Stop Making It Worse
We must cease making large, long-term capital investments in new fossil fuel infrastructure that “locks in” dangerous emission levels for many decades.
What we do matters.
That belief motivates each of us every morning when we get up and face a new day, whether we’re a truck driver or a member of the B.C. legislative assembly.
But while the truck driver decides she or he won’t drive at the new higher speed limits in order to save fuel and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, most of our MLAs want to put the pedal to the floor.
On October 22, the Liberal majority voted down Andrew Weaver’s amendment to Bill 2 to delay The Greenhouse Gas Industrial Reporting and Control Act for six months. Weaver wanted the hiatus so MLAs could educate themselves about the consequences to the global climate of as many as five LNG plants in B.C.
Independent MLA Vicki Huntington put it succinctly when she stood up to speak in favour of Weaver’s amendment:
“At its core, this motion is asking us to look not at the government’s opportunity of a lifetime but to look at the great issue of a lifetime, that of climate change and what it is going to do to this earth.”
Weaver said the legislation weakens the Greenhouse Gas Reduction Targets Act passed in 2007 which set a 2020 target of reducing the province’s GHG emissions by 33 percent below 2007 levels and a 2050 target of reducing emissions by 80 percent below 2007 levels.
“I just don’t understand where the government’s mind is when they think that they can meet their 2050 and 2020 emissions targets and have five LNG plants,” the Green Party’s lone MLA said as he introduced his amendment.
“According to estimates from the Pembina Institute, an LNG industry of the size proposed by the government would emit roughly 73 million tonnes of carbon pollution,” Weaver told the legislature. “That’s more than the emissions from every other sector of our economy combined.”
In 2007, B.C.’s GHG emissions amounted to 67.309 million tonnes of CO2e.
Climate Action in British Columbia: 2014 Progress Report – a report required every two years under the Greenhouse Gas Reduction Targets Act – was released on June 30 this year. It states:
British Columbia’s total emissions in 2012 add up to 61.5 million tonnes CO2e, and with offsets from forest management projects, the total is 60.5 million tonnes CO2e for a net reduction of 6.0% since 2007.
The Pembina Institute estimates “one large LNG facility and the gas extraction needed to supply it would increase B.C.’s emissions by 21 million tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions per year.” Under the Greenhouse Gas Reduction Targets Act, B.C. is required to reduce its emissions to 43 million tonnes by 2020 and 13 million tonnes by 2050.
With the extensive LNG developments the B.C. government is hoping for, the province’s carbon pollution in 2020 would reach 137 million tonnes.
“Bill 2 represents a shameful betrayal of future generations,” says Weaver. “The simple fact is, if we pass this bill, we may as well say goodbye to all of the progress we have made, for we will be stepping into a new era as one of the most polluting provinces in Canada.”
His attempt to prompt the province’s representatives to reflect on the GHG impact of LNG exports came just over a week before the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change issued their latest synthesis report for policymakers.
The 116-page IPCC report, a review of more than 30,000 climate-science studies, is the latest in a series that began in 1990. It has been signed off by more than 100 governments, and is the first report to be released since 2007.
Summing up future climate changes, risks and impacts, the report was blunt:
“Continued emission of greenhouse gases will cause further warming and long-lasting changes in all components of the climate system, increasing the likelihood of severe, pervasive and irreversible impacts for people and ecosystems.”
The good news is that ways to reduce greenhouse gas emissions are both available and affordable.
The IPCC chair, Dr R K Pachauri, said at the summary’s launch in Copenhagen:
“We have the means to limit climate change. The solutions are many, and allow for continued economic and human development. All we need is the will to change.”
The lowest cost route to stopping dangerous warming would be for emissions to peak by 2020 – an extremely challenging goal – and then fall to zero later this century, the IPCC report concludes.
British Columbia is not the only government playing fast and loose with CO2 emission reduction commitments.
Two weeks before Weaver began his battle against Bill 2, Julie Gelfand – Canada’s commissioner of the environment and sustainable development – said in her first report that the Harper government is all but certain to miss its Copenhagen Accord target to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 2020.
She said Canada lacks a coherent plan mapping out how it intends to meet its stated target of reducing emissions to 17 percent below 2005 levels by the year 2020.
“I think when you make a commitment, you need to keep it,” Gelfand said. “It’s very difficult for us in Canada to expect other countries to meet their commitments when Canada can’t meet its own.”
Using Environment Canada data, the commissioner estimated that by 2020, greenhouse gas production in the oil and gas sector will be 27 megatonnes higher than it was in 2012, the biggest increase of any sector. Greenhouse gas regulations for Canada’s oil and gas sector are still not in place eight years after they were initially promised.
An article published online September 21 in the journal Nature Geoscience reinforces the carbon emission limits facing humanity:
“Global emissions of CO2from fossil fuel combustion and cement production have continued to grow by 2.5% per year on average over the past decade. Two thirds of the CO2emission quota consistent with a 2 °C temperature limit has already been used, and the total quota will likely be exhausted in a further 30 years at the 2014 emissions rates.”
Breaking current emission trends in the short term is essential to retaining credible climate targets within a rapidly diminishing emission quota, the study authors conclude.
Data from NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies show this October was 1.4°F above the 1951-1980 average they use as their baseline. That didn’t set a monthly mark, as did August and September, but tied 2005 as the warmest October since 1880.
That keeps 2014 on track to be the hottest year on record. January through September data have 2014 already at the third warmest on record, mounting evidence of the greenhouse effect in action.
If we are to climb ourselves out of the climate change hole, the first thing we must do is stop digging.
In recent days, even the world’s two largest carbon polluters – the United States and China – have agreed to reduce or put a cap on their emissions. The LNG pipe dreams of the B.C. Liberal government and the tar sands hopes of the Harper Conservatives look increasingly unenlightened, to put it mildly.
An October report from the Pacific Institute for Climate Solutions says the B.C. government is inaccurate when it claims that exporting LNG is the “greatest single step British Columbia can take to fight climate change.” It concludes that natural gas will have only a limited role as the world transitions to a low-carbon future.
As Andrew Weaver pointed out in the legislature, exporting LNG is not the only way to sustain B.C.’s economy. For instance, the province’s clean tech sector tripled in size from 2012 to 2013, he said.
Our provincial government has bet the bank on LNG. Surely we can find safer investments.
Isn’t it time that all of our MLAs start behaving as if what they do matters? Isn’t it time for them to stop making climate change worse?
If you agree, take a moment right now to contact Premier Clark and other Liberal MLAs to urge them to discard Bill 2.
Michael Jessen is a Nelson-based energy consultant and has written about environmental issues for more than two decades. He is a member of his local Citizens Climate Lobby chapter.