#EC2019 Part 4: BC Is A Global Climate Leader, But Needs Canada & US To Keep Up

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The day of the Global Climate Strike, September 20th, I participated in a fascinating all day conference in Vancouver, British Columbia. It’s the fourth annual conference put on by the BC Sustainable Energy Association. I’ve already pulled at three threads from the conference, but this final article is on the challenge of being a tiny green dot in a sea slicked with oil.

Other articles have dealt with the excellent transportation portion of Vancouver’s Climate Emergency Response plan, the persistence of fossil fuel lobbyists, and the question of how efficient buildings actually need to be given low-carbon energy.

CleanBC logo
Image courtesy of Government of BC

The closing panel for the day was hosted by Jonathan Ho, Chair of the BC SEA Board. The panelists were Neil Dobson, Executive Director of CleanBC Implementation, and Martin Mullany, Interim Executive Director of Clean Energy BC. CleanBC is the provincial governmental organization tasked with “Making B.C. industries the cleanest in the world by using clean energy to power our industrial economy. Along with our actions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, CleanBC provides an effective blueprint to grow our economy.” Clean Energy BC, on the other hand, is the industry group representing the clean energy industry in BC.

The panel was excellent, with a good set of conversations and thoughts. A US audience would have been struck by the regular return to the needs of the groups that have often been left behind in transformations, a feature of the Green New Deal. Social justice and assisting the least economically advantaged in society is less controversial in Canada.

But the thread I want to pull on is based on a remark by Dobson. To paraphrase, BC is a small province of 5 million people, and has insufficient economic or regulatory clout to drive change if other governments around them aren’t pulling in the same direction. A few short years ago, in 2015, Obama was in the White House and the US was going to sign the Paris Accord, the Canadian Liberals were in Ottawa and were introducing a carbon tax, and provincial NDP and Liberal governments in Alberta and Ontario were aligned with the need for transformation.

Now, four years later, the US has backed away from the Paris Accord and is attacking fuel efficiency standards. Ontario’s new Conservative government in Canada’s largest, richest, and most populous province has ripped up the contracts for 758 renewable energy projects, eliminated efficiency programs, killed its electric vehicle rebate program, eliminated the carbon cap and trade program, and is fighting the federal carbon tax in court. Alberta’s new Conservative government is fighting the carbon tax as well, and renewable projects in that province are in limbo as Kenney’s government makes aggressive statements about shipping more oil and gas to China (a market so rapidly transitioning away from fossil fuels that this idea is nonsensical) and slowing the shift away from fossil fuel-based electrical generation. Reactionary politics have returned climate inaction and backsliding to power in the jurisdictions surrounding BC.

Canada has a federal election in late October of 2019, barely a month after the conference, while the US is in primaries leading up to its November 2020 federal election, one which will either return Trump and the Republicans to power, or return the US to climate sanity with the election of Democratic leadership in the Executive and Legislative branches.

Reactionary conservative politics are challenging necessary and urgent action for the climate. We must transition off of fossil fuels as rapidly as possible, or visit fairly radical climate and economic disruptions on people around the world who are alive now. Greta Thunberg’s anger is justified and accurately focused. Our children and grandchildren need us to — finally — take urgent action on an issue we’ve had good science on since the 1970s.

At present, federal Conservative campaign promises include elimination of the carbon tax and dividend, a fundamentally conservative economic approach to pricing negative externalities in the market. The Canadian carbon tax and refund is virtually identical to the two carbon pricing models proposed by the bipartisan Climate Solutions Caucus and the Republican-founded Climate Leadership Council. Conservative attacks on the carbon tax are populist in nature and often completely false, as with Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer’s recent inaccurate statement that carbon taxes have “been proven to fail.” Further, the Conservative campaign promises to eliminate two sets of sensible environmental protection legislation that require reasonable accommodation and care on oil shipments from Alberta through BC and in shipping oil through BC’s waters.

The Canadian Conservatives’ entire climate action plan is shipping more natural gas to China to, in theory, displace coal generation there. Any Canadian who asserts that they care about the environment and climate change and yet votes for the federal Conservatives is acting against their stated values. Given that the Liberals have been good stewards of the economy, GDP is up, unemployment is down, and deficit as a percentage of GDP is low, and that they brought in the carbon tax and the environmental regulations, it’s hard to see why they should not be the obvious choice for a return to power. As with the US Republicans, Canadian Conservatives are still stuck in the 20th Century, but we are two decades into the 21st Century and must act on the most pressing issue of this century, just as Mulroney and Reagan acted on the hole in the ozone layer, being instrumental to the creation and ratifying of the Montreal Protocol.

Which brings us to the United States. The Democratic candidates for President, many of whose climate action plans I’ve published assessments of, spent a joint 7 hours on CNN in a town hall format being asked a series of questions by interviewers regarding their plans. They’ve all published detailed plans. They all have mostly committed to the Green New Deal, a climate, jobs, and social justice model that overlaps with the Canadian Leap Manifesto, but which contains far fewer of the significantly off-base elements that made the Manifesto unworkable. The plans of the frontrunners are reasonable if insufficiently urgent, but are plans. Some even include pricing carbon. They are a basis for improvement to the eventual Democratic Presidential candidate’s climate action plan for the election in 2020, and hopefully significant action in the years to follow.

But on the other side of the aisle, Republicans under Donald Trump are almost united in rolling back climate action, although there are positive signs that climate change denial is a fading political wedge. They’ve backed away from the Paris Accord, the President has referred to climate change as a Chinese hoax, and they are attacking California’s ability to set fuel efficiency standards aligned with climate action. The positive signs are the previously mentioned conservative and bipartisan groups offering a carbon fee and dividend, senior Republicans such as Senator Lindsey Graham on record that Trump should accept that climate change is real, and polling which indicates that 69% of all voters want the government to take action on human causes of climate change and the 68% of Independent voters necessary to win the Executive and Legislative branches consider climate change to be very serious or serious.

These two upcoming elections, one in October of 2019 and one in November of 2020, will shape BC’s ability to meet its targets for climate action. The 5 million people in a $240 billion CAD economy are insufficient as a market to set standards and regulations substantially at variance with US and Canadian federal policies. Even significant variance from neighboring Alberta leads to some elements of economic growth shifting across the border, losing revenues for BC that they want to use for the transition.

For the sake of the world, our children, and our grandchildren, not just BC’s climate targets, it’s important that the Liberals return to power this year and that Republicans are cast into the wilderness in 2020. While Europe, India, and China are aggressively turning down their carbon emissions, Canada and the US need to be much more effective in our efforts.

Dobson was right. BC can’t go it alone. It’s too small a market. If BC’s plans had to be deferred or substantially diminished due to reactionary politics in Canada and the US, that would be a pity, but not just for BC.

Additional reading:


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Michael Barnard

is a climate futurist, strategist and author. He spends his time projecting scenarios for decarbonization 40-80 years into the future. He assists multi-billion dollar investment funds and firms, executives, Boards and startups to pick wisely today. He is founder and Chief Strategist of TFIE Strategy Inc and a member of the Advisory Board of electric aviation startup FLIMAX. He hosts the Redefining Energy - Tech podcast (https://shorturl.at/tuEF5) , a part of the award-winning Redefining Energy team.

Michael Barnard has 647 posts and counting. See all posts by Michael Barnard