Building a new LNG facility in B.C. is a step in the wrong direction, a noted renewable energy expert says.

Mark Z. Jacobson, a professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Stanford University who will be speaking in Vancouver next week, says building an LNG facility will only discourage China from transitioning to clean energy. And building it now means it will be around for 30 to 40 years, needlessly carrying on the world’s reliance on fossil fuels.

Earlier this month, the provincial and federal governments announced the approval of a $40-billion LNG plant in Kitimat, which will add significant emissions into our atmosphere.

At the same time, the B.C. government promises to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 40 per cent from 2007 levels by 2030, and by 60 per cent by 2040.

Although the LNG project will require British Columbians to tighten their emissions belts to meet those goals, both Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and B.C. Premier John Horgan said the project would be good for the planet overall because it would reduce China’s reliance on coal.

Jacobson doesn’t agree.

“(With LNG), you have to mine it, transport it and refine it and that’s all taking energy, so this is contributing to the problem. It’s not a good idea. It’s a bad idea,” Jacobson said in an interview.

“It’s going in the opposite direction that we should be going. It’s definitely a bad thing for people’s health, for climate and for jobs.”

He calls B.C.’s updated climate pledges “pretty modest goals.”

“It’s going in the opposite direction that we should be going. It’s definitely a bad thing for people’s health, for climate and for jobs.” #bcpoli

“I think more necessary goals are 80 per cent by 2030 and 100 per cent by 2050 for renewable energy,” he said. “If you transition all energy sectors to renewable energy – not only electricity, but transportation, industry, and heating and cooling – that would effectively eliminate 80 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions and that’s necessary to eliminate 1.5 degrees of global warming if we did that everywhere.”

He’s referring to the recent United Nations report warning that drastic emissions cuts are needed by 2030 to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees C or face devastating and possibly irreversible effects.

We need to transition all energy to clean energy, he says.

“That means electrification of all energy and then providing electricity with wind, water and solar power,” he said.

On the positive side, pledges and goals by governments do work as a strategy to get there, he says.

“There are over 80 cities, towns and counties in North America that have committed to 100 per cent (renewable electricity) by various dates,” he said, mentioning both California and Hawaii as examples.

Today, about 30 per cent of California’s electricity is from renewable sources like wind, solar, geothermal, small hydro, and tidal power, while the other 70 per cent is from natural gas, coal and nuclear power, he said.

In B.C., there is an abundant source of clean electricity from hydro power, which supplies 17 per cent of B.C.’s total energy needs, according to Fortis BC. Thirty-seven per cent comes from petroleum, 30 per cent from natural gas and 16 per cent from biofuels. In 2016, B.C.'s greenhouse gas emissions totalled 60.1 megatonnes.

Jacobson says more than 140 of the world’s biggest companies have pledged to use 100-per-cent renewable energy in their operations. Six countries in the world are already at 98 to 100 per cent (renewable) electricity, (including) Costa Rica, Iceland, Norway, Paraguay, Tajikistan and Albania, Jacobson said.

The dominant form of electricity in all of those cases is hydro, like British Columbia.

When in Vancouver, Jacobson will talk about how to convert much of the non-renewable energy we use over to electricity – the electrification of our homes and our industries. He will discuss both what individuals can do and what government policies can accomplish.

He believes we can achieve the targets needed to avoid catastrophic warming.

“I know it’s technically and economically possible, but it’s a question of if we set our priorities in the right direction,” he said.

And it won’t kill the economy, he says.

“Clean energy creates more jobs and it results in lower costs and lower energy,” he says. “We did a cost analysis of the 100-per-cent system across 139 countries of the world and we found we would create 24 million net jobs around the world. These are long-term, full-time jobs.”

Jacobson says when you add up the social costs, using renewable energy only costs one-eighth as much as using fossil fuels. He breaks down the social costs into direct costs, what you actually pay out of your pocket for the energy, plus the health costs, like air pollution, and climate costs, which include costs due to flooding, droughts, sea level rise, loss of agriculture, wildfires and severe weather.

Earlier this year, Jacobson filed a $10-million libel lawsuit against a group of scientists who disputed his findings. Later, he withdrew the lawsuit, which he says was not a dispute over the science, but rather about false statements. He says his reasons for withdrawing the lawsuit were not related to the probability of winning the lawsuit.

Jacobson will be giving the 2018 Gideon Rosenbluth Memorial Lecture, sponsored by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives and UBC's Vancouver School of Economics, on October 25 at 7 p.m. at the Simon Fraser University Segal Graduate School, 500 Granville Street. Registration is required.

Tracy Sherlock writes about B.C. politics for National Observer. Send your tips and ideas to [email protected].