weaker .

For quick summaries and comparisons of all party platforms, see The Tyee “Where they Stand: Climate Change” , or an Explainer on climate and environmental issues in The Narwhal (October 19) .

B.C.’s Covid-19 economic recovery plans, and safety, WCB coverage for workers

“What Kind of Recovery Economy Is BC Planning to Build?” appeared in The Tyee (May 6)  discussing the British Columbia Economic Recovery Task Force, appointed in early April.  The article points out that the 19-member Task Force lacks any representation from environmental advocacy groups – although Laird Cronk, president of the B.C. Federation of Labour was appointed, along with the leaders of major business and community organizations, in addition to the Premier, cabinet ministers, and senior BC emerging economies taks forcecivil servants. The province also consults with their Climate Solutions Advisory Council, and on May 11, released the Final Report of the  Emerging Economies Task Force, appointed in 2018.  The press release affirms that it “will also be a valuable resource to help inform the province’s COVID-19 pandemic economic recovery”, despite the fact that it was submitted to the government in March 2020, and so pre-dates the Covid-19 crisis.  One of its five strategic priorities  of the Emerging Economies report is titled “Leveraging B.C.’s Green Economy”.

Worker safety as the economy re-opens

On May 6, Premier Horgan announced  Phase 2 , a cautious re-opening the economy. Responsibility for the safe opening and operation of workplaces is delegated to WorkSafe B.C., whose media release states: “As employers prepare to resume operations, they will need to have a safety plan in place that assesses the risk of COVID-19 transmission in their workplace, and develops measures to reduce these risks. This planning process must involve workers as much as possible to ensure their concerns are heard and addressed — this includes frontline workers, supervisors, Joint Health and Safety Committees, and/or worker representatives.” WorkSafeB.C. will issue industry-specific guidance and promises consultation with workers and employers; their general resources for Covid-19 return to work is here

The B.C. Federation of Labour  reacted on May 11 to the announcement that the Workers Compensation Board will add COVID-19 to Schedule 1 of the Workers Compensation Act, thereby granting “presumptive coverage” and expediting workers’ claims.  According to the B.C. Fed, there were  317 COVID-19-related WCB claims in B.C. as of April 29. The B.C. Fed had advocated for the enhanced WCB protection, as well as for the enhanced sick leave protections and $1,000 tax-free provincial Emergency Benefit for Workers, announced in March.

Related Note: On May 7, the Vancouver Just Recovery Coalition  released a statement signed by community, advocacy groups and unions, stating:   “As our federal, provincial and municipal governments begin to strategize on their post-COVID recovery and rebuilding strategies, we need to prioritize those most impacted, ensuring that our economic recovery lessens existing inequalities, respects Indigenous rights, and tackles the climate emergency. The pre-COVID status quo was failing too many people. ”