Fresh off the announcement of B.C.’s new climate strategy, Environment Minister George Heyman is sharing ideas at the United Nations climate change conference in Poland.

Heyman has been meeting with political and business leaders at COP24, discussing how best to reduce emissions while keeping life affordable for both people and businesses.

The United Nations has warned that drastic cuts to emissions need to be made by 2030 to limit global warming. Over the past month, France has been rocked by protests, at least in part due to rising fuel taxes. Those protests have been a major point of discussion at the climate summit and Heyman said in an interview from Katowice, Poland that any price on carbon has to be acceptable to the public.

“I think we have the right formula in B.C.,” Heyman said. “The way you get public acceptance for a measure is to show, it’s not only good for you and your kids in the long run, it’s good for you today. You do that by showing that you’re reducing emissions and that individuals and families are not paying the price.”

The new CleanBC strategy will do that by helping people make changes that will eventually save them money on energy and ensure they pay less carbon tax, because they are using less carbon-intensive energy, he said.

The plan strives to cut carbon emissions by 40 per cent by 2030 through massive electrification of transportation, home heating and industry. So far, the plan only accounts for three-quarters of the required cuts, with measures to achieve the remaining reductions to be announced over the next two years. The costs of the strategy are also unknown, with details to come in the February provincial budget.

“British Columbians have had a price on carbon for 10 years now and they know that money has been returned. We’re planning to return more of it and invest even more money in supporting a low-carbon economy and low-carbon lifestyles,” Heyman said. “We believe we can do that responsibly within the context of our balanced budget and ensuring that we’re investing in health, education and the other services that people count on.”

The plan includes rebates to people on low and moderate incomes, investments in public transportation and rebates for zero-emission vehicles, Heyman said.

“We are looking at both incentive and financing plans for people to make their homes more energy efficient and therefore more comfortable and more valuable and ultimately to drastically reduce the cost of people’s energy,” he said.

The CleanBC plan was lauded by both environmentalists and business representatives as a good first step.

When the plan was announced, the Business Council of British Columbia’s president Greg D’Avignon said tools within the plan position to province to be a supplier of choice for lower-carbon intensive products and supplies.

“Acting on these strategies, B.C. can play an outsized role in reducing climate impacts in high-emission jurisdictions, while building a competitive and innovative economy for British Columbians and reducing emissions here at home,” D’Avignon said in a news release.

Leaders want to know how B.C. got business on board

Heyman said international leaders in Poland are curious about how the B.C. government got business to support the plan and a rising carbon tax.

“We’ve done that by ensuring that we are going to work with business to help them reach world leading or world-lowest carbon intensities by supporting them in implementing carbon lowering technology and rebating carbon tax as they approach the lowest emissions in the world,” Heyman said.

The government has also signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Business Council to address competitiveness issues and to develop and support low carbon technologies, Heyman said.

While in Poland, Heyman met with the deputy mayor of Oslo, Norway, where they’ve had success with getting more people into clean energy vehicles and also with electrification of shorter haul ferries.

Heyman also met with a group of B.C. young people who were just starting their careers, working with companies and organizations focused on the environment. They told him they want more engagement and direct dialogue with the provincial government and Heyman said he’s going to set something up.

“What really struck me was a statement one of them made that they’ve done a survey poll and found that 50 per cent of young people think about the threat to their future from climate change at least once a day and 80 per cent think about it at least once a week,” Heyman said. “That gave me a sense both of responsibility as an elected official and member of government and I’m also excited about our CleanBC plan that’s focused on both reducing emissions and building a very positive and strong low-carbon economy for the future.”

Some people have asked Heyman how much the plan will cost.

“My answer is that we’re funding the things that are necessary,” Heyman said. “We’re taking the carbon tax revenue — and more than the carbon tax revenue — and returning it to people through a combination of tax credits, incentives to business and assistance to business in lowering their emissions, so we don’t put businesses at a competitive disadvantage or hurt the jobs that people rely on.”

The B.C. government failed to meet 2020 targets for emissions reductions and Heyman said that’s why the need for the new plan was so urgent.

B.C. was given the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change Momentum for Change award for its Carbon Neutral Government Program, now in its 10th year of operation.

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

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