B.C. LNG creates tension for federal NDP and its climate accountability plans

While coming out against fracking, Jagmeet Singh has equivocated on the fossil fuel mega-project supported by the B.C. NDP government
Photo: Province of BC
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The B.C. NDP’s support for a massive liquefied natural gas development creates a serious potential contradiction for Jagmeet Singh’s climate plans, especially with respect to the federal NDP’s proposal for a Climate Accountability Office.

Fending off challenges from the Green Party’s climate-action manifesto, the federal NDP’s platform, Power to Change, charts a plan for reducing Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions that has received praise from several environmental groups.

Power to Change comes close to emulating a Green New Deal, especially insofar as the NDP platform commits to setting a GHG reduction target that will stabilize the global temperature rise to 1.5 C (in line with the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s recommendations), while also promising to create 300,000 good-paying, unionized jobs connected to clean energy transition and energy efficiency retrofits.

However, the NDP platform doesn’t provide a GHG reduction target in terms of a specific percentage, and states that oil and gas “will continue to form a part of Canada’s energy mix in the immediate future.” (The party adds it will “prioritize domestic upgrading and refining.”)

The B.C. NDP government’s recent approval a $40-billion LNG facility is one project that ensures the truth of that statement.

Carbon bomb in B.C.

LNG Canada will likely become the single-largest source of emissions in the province. The project is highly carbon intensive, not least because it involves super-cooling natural gas to −161 C. On top of that, most of B.C.’s natural gas is extracted through fracking, which itself creates harmful emissions and causes extensive environmental damage.

The first phase of the project is expected to release around four megatonnes of carbon dioxide per year, or about 10 per cent of B.C.’s entire carbon budget by 2050.

And, if the project enters a second phase, observers estimate the B.C. government would need to reduce emissions in all other sectors by as much as 98 per cent in order to reach the climate goals set out in the province’s CleanBC program. By most reasonable accounts, that’s unrealistic.

Former premier Christy Clark promoting LNG at a conference in 2015 (Photo: Province of BC)

Although it was the industry-friendly B.C. Liberal party that first set LNG Canada in motion, the current provincial NDP government gave the project the final green light (with great applause from former premier Christy Clark.)

To add insult to injury, the B.C. NDP even sweetened the deal by giving LNG Canada tax credits in an effort to spur further investment, even though the project is run by some of the most profitable corporations in the world.

Equivocating on fracking and LNG

Facing pressures from pro-LNG labour unions as well as environmentalists opposed to the project (including former MP and current federal NDP candidate Svend Robinson), federal NDP leader Jagmeet Singh equivocated on the issue earlier this year. After initially saying he supported the project, Singh eventually affirmed his general opposition to “fracking and burning.”

Regardless, any federal NDP government would eventually have to reckon with the fact that opposing views on fracking still exist within the party’s coalition of supporters and affiliates.

One of the main ways the NDP has tried to navigate those divisions, while also maintaining the credibility of its climate action platform, is by touting its plan to establish a Climate Accountability Office.

Measuring climate progress

“We will [also] establish an independent Climate Accountability Office to do regular audits of progress towards our climate goals, with a budget to share information about the importance of climate action with Canadians,” states the party manifesto.

“The devil is in the details."

A spokesperson from the NDP confirmed with Ricochet that the body’s scope would also extend to provinces and territories, stating, “The CAO will also evaluate and monitor provincial and territorial carbon reduction plans to ensure they’re meeting those targets.”

Welcoming the NDP’s proposal, Catherine Abreu, executive director of Climate Action Network, said that in order to be successful, the office would need to undertake “backcasting work,” which would plot specific interim targets towards long-term climate goals.

“The devil is in the details,” she told Ricochet. “It must establish positive metrics for progress.”

She cited the example of the German Environment Institute, which she says sets concrete metrics for reducing things like the number of single-passenger trips taken in vehicles with internal combustion engines.

“What those kinds of metrics allow you to do is evaluate the aggregate performance of policies to get you to the target,” said Abreu.

That is what would differentiate a successful CAO from the auditor general, she said, noting the auditor general simply examines the success or failure of individual policies in terms of limited, short-term accomplishments.

A CAO also “allows for expert advice on how policies might be course-corrected to work better,” Abreu added.

Banking on a miracle

However, given that the emissions guaranteed by LNG will make it very challenging for B.C. to meet its GHG-reduction goals over the next decades, the project would almost certainly stick out like a sore thumb on the CAO’s radar.

The question facing a federal NDP government in that scenario would be, as Abreu put it, “Can you compel provinces who are falling dramatically out of step with the necessary trend that all provinces need to be moving in to reach the national goals? Can you compel that province to take certain actions?”

For the time being, the federal NDP seems to be banking on the B.C. government pulling off something like a miracle and keeping on track with its 2040 and 2050 emissions-reduction goals in spite of LNG.

“B.C. has been clear that any LNG development must fit within this plan [CleanBC]. We will continue to support the province of B.C. in their work to fight the climate crisis,” the NDP spokesperson said.

Despite that optimism, in the event the federal NDP were to form government it seems all but inevitable that LNG’s projected emissions would create tension between the party’s plans for climate accountability and the B.C. NDP’s very real fossil fuel mega-project.

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