B.C. has a history of successful climate action. Under the first Climate Action Plan in 2008, a package of policies and programs were implemented that worked together to see the province’s emissions go down:

  1. Carbon tax: Introduced at $10 per tonne and increased annually by $5 per tonne until 2012, the carbon tax contributed to a strong B.C. economy and helped create the conditions for provincial emissions reductions over this period.
  2. Clean energy requirements: The Clean Energy Act kept the electricity supply low in carbon, and the ban on coal-fired electricity generation avoided 1.7 megatonnes of emissions from two proposed coal plants.
  3. Low carbon fuel standard: Targeting a 10 per cent reduction in intensity of carbon pollution from motor fuel by 2020, the low carbon fuel standard resulted in the avoidance of 0.9 megatonnes of emissions in 2012.

However, since the introduction of the 2008 plan, climate action has stalled in B.C. In addition to being slow to implement new policies and programs designed to reduce the province’s emissions, the government has kept the carbon tax — its most effective tool for the job — frozen since 2012.

Inaction on climate and the freeze of the carbon tax since 2012 has lost B.C. its leadership position.

As a result, B.C.’s carbon pollution is increasing. Between 2011 and 2014, it climbed by 1.8 megatonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent — akin to adding 380,000 cars to our roads. This trend is projected to continue in the absence of new climate action. Government forecasts suggest B.C.’s emissions will grow to 83 megatonnes , or 32 per cent above the 2014 level, by 2030.

This increase in emissions is largely due to a projected increase in oil and gas development, including liquefied natural gas. Over 80 per cent of the emissions increase between 2014 and 2030 is projected to come from this sector. The remaining projected increase comes primarily from emissions-intensive and trade-exposed industries and the building sector. A strong Climate Leadership Plan would decrease all of these projections.

A recent report by the Canadian Deep Decarbonization Pathways Project Team modelled the projected changes in emissions from all Canadian provinces and territories based on their committed actions to date. A look at Canada’s four most populous provinces shows that B.C. is lagging behind on commitments to new climate action.

Click to see full image.

The figure above shows the change in emissions projected in each province by 2030 as a percentage of their total emissions in 2014. Alberta, Ontario and Quebec are all projected to see decreases in emissions of 26, 22 and 23 per cent, respectively, by 2030 based on the actions they’ve taken or committed to. Conversely, B.C. is projected to see a 39 per cent increase in emissions by 2030.

Fortunately, B.C. has a near-term opportunity to change its emissions trajectory. The B.C. Climate Leadership Team recommendations represent a collection of actions and policy changes that would see the province get back on track to meeting its 2050 emissions reduction target. The 32 recommendations include the following:

  • Buildings: Reduce emissions from buildings by 50 per cent by 2030.
  • Transportation: Set a 2030 target for the low-carbon fuel standard and establish a new zero-emission vehicle standard.
  • Methane: Cut methane emissions from the natural gas sector by 40 per cent over the next five years.
  • Carbon tax: Unfreeze the carbon tax and begin increases of $10 per tonne per year while protecting affordability for British Columbians and mitigating competitiveness impacts.
  • Target: Set a new emissions target of 40 per cent below 2007 levels by 2030.

However, anything less than the full package of recommendations, including an increasing carbon tax, will mean B.C. will miss its 2050 target.

The province gained its reputation as a climate leader with the introduction of the 2008 Climate Action Plan and carbon tax. But inaction on climate and the freeze of the carbon tax since 2012 has lost B.C. its leadership position.

While the plans of Alberta, Ontario and Quebec are all projected to bring down emissions, B.C. is looking at an increase. Adopting the Climate Leadership Team recommendations would help put B.C. back on track.

Josha MacNab is the B.C. director at the Pembina Institute, a non-profit think tank that advocates for strong, effective policies to support Canada’s clean-energy transition. Maximilian Kniewasser is an analyst at the Pembina Institute’s Vancouver office.