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.

Carbon Pricing now covering 13% of global GHG emissions; Canadian and U.S. developments

The World Bank released  the State and Trends of Carbon Pricing 2016 report on October 18,  which  measures the growing momentum of carbon markets: in 2016, 40 national jurisdictions and over 20 cities, states, and regions are putting a price on carbon, including seven out of 10 of the world’s largest economies.  About 13 percent of global GHG emissions are now covered by carbon pricing initiatives.  Drawing on new economic modelling, the report also predicts that this coverage could increase by the largest leap ever in 2017, to between 20 – 25 percent,  if the Chinese national Emissions Trading System (ETS) is implemented in 2017 as planned .

Carbon pricing in Canada continues to draw opinion and reaction, including  from Toby Sanger, a Senior Economist at CUPE and  a member of the Federal Sustainable Development Advisory Council, who reiterates a call for Just Transition and equity considerations in “How to offset the hardship of carbon pricing”  in the Ottawa Citizen (Oct. 6) . Andrew Gage at West Coast Environmental Law (Oct. 17) asks important questions about the price levels, scope, and timing of the national carbon price proposals currently under consideration  in “Will Canada’s national carbon price clean up our climate mess?” . His blog includes consideration of the impact  on B.C., and sends a message for  Saskatchewan: “So suck it up, Mr. Wall – it’s time to pay the carbon price and get on board with a national plan to deal with Canada’s climate mess”.   And a blog from Keith Brooks at Environmental Defence takes issue from an Ontario viewpoint with a recent Fraser Institute criticism of the Trudeau carbon pricing proposal in “Stupid or Just Lying? What’s up with the Fraser Institute?” (Oct. 13).

In the U.S., all eyes are on the State of Washington, where a ballot question in the November 8 election will decide whether Washington becomes the first state in the U.S. with a  carbon tax.   The Washington Carbon Emission Tax and Sales Tax Reduction question, known as Initiative 732 (I-732)  is modelled after B.C.’s carbon tax, but has divided traditional left and environmental allies, with the Alliance for Clean Jobs and Energy and the Washington District Labor Council opposed to the initiative, and the Sierra Club and others taking a “do not support” position.   For background, see the excellent overview (with links) at Ballotpedia, or “How a tax on carbon has divided Northwest climate activists” in the Los Angeles Times (Oct. 13) .

Proposals for carbon pricing designs:    A new policy brief released by the Centre for International Governance Innovation (CIGI)  in Waterloo, Ontario  proposes  a carbon-fee-and-dividend (CFD) program , which has been advocated by the Citizens’ Climate Lobby.  How the United States Can Do Much More on Climate and Jobs  envisions a federal program which would  collect a carbon fee from coal, oil and natural gas producers and importers, and distribute  all the revenue (after administrative costs) directly to American households in equal per capita monthly dividends.   To address fears of carbon leakage, the  program would include a border adjustment,  authorizing  a special duty on imports from countries lacking equivalent carbon pricing.   The paper concludes with arguments as to why this is the most likely- to- succeed political option.

Another U.S. discussion paper, from Resources for the Future,  Adding Quantity Certainty to a Carbon Tax, defines and discusses  the multitude of design elements for a Tax Adjustment Mechanism for Policy Pre-Commitment (TAMPP) –  which would adjust the tax rate of a carbon tax  at intermediate benchmark points if emissions reductions deviate sufficiently to threaten the long-term targets . The paper argues that the approach should be rule-based with a clear and transparent adjustment process to reduce unnecessary uncertainty for investment.