History of failed climate change goals leaves critics with little faith in B.C.'s latest plan

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Grand Chief Stewart Phillip says B.C. has to make a choice between oil and gas revenues and making serious progress on climate change. (Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press - image credit)
Grand Chief Stewart Phillip says B.C. has to make a choice between oil and gas revenues and making serious progress on climate change. (Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press - image credit)

Our planet is changing. So is our journalism. This story is part of a CBC News initiative entitled Our Changing Planet to show and explain the effects of climate change and what is being done about it.

For years now, B.C. has been heading in the exact opposite direction of its climate change goals.

While British Columbians have endured drought, deadly wildfires, record-breaking heat waves and "bomb cyclone" rainstorms, the province's greenhouse gas emissions have risen.

The new "CleanBC Roadmap to 2030," released earlier this week, was trumpeted as the antidote to that trend, promising significant reductions in emissions over the next three decades before reaching net zero in 2050.

But critics who've watched the province repeatedly miss its targets for emissions say it's hard to have faith this plan is achievable — especially considering B.C.'s continued support of the oil and gas industry.

Grand Chief Stewart Phillip of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs said it's "totally unrealistic" to expect that emissions can fall dramatically while the government props up fossil fuels, including liquid natural gas.

"CleanBC is in many ways a 'Jetsons' vision of the future that doesn't take into consideration the immediate peril that British Columbians find themselves in the midst of," Phillip told CBC News.

Indigenous and environmental advocates say there's a disappointing lack of detail in B.C.'s plans to reduce emissions in light of the billions of dollars in subsidies it provides to the fossil fuel industry.

They argue the province's history of failure in meeting its own emissions reduction goals means there needs to be a full public accounting of the drastic steps that will be taken to fight global warming.

"We want to see the math," said Alan Andrews, climate program director for advocacy group EcoJustice.

"We have seen too many missed targets in the past. We have seen projections of compliance with targets that proved to be wildly overoptimistic."

'It was really a plan to prepare a plan'

The "roadmap" released this week outlines an intention to get greenhouse gas emissions down to 40 per cent below 2007 levels by 2030. It includes increased carbon pollution prices, accelerated targets for zero-emission vehicle use and requirements for industry to come up with plans to meet their legislated emissions targets.

An environment ministry spokesperson described the plan as "a comprehensive, detailed plan that is fully modelled and third-party verified" in an email to CBC, and said details on the program for reducing emissions from industries including oil and gas will be released in 2023.

Andrews said that while there are some good elements, the measures in the plan don't appear to be strong enough.

"The roadmap released this week doesn't contain a plan for the oil and gas sector, so it was really a plan to prepare a plan," he said.

It's just the latest iteration in a climate change strategy handed down through successive B.C. Liberal and NDP governments since 2007.

The Liberal government of the time legislated targets for slashing greenhouse gas emissions by a third from 2007 levels by the year 2020, and by 80 per cent by 2050.

The province didn't come close to meeting the first of those goals.

In 2018, the last year for which numbers are available, B.C.'s emissions were 67.9 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent — or about seven per cent higher than in 2007.

Environmental Reporting B.C.
Environmental Reporting B.C.

When it became clear that B.C. wasn't going to meet its 2020 target, the NDP government wrote it out of provincial climate change legislation.

The failure was hardly a surprise — signs that the plan was derailing had been obvious for years.

The Liberals also set interim targets of cutting emissions by six per cent by 2012 and 18 per cent by 2016. They managed to hit the first goal — but only after factoring in carbon offsets like forests that absorb greenhouse gases.

By 2016, emissions were back up above 2007 levels and continuing to rise.

For Phillip, the reason why past plans have failed is obvious.

"It really is unfortunate that successive provincial governments have not been able to wean themselves off the ill-gotten royalties and revenues from oil and gas exploration and production and conveyance," he said.

Just this week, a new report showed that fossil fuel producers in Canada receive more public financial support than anywhere else in the G20 countries.

LNG Canada
LNG Canada

According to the environmental group Stand Earth, the B.C. government will give away a record-breaking $1.3 billion to subsidize oil and gas this year, including $421 million in tax credits for LNG fracking wells.

Andrews said he's "deeply skeptical" that B.C. can meet its climate change goals without seriously curtailing the oil and gas industry.

According to estimates from the Pembina Institute, just two projects approved by the province — LNG Canada in Kitimat and Woodfibre LNG near Squamish — would increase B.C.'s carbon pollution by 10.2 million tonnes a year by 2050.

'We need to choose the planet'

The next interim target in B.C.'s plan is a 16-per-cent reduction in emissions from 2007 levels by 2025.

The consequences of continued failure should be obvious after the summer of 2021, Andrews argued.

"The whole town of Lytton, devastated by fire. Hundreds of people, dying early as a result of extreme heat," he said.

"This is what we are experiencing with what scientists think is around one degree of global warming. It's almost unimaginable what life would be like if we go past two, three degrees of warming, which is what we are on track for."

Phillip said it's long past time for the B.C. government to make a choice between fossil fuel revenues and the health and security of generations to come.

"We need to choose the planet. We need to choose the lands and the waters and wildlife and fish," he said.

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