Tzeporah Berman, a member of B.C.'s climate leadership team and adjunct professor in York University’s faculty of environmental studies, expressed frustration on Tuesday over the provincial government's delay in developing stronger climate policy.
"We need to ask ourselves right now, who is in charge of climate and economic policy in B.C.? Is it the scientists, or is it corporate donors?" Berman asked. "I think Premier Christy Clark has clearly hung her hat on the development of LNG as the keystone of her economic policy...My expectation is that this government is very worried about doing anything that could be of concern to LNG investors, and that likely has a lot to do with the holdup."
A year ago, the Clark government announced it would release a draft climate plan in December 2015 and finalize the plan in March. The government's hand-picked climate leadership team — a wide-ranging group including business interests, environmentalists, First Nations leaders and policymakers — spent months coming up with ways to strengthen B.C.'s climate policies, while maintaining economic growth and taking some LNG development into account.
"It was really difficult, with long hours of volunteer time, some of us felt like it nearly killed us," Berman said. But she said it was ultimately a positive process, which led to suggestions such as balancing a higher carbon tax with reduced sales tax.
But six months after 32 recommendations from its climate leadership team, the draft has been scrapped. The final deadline for the plan has been pushed back to June. Berman and seven members of the climate leadership team, concerned over the delays, penned an open letter to Premier Clark urging the province to stop delaying action on climate change.
She recounted the events that eventually pushed climate team members to speak out.
At the time the recommendations were made, the UN climate talks in Paris in December were right around the corner. Berman said the B.C. government needed more time before finalizing a draft climate plan, but nevertheless discussed its climate leadership on the world stage.
"Honestly, it made me a little uncomfortable that [Premier Christy Clark] went to Paris, and announced our recommendations as though she were going to accept them," Berman said.
"She was intoning that B.C. was going to create a new climate plan and putting our recommendations on the table as evidence that help secure in the minds of many people around the world and Canada and that B.C. is a climate leader."
After the Paris conference was over, Berman said the B.C. government said it had to do more public consultation first, before moving forward. She said it was a good idea — except from what she could see, B.C.'s public consultation was minimal compared to what took place in Ontario, Quebec or Alberta. The government set up a website, which got around 12,000 visits and 1,600 feedback forms.
"There were no events, no town halls, no issue specific roundtables with experts that the public could ask questions of," Berman said. "That was my first warning sign."
After the B.C. government missed the March deadline to come up with a climate plan, and pushed things back to June, Berman said others in her team had gotten in touch and expressed concern that Premier Clark was delaying on the plan.
Berman added that Alberta, Quebec and Ontario have already come up with their provincial climate plans, and that it made it difficult for the federal government to create a national plan if it doesn't know what British Columbia is planning to do.
When reached for comment, a ministry of environment spokesperson responded:
"The Government is reviewing the Climate Leadership Team’s recommendations, along with submissions from the public engagement. The Climate Leadership Plan will be unveiled in June. BC continues to be a global climate leader — Our carbon tax is the highest and most comprehensive in North America. We were the first, and are still the only, jurisdiction in North America to be carbon neutral, having done so for five consecutive years."
The spokesperson reiterated that the carbon tax in B.C.'s would be frozen at $30 per tonne until 2018, and that the province would release the final plan in June. As for LNG expansion, the environment ministry representative added:
"Our greenhouse gas emissions benchmark will make B.C.’s LNG facilities the cleanest in the world, and our LNG facilities will pay one of the highest carbon taxes in the world. We’ve brought in rules which have virtually eliminated routine flaring. We are addressing methane emissions, in part through a leak detection program."
Berman said the recommendations by the climate panel appeared to have been delayed due to a fear of how the ideas will be received, rather than how feasible they were:
"We had people with business backgrounds and people from industry on the climate panel. I think our recommendations are breakthrough," Berman said.
"We've addressed ways to make sure businesses are still competitive. We've addressed affordability concerns. It seems to have more to do with ideology or fear of how [the plan] will be received, rather than actual policy."
The full letter by seven members of B.C.'s climate leadership plan below:
One year ago, you asked us to serve on the Climate Leadership Team and provide your government with advice on how to advance B.C.’s climate change plan. The motivation for the new plan was clear: while B.C. had been a leader on developing climate policy in Canada, and in fact around the world, the province’s carbon pollution was rising and stronger policy would be needed to get the province on track to meet our legislated emissions reduction targets.
You asked us for recommendations that would enable the province to meet its 2020 and 2050 climate targets, maintain a strong economy, and provide support to the British Columbians most in need. You asked us to reach consensus across a group that included leaders from First Nations, business, academia, local government, the provincial government and environmental organizations.
The process we worked through last year was difficult, but it was also successful. We managed to deliver in six months. Our work resulted in 32 recommendations that we provided to your government last November. The package of recommendations represents a mix of innovative thinking and compromise that fulfills our mandate and respects the different perspectives represented on the team. The recommendations provide a blueprint to help get the province back on track for our climate targets, stimulate innovation, create jobs, protect B.C. businesses and support rural communities.
We advised your government to commit to the package of recommendations this year so that British Columbians and B.C. businesses have time to plan. This is particularly true of our recommendations to strengthen the carbon tax, which were central to the overall package. Committing to a next schedule of increases, closing gaps in its coverage and explaining how the revenue will be used will help reduce uncertainty, ease the transition to a low-carbon economy for emissions-intensive and trade-exposed sectors and families, and support investments in clean energy across the province.
The reasons to move forward with this plan are stronger than ever. Climate change threatens our economy, our communities and our environment. To confront those threats, we need to increase our efforts to reduce fossil fuel use and better prepare ourselves for a changing climate. And as the world increasingly begins to act, the demand for clean energy is accelerating. The actions we take to increasingly shift to clean energy in the province will also help position B.C. businesses to provide the solutions the world needs.
We want to see the province reach its climate targets; delay only increases the costs and makes it harder to succeed. We are thus concerned about the shifts in deadlines. You initially committed to having a draft plan in advance of the Paris climate talks last December and a final plan by this March. The draft plan was cancelled and the deadline for the final plan was pushed to June.
B.C. is in no position to delay or scale back its efforts. The rest of Canada and the rest of the world have been taking action since B.C.’s initial climate plan in 2008, and B.C.’s increasing carbon pollution is taking us in the wrong direction.
B.C. can’t be a climate leader if its carbon pollution is rising. As the federal government places a renewed emphasis on climate action, now is the time for B.C. to be articulating its next steps.
The new federal-provincial relationship on climate change will be defined by the jurisdictions taking actions to significantly reduce their carbon pollution and B.C. should be among them.
The Climate Leadership Team recommendations, implemented in their entirety, provide the blueprint for a B.C. climate plan to put the province back on track for the 2050 and interim 2030 targets. Anything less is not climate leadership.
Chief Ian Campbell, hereditary chief, Squamish Nation
Chief Michelle Edwards, Cayoose Creek Band
Tom Pedersen, professor of oceanography, University of Victoria
Matt Horne, B.C. associate director, Pembina Institute
Merran Smith, executive director, Clean Energy Canada
Tzeporah Berman, adjunct professor, Faculty of Environmental Studies, York University
Nancy Olewiler, professor, School of Public Policy, Simon Fraser University
Honourable Catherine McKenna, Minister of Environment and Climate Change
Honourable James Carr, Minister of Natural Resources
Mr. Jonathan Wilkinson, Parliamentary Secretary
Honourable Mary Polak, Minister of Environment
Honourable Bill Bennett, Minister of Energy and Mines
Honourable Shirley Bond, Minister of Jobs, Tourism and Skills Training
Honourable Rich Coleman, Minister of Natural Gas Development
Honourable Mike de Jong, Minister of Finance
Honourable Peter Fassbender, Minister of Community, Sport and Cultural Development
Honourable Todd Stone, Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure
Mr. Jordan Sturdy, Parliamentary Secretary"