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B.C.’s climate plan: What you need to know

Marine traffic travels on the waters of the Strait of Georgia near Nanaimo, B.C., on Feb. 19, 2014.

Marine traffic travels on the waters of the Strait of Georgia near Nanaimo, B.C., on Feb. 19, 2014.

DARRYL DYCK/THE CANADIAN PRESS

B.C.'s climate plan: What you need to know

The B.C. government released its long-awaited climate-change plan on Friday, confirming that it will keep its carbon tax frozen and releasing new emissions targets that are weaker than the province's previous commitments and less-aggressive than its own Climate Leadership Team called for in a report last fall. Instead, the government said it has come up with a plan that balances the environment with the economy.

Here's what you need to know:

A frozen carbon tax

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One of the highest-profile recommendations from last year's climate report was a call to significantly increase the province's carbon tax. B.C. was considered a leader in the country when it introduced its tax in 2008, starting at $10 per tonne of carbon dioxide and gradually increasing to $30. The tax has been frozen since 2012 and Premier Christy Clark ran her re-election campaign in 2013 on a promise not to change that.

The climate leadership report recommended that the tax increase by $10 per tonne every year, starting in 2018 and continuing until 2050. But Ms. Clark said that wasn't possible, insisting that she needed to balance the environment with "family affordability" and the economy. She said other provinces need to catch up, and B.C. would wait for a national agreement on carbon pricing before doing anything to its tax.

The tax itself is considered revenue-neutral, since the province offsets the money it generates with measures such as income-tax cuts or rebates for low-income British Columbians.

Alberta's NDP government is following B.C.'s lead, introducing a carbon tax that will kick in at $20 per tonne next January and climb to $30 per tonne in 2018.

New emissions targets

Last fall's climate report concluded that the province will fail to meet its previous target of cutting greenhouse-gas emissions to 33 per cent below 2007 levels by 2020. Instead, the report recommended that the province switch focus to targets for 2030 and 2050.

The province has adopted the climate team's long-term goal of bringing emissions down to 80 per cent of 2007 levels by 2050 while avoiding a firm target for 2030.

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Across the country, B.C. is in the middle of the pack when it comes to greenhouse-gas emissions. Alberta and Ontario lead the country in sheer volume of emissions, while Alberta and Saskatchewan are far and away the largest emitters on a per-capita basis.

Weighed down by oil and gas

The resource sector is by far the province's largest source of greenhouse-gas emissions, notably mining and oil and gas.

The B.C. Liberal government, which has made developing the liquefied natural gas sector a major priority, has promised to reduce emissions from the LNG industry, but environmentalists remain skeptical.

Last year's report recommended that the province aim to cut fugitive, or leaked, emissions and vented methane by 40 per cent within five years.

The province's new climate plan acknowledges the industry's contribution to greenhouse-gas emissions and includes several measures designed to mitigate the problem.

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The government's plan is targeting a 45-per-cent reduction by 2025 to fugitive and vented emissions from infrastructure built before 2015. It also outlines clean-energy credits for facilities built between 2015 and 2018; long-term standards for leak detection and repair; and regulations for carbon capture and storage projects.

It also said the province's Crown-owned electricity company, BC Hydro, should develop a clean-energy strategy to power the natural gas industry.

Quickly condemned

Environmentalists and the Opposition New Democrats dismissed the government's plan as a "cop-out."

The NDP's George Heyman said B.C. was once a climate leader, but Ms. Clark has abandoned that title.

He said the plan "asks British Columbians to trust this Premier, who has already failed to meet her own goals. It does little but pay lip service to the important recommendations made by her personally appointed climate experts."

The Pembina Institute said the plan won't see emissions significantly decline for almost 15 years, which simply leaves the hard work of addressing climate change for another day.

Sierra Club B.C.'s Tim Pearson was perhaps the most blunt, describing the government's climate plan as a "fraud."

"B.C.'s plan fails virtually on all counts," Mr. Pearson said.

What else the government is promising

The plan includes a total of 21 changes. Among them:

  • Introducing incentives to encourage companies to convert their vehicles to renewable natural gas.
  • Expanding the province’s Clean Energy Vehicle program to encourage greater use of zero-emission vehicles by increasing point-of-sale incentives for eligible vehicles.
  • Supporting more charging stations for electric vehicles and developing regulations so local governments can require that new buildings install adequate charging facilities.
  • Improving the transportation network through its B.C. on the Move program, a 10-year plan that includes increasing the number of BC Transit buses that use compressed natural gas, and expanding public transit to reduce congestion, particularly in Metro Vancouver.
  • Increasing tree planting over an area of up to 3,000 square kilometres over the next five years to store more carbon.
  • Requiring all of the electricity acquired by BC Hydro to be renewable or clean.
  • Providing more incentives for marine vessels to be fuelled with cleaner-burning liquefied natural gas.
  • Introducing policies to encourage the development of buildings that are carbon-neutral.

B.C. government climate plan

Climate Leadership Team report

With files from The Canadian Press

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