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Economy plays key role in B.C. meeting greenhouse-gas targets

Part of the Vancouver skyline.

JASON LEE/REUTERS

The slowdown in economic activity linked to the recession has helped British Columbia meet its greenhouse-gas reduction targets, but an improving economy will complicate the effort, says the provincial environment minister.

"There's an absolute tension there for sure," Terry Lake said Wednesday as he released a government report that suggests B.C. reduced greenhouse-gas emission by 4.5 per cent – or 2.9-million tonnes – between 2007 and 2010

"As the economy grows, as the population grows the total number of greenhouse gases should grow as well without policies in place to incent people to reduce their greenhouse-gas emissions," Mr. Lake told a conference call.

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Mr. Lake suggested it was an "educated guess" that 3 per cent of the 4.5 per cent drop was "likely attributable" to the recession.

"Obviously we want to grow the economy, but I think we want to do it in a way that also respects our greenhouse-gas targets."

He said that would include increases in public-transit services such as the Evergreen Line and transit opportunities on the Port Mann bridge.

Rob Fleming, the B.C. NDP environment critic, said Mr. Lake's confession was a bit odd. "The minister was candid, but basically admitting global, economic recessionary forces had more to do with B.C's slight emissions drop than the sum total of the B.C. Liberal climate policy."

Mr. Lake noted the progress report, a legally required update on greenhouse-gas emission levels, showed the policies had not affected B.C.'s GDP.

The report comes as B.C. is about to increase its revenue-neutral carbon tax by $5 a tonne July 1 – the last scheduled increase in the tax introduced in 2008 by former premier Gordon Campbell – driving up the price of gasoline and other petroleum products en route to a goal of cutting greenhouse gas emissions by 33 per cent below 2007 levels by 2020.

This week, the average pump price in Vancouver was $1.365 cents per litre compared to a national $1.237-cent price. Taxes on that pump price will go up 1-cent a litre on Sunday adding to some of the highest gasoline pump prices in Canada.

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But the Ottawa-based think tank Sustainable Prosperity, said in a report, that the tax has led to substantial reductions in greenhouse-gas emissions linked to climate change without an impact on economic growth.

On Wednesday, B.C. Finance Minister Kevin Falcon announced he will be seeking written submissions through to Aug. 31 as part of a review of the tax.

Among the points of the review is a look at the impact of the tax on the competitiveness of such B.C. businesses as the agricultural sector. Mr. Falcon, who was unavailable for comment Wednesday, has expressed concerns about B.C. being the only North American jurisdiction with such a tax.

Still, Mr. Lake said the B.C. government remains committed to tax, which is foremost among Mr. Campbell's environmental policy legacy. "There's no plans to get rid of the carbon tax," he said, noting Premier Christy Clark has declared B.C. wants to be a leader of climate-action policies.

"But when you're a leader, you expect others to follow. When other jurisdictions aren't following, you do get into a problem of competitiveness," he said.

Mr. Falcon's review, he said, will allow for finding possible shifts in policy that can deal with such problems.

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With a file from Shawn McCarthy

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About the Author
B.C. reporter

Ian Bailey is a Vancouver-based reporter for The Globe and Mail.  He covers politics and general news. Prior to arriving at The Globe and Mail, he reported from Toronto and St. John’s for The Canadian Press.  He has also covered British Columbia for CP, The National Post and The Province. More

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