B.C., Canada’s Carbon Tax Champion, Criticized for Lack of Climate Leadership at COP21 in Paris

British Columbia has long been celebrated for implementing one of North America’s first — and the world’s most successful — carbon tax regimes.

Yet at the ongoing COP21 climate talks in Paris, Premier Christy Clark is getting a lot of flack for her province’s lack of climate leadership.

Clark’s efforts to develop a major liquefied natural gas (LNG) export industry and her freezing of the province’s carbon tax in 2012 shows just how far B.C. is from being a climate leader, according to Torrance Coste, member of the Canadian Youth Delegation attending the climate summit.

Last week a panel of industry and environmental experts appointed by Clark to review the province’s climate action found B.C. will not meet its own target to reduce greenhouse gas emissions one third by 2020.

“I’m fairly disappointed with what [Christy Clark] is bring forward as part of B.C.’s new climate leadership model,” Coste said. “It’s not building enough on what we’ve done in the past.”

Coste said B.C. has resisted the panel’s recommendation to unfreeze the price on carbon. The panel suggested B.C. raise the carbon tax by 33 per cent in 2018. 

Clark said she would revisit the tax in 2018, but said the government “would only consider an increase in the carbon tax under a regime where emission-intensive, trade-exposed industries are fully protected from any carbon tax increase.”

Clark tweeted about sharing B.C.'s "story on carbon pricing" with other Canadian premiers in Paris. "We are proof you can reduce your emissions & grow your economy."

“Bringing in the carbon tax, but not including fossil fuels, isn’t climate leadership,” Coste said.

“Carbon taxes are meant to curb emissions from high-emitting industries like LNG, not to curb emissions from orchard farmers and Lululemon.”

“The fact that B.C. is trying to build a new fossil fuel industry in 2015 and call itself a climate leader — those two don’t square,” Coste said.

Premier Clark’s communications staff told DeSmog Canada she would be unavailable to provide comment.

B.C. Stuck in Climate Past

Merran Smith, executive director of Clean Energy Canada and participant on Clark’s climate advisory panel, said B.C. was an early climate leader, but since the introduction of the carbon tax in 2007, has “largely been coasting.”

“Premier Clark needs to make a clear commitment to continued climate leadership,” Smith said. “It isn’t enough to look back at what B.C. has done and say ‘isn’t that great?’ ”

Smith added Clark “needs to clearly state that her intention is to now build on that success, to continue to lead on climate while building a competitive economy and prosperous communities.”

“If she doesn’t make this clear, I think B.C.’s past leadership will be trumped by the up and comers, like Ontario and Alberta, because they are in Paris championing what they are going to do now, not what they’ve done in the past.”

Smith said the climate advisory panel made a suite of comprehensive recommendations to Clark that would help B.C. meet a new 2030 climate target that will bring the province back on track for its 2050 goals.

Smith said the recommendations were designed with both the environment and the economy in mind.

“The key pieces of the package include increasing the carbon tax while cutting the PST, legislating 2030 reduction targets enroute to our existing 2050 target, and ongoing monitoring of our progress to keep us on track.”

How Trudeau Will Deal With High Provincial Emitters Still a Question

Erin Flanagan, analyst with the Pembina Institute, said B.C. is likely to see high emissions from the LNG industry continue for several years. Those emissions may conflict with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s federal plan to form a pan-Canadian climate action plan to reduce overall national emissions.

According to Flanagan, who is attending the COP21 in Paris, how Canada will handle provincial emissions for a province like B.C. is still a question.

“If you look at modelling coming out of that province, they’re not likely to hit their 2020 target and they’re not likely to hit their later target for 2025 or 2030. So how do you penalize a jurisdiction that has a very high carbon tax but it’s not enough to [fulfill] its contribution nationally?”

“That’s going to be a tough one.”

Flanagan added Alberta’s new climate plan may put more pressure on B.C. to step up its game.

“Alberta in 2018 will have a $30 carbon tax. So in terms of competitiveness considerations or waiting for other jurisdictions to match policy ambition, that gap is being closed really quickly,” she said. “That’s not a good argument anymore.”

The Clark government has been criticized for favourable treatment of the LNG industry, promising to cut taxes for foreign gas producers and exempting industry from paying carbon tax penalties for certain emissions.  

“If it’s simply a discussion around preferential treatment for different industries, we should probably start calling it that,” Flanagan said. 

B.C. in Danger of Losing Climate Leader Status

“B.C.'s lack of a strong climate commitment so far seems out of step," said David Suzuki Foundation science and policy director Ian Bruce in Paris.

“It's disappointing that a province that once led on climate solutions is in danger of losing its status as world leaders gather for the climate summit,” Bruce said, adding he hopes B.C. will make a new climate announcement while in Paris.

“B.C.’s past leadership on climate change has been one of the best economic and environmental success stories in North America,” Bruce said.

“But without decisive leadership now, the premier will be best known for freezing B.C.’s climate action success. For the sake of the province, I hope she chooses to lead.”

Bruce added that B.C. could regain some climate momentum by implementing the panel’s recommendations and that increasing the carbon tax soon could be timely, given Alberta’s new climate leadership plan.

The David Suzuki Foundation also recommends B.C. prioritize making buildings more energy efficient, pursue zero-emissions standards for vehicles and invest more in public-transit infrastructure.

Image: Twitter

Carol Linnitt is a journalist, editor, illustrator and co-founder of The Narwhal. Carol has been reporting on energy and environmental…

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