Flaring at Encana pad near Tower Gas Plant well #16-06-081-17.

B.C.’s emissions reach highest levels since 2001

Newly released provincial greenhouse gas emission inventory for 2018 shows pollution spike, with oil and gas extraction, heavy-duty diesel vehicles responsible

Greenhouse gas emissions in B.C. spiked in 2018, reaching their highest levels since 2001, with oil and gas extraction, off-road industrial transport and heavy-duty diesel vehicles among the culprits, according to data released by the provincial government on Thursday.

The figures show 2018 gross emissions totalled 67.9 megatonnes (Mt) of carbon dioxide equivalent , an increase of seven per cent since 2007 and an increase of 2.2 Mt from 2017.

The numbers push the province further away from its targets of a 40 per cent reduction from 2007 levels by 2030. B.C. is now 14 per cent further from its 2030 target than it was in 2007.

B.C. GHG emissions chart

The gap between the 2007 and 2018 numbers was higher than expected because the federal government has changed the way emissions are calculated, according to a government news release.

A change in the way marine transport emissions are calculated means B.C.’s 2007 baseline year was revised downwards by 1.3 Mt. Meanwhile, new estimates for fuel use in oil and gas extraction, heavy duty vehicles, commercial and institutional buildings and light-duty gasoline powered trucks means 2017 figures were revised upwards by 1.3 Mt.

“Taken together, these two technical changes made by the federal government for previous years’ emissions were equivalent to 2.7 Mt or more than 75 per cent of the gap between the new 2007 emissions baseline and 2018,” the government said.

In 2019, the provincial government had noted figures from the 2007 baseline year were revised upwards.

Because the data is from 2018 it does not include any reductions from actions undertaken as part of CleanBC, the climate action and clean economy plan implemented in 2019 that includes programs such as encouraging home retrofits and  the use of electric vehicles.

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B.C. Environment and Climate Change Minister George Heyman said in a statement that the numbers reinforce the need to take action to address climate change and noted the independent Climate Solutions Council is providing advice to government on how to reach the goals.

“For example, our government is taking action to drive emissions down by requiring all new light-duty vehicles to be zero emissions by 2040. We’re making electric vehicles more affordable and convenient for people through CleanBC rebates and an expanded charging network . . .  We’re also working to reduce emissions from industry with investments in emissions-reduction projects,” Heyman said in the emailed statement.

“CleanBC remains the strongest climate plan in Canada, but it will still take time to make up for the lack of climate action in previous years,” he said.

Karen Tam Wu, B.C regional director of the Pembina Institute, a non-profit think tank focused on energy, told The Narwhal she hopes some CleanBC programs, such as the popular vehicle incentives, will show up in 2019 figures and that new accountability legislation, with annual tracking of progress towards CleanBC targets, will make a difference.

Carbon reduction targets by sector should also help pinpoint opportunities for reductions, she said.

Many questions about whether the targets are achievable centre around the fossil fuel industry and provincial approval of liquified natural gas (LNG) projects. At full buildout the LNG Canada project, under construction in Kitimat, will add an estimated four megatonnes of emissions a year at the terminal alone, with an additional nine megatonnes of upstream greenhouse gas emissions from fracking and transportation, according to a recent report by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives.  

The report found that if LNG Canada comes online, emissions from just oil and gas production will exceed B.C.’s 2050 climate target by 160 per cent, even if emissions from the rest of the economy were reduced to zero. The B.C. government has pledged to reduce emissions by 80 per cent from 2007 levels by 2050. 

Fact check: are B.C.’s LNG ambitions compatible with its climate goals?

“Certainly the oil and gas sector and specifically the gas industry continue to be the single largest source of emissions in B.C.,” Tam Wu said.

LNG emissions won’t show up until about five years from now and, in the meantime, some industry emissions should decrease because of new methane regulations and electrification, she said.

“What this does point to is that 75 per cent of B.C.’s emissions are from fossil fuel use and, in a low carbon economy, 20 years from now, moving into 2050, we are going to have to see that shift significantly if we are going to have any chance of achieving our climate targets,” she said.

B.C. Green Party interim leader Adam Olsen said the NDP government cannot talk about transitioning to clean energy and continue to subsidize and approve oil and gas projects.

“You will never have a successful transition if you don’t create the conditions for the shift. We need to stop approving oil and gas projects and, instead, focus all of that money and legislative support on renewable energy sources and sustainable careers,” Olsen said in a news release.

Climate change must be met with the same commitment to science as the COVID-19 pandemic, Olsen said.

The Green Party collaborated with the NDP government in developing the CleanBC program and Sonia Furstenau, Green Party MLA for Cowichan Valley, said she is hopeful the policies will lead to reductions.

But there is a long way to go and lessons from the pandemic should be used to protect vulnerable British Columbians from climate change, she said.

“There are lessons we can take from this challenging time. Things we never thought were possible are suddenly happening,” Furstenau said in a press release.

“British Columbia’s economic recovery efforts should respond to the present while preparing us for the future. It’s not just possible that the transition to a clean economy could create jobs, it’s inevitable,” she said.

Updated at 10 a.m. on Aug. 8, 2020, to correct an error. According to the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, LNG Canada’s facility will add an estimated four megatonnes of emissions a year at the terminal and nine megatonnes of upstream greenhouse gas emissions from fracking and transportation, at full build-out, not in the first phase.

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