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B.C. Dodges Accountability, Action with New Climate Legislation, Pundit Charges

BC NDP/Flickr

British Columbia’s new Climate Change Accountability Act is more like “an act to avoid it”, empowering the provincial environment minister to set sectoral emissions targets that a future minister can just as easily repeal, writes Martyn Brown, chief of staff to former B.C. premier Gordon Campbell, in a scathing analysis for The Georgia Straight.

In the new legislation, introduced [1] last week by Environment and Climate Change Strategy Minister George Heyman, British Columbia commits to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions 40% from 2007 levels by 2030, 60% by 2040, and 80% by 2050. The actual plan is due to be released in the fall. But Brown isn’t sold.

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“Yup, nothing screams climate ‘action’ like waiting 10 months to table new emissions reduction targets for 12 years and 22 years in the future, for which no government will have to answer until at least three elections hence,” he writes. “As for the actual climate action plan that is supposed to achieve those results? Like global warming, it is a silent work in progress.”

Brown notes, as Heyman did in his announcement, that the new bill repeals ex-premier Christy Clark’s legislated but now-unattainable target of cutting emissions 33% from 2007 levels by 2020. “In its place, Bill 34 prescribes two new, equally toothless targets,” he writes. Nor does the bill contain interim targets for 2025 or 2035, as recently recommended by the province’s Climate Solutions and Clean Growth Advisory Council [3]—a body Brown now writes off as a “co-opted cooperative”.

“The bill does empower the minister to set sectoral greenhouse gas emission reduction targets at some later date,” he writes. “Those sectoral targets will not require legislative debates or recorded votes. They will be set by the stroke of a minister’s pen. And they will be equally subject to amendment or repeal by any future minister or government, without any further legislative approval. No wonder the Liberals will embrace Bill 34.”

That lack of legislative heft underpins Brown’s concern about the accountability in the government’s Accountability Act. If the targets “are to be embraced at all,” he says, “they can be instituted, amended, or done away with as political expedience demands, without the messy business of parliamentary debate and approval.”

Brown welcomes the bill’s provision for mandatory, bi-annual reporting on climate adaptation risks, progress, and responses. “But even that first report for the 2020 calendar year won’t be legally required until sometime in 2021,” he writes. “Which suggests that perhaps we won’t see it until after the next scheduled provincial election. Accountability starts tomorrow, is the theme, with little to back up that promise.”

The self-described “bcpundit” goes into B.C.’s history of shifting from climate leader to laggard, and lists several factors that could make the province’s new targets decidedly difficult to achieve. So far, he contends, the government’s actions have mostly been “a plan to develop a new plan,” with Heyman “simply doing the post-election dance that most politicians do when they break their election commitments and reveal themselves to be as duplicitous as the politicians they criticized to get elected.”

Meanwhile, he notes that the NDP-Green government’s continuing interest in approving new liquefied natural gas (LNG) projects will increase the province’s greenhouse gas emissions. “Yet the Horgan government is so desperate to ‘land’ that LNG Canada [4] project, it has offered [5] to exempt it from the added $20 per tonne in higher carbon taxes that the rest of us will be obliged to pay as that tax continue to increase each year by $5 per tonne until at least 2021.”

Even without that project, the Pembina Institute foresees B.C.’s emissions increasing 39% by 2030, Brown says. “[B.C. Premier John] Horgan’s tax ‘relief’ to entice more natural gas development from the likes of Canada LNG will only aggravate that problem.”