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Government breaks with Climate Leadership Team on carbon tax hike

Oil & gas electrification, 100% renewable BC Hydro key in plan to meet 2050 GHG reduction targets
A service rig near Tower Lake. A climate scientist said it will be a challenge for B.C. to meet its climate change reduction targets with a "modest" liquefied natural gas industry.

B.C.'s Climate Leadership Plan will place a major focus on electrifying oil and gas development and expanding BC Hydro's renewable power capacity in lieu of a carbon tax hike, Premier Christy Clark announced Aug. 19.

Clark laid out the details of the plan at a news conference in Richmond Friday, during a record-setting heatwave.

While government will adopt some of the 32 recommendations of its Climate Leadership Team—a panel of academics, local governments, environmentalists, First Nations and business groups tasked with developing an emissions reductions strategy—it will not bring in an annual ten per cent hike to the province's carbon tax.

The province was the first North American jurisdiction to bring in tax on carbon in 2008.

"The proposal to double the carbon tax in just four years, to have it rise to $100 dollars in just eight years and to keep going up, is just one we weren't able to implement," Clark said. "I have to balance the need for our carbon tax to remain world-leading with the obligation to ensure family affordability is at the forefront of our minds, while protecting the economy and job creation."  

Environmental organizations were quick to criticize the plan, saying increasing the carbon tax from  $30 per tonne of CO2 equivalent (CO2e) was the only way to bring about meaningful reductions. Critics of the tax say further increases would drive business out of British Columbia. Earlier this year, Peace River North MLA Pat Pimm came out against increases to the carbon tax, taking the unusual step of petitioning his own party to freeze the tax rate.

B.C. has committed to axing emissions by 80 per cent of 2007 levels by 2050—a reduction of around 13 million tonnes CO2e per year.

Clark laid out six policies to meet that goal in lieu of a carbon tax hike, including

  • methane reduction and electrification in the oil and gas sector
  • reforestation in areas hit by mountain pine beetle infestation
  • moving BC Hydro from 98 per cent renewable power to 100 per cent by 2025—one year after the scheduled completion date of the Site C dam
  • increased focus on electric vehicles and emissions reduction in the transportation sector, as well as more stringent emissions guidelines for the construction sector

The Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers praised the plan, saying it would not stifle investment in the oil and gas sector. Fossil fuel production accounts for around 17 per cent of B.C.'s overall carbon emissions.  

Sybil Seitzinger, executive director of the Pacific Institute for Climate Solutions, said B.C. could still meet its targets with the new plan and a "modest" liquefied natural gas industry.

"The plan's assumed expansion of the natural gas industry presents a major challenge in reaching our emissions reduction targets," she said. "While natural gas is often seen as a bridging fuel to a low carbon future, greenhouse gas emissions during production and processing can be large."

The "heavy lifting" of the plan will fall on the forestry and agriculture sectors, she said, which are expected to contribute to a 12 million tonne reduction in emissions through reforestation and nutrient management plans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from fertilizer use.

"Much more detail is needed to know how the 12 million tonnes of reduction is going to come from these two areas."