B.C. Not Prepared for Climate Change Disasters, Not On Track to Cut Emissions: Auditor General

B.C. is woefully unprepared to deal with climate change catastrophes, despite recent floods, droughts and forest fires, and the province is not dealing effectively with the root cause of climate change, meaning it is unlikely to meet its 2020 or 2050 greenhouse gas emission targets, says a highly critical report by the province’s Auditor General Carol Bellringer.

“Overall we found the B.C government is not adequately managing the risks posed by climate change,” Bellringer said.

Both adaptation, reducing potential harm from climate change, and mitigation, reducing greenhouse gas emissions, are needed to create climate resilience and B.C. is failing on both counts, according to the report.

The audit, Managing Climate Change Risks, released Thursday, found the adaptation plan has not been updated since 2010, the province has not completed a comprehensive risk assessment, there are gaps in climate data, flood plain maps are outdated and there is no clear plan on how to reach the targets of reducing emissions by 33 per cent below 2007 levels by 2020 and 80 per cent below 2007 levels by 2050.

“None of the models reviewed suggest that B.C. will meet the 2050 emissions reduction target. Current policies are not sufficient to set a successful trajectory towards the 2050 target,” says the report.

The ability to meet targets depends partially on what happens with the development of large scale industries, such as mining and liquefied natural gas, as “development of large-scale LNG production will increase provincial GHG emissions,” according to the report.

The LNG concerns echo those of B.C. Green Party leader Andrew Weaver, who has said it will be impossible for B.C. to meet its emissions targets if B.C.’s two approved LNG projects go ahead.

Premier John Horgan has been meeting with LNG industry representatives, but says any new developments must meet B.C.’s climate objectives.

B.C. warming faster than global average

Examples of the ravages of climate change can already be seen close to home and, from 1900 to 2013, B.C.’s average temperature has increased by 1.4 degrees — faster than the global average, Bellringer said at a news conference.

“Scientists predict the province will face increases in extreme weather, rising sea levels and higher risk of wildfire and flooding,” she said.

“Last summer more of the province burned than in the previous seven years combined and heavy rains last spring in the Okanagan along with the snowmelt caused extensive flooding.”

But government may not be able to manage flood risks in the future as responsibilities are spread through different levels of government and agencies, some of which do not have adequate staffing or technical capacity. Similarly, efforts to prevent wildfires are insufficient, uncoordinated and have not targeted the areas of highest risk, Bellringer said.

Despite the very real threats presented by climate change, there is a lack of coordination, planning, policies, staffing and resources at both provincial and local government levels, says the report. It suggests the provincial government work more closely with First Nations and local governments,.

The report’s 17 recommendations include undertaking a province-wide risk assessment, creating an adaptation plan, educating staff on climate change, considering climate change in all legislation, regulation and permitting and improving public reporting.

2020 climate targets won’t be met

Environment and Climate Change Strategy Minister George Heyman said in a statement that he agrees stronger action is needed and the government accepts the recommendations.

“We agree with the auditor general that the legislated 2020 emissions reduction target won’t be met. This is why our government will introduce a new legislated target for 2030 of a 40 per cent reduction in carbon emissions below 2007 levels,” he said.

“We are also increasing B.C.’s carbon tax by $5 per tonne per year, beginning April 1. The higher price on carbon will help put us on a path to meet both the new 2030 target and the 2050 target.”

A higher carbon tax should encourage cleaner technologies and development of alternative energy sources and the newly appointed Climate Solutions and Clean Growth Advisory Council will help government come up with a comprehensive climate action strategy, Heyman said.

‘Do our targets mean anything?’

Weaver said the conclusion that the government is not adequately managing climate change risks is extremely serious.

“The unfortunate trend of politicians making grand statements about the importance of climate action and then doing nothing to meet our targets must end,” he said.

The previous Liberal government dismantled the Climate Action Plan and, now, the risks to the province are enormous, Weaver said.

“We need to be honest with British Columbians. Do our targets mean anything? If we truly care about the impacts of climate change on the next generation, we must follow our words with decisive action,” he said, pointing out potential economic rewards from investing in renewable energy.

Jens Wieting, Sierra Club B.C. forest and climate campaigner, said Bellringer’s report is a wake-up call.

“The fires and flooding will only get worse and we are not prepared and we are not meeting our emissions targets,” he said.

If climate change is not addressed the impacts could undermine all other government priorities, such as health and education, said Wieting, pointing out that the planned Kinder Morgan pipeline expansion and LNG development will make the situation worse.

It is essential that the government recognize the importance of forest management in fighting floods and drought, Wieting said.

Clearcuts do not hold water, meaning they enable both floods and drought, he said.

“We need healthy forests to prevent water becoming scarce.”

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