CLI­MATE PROGRESS ISN’T CHEAP

Vancouver Sun - - EDITORIAL -

It’s said the devil is in the de­tails, which may ex­plain why the NDP’s cli­mate plan re­leased Wed­nes­day is long on as­pi­ra­tions about cut­ting B.C.’s green­house-gas emis­sions but short on many specifics about how that will be done — es­pe­cially about what it will cost av­er­age Bri­tish Columbians.

The plan calls for large cuts to emis­sions, es­pe­cially in in­dus­try, trans­porta­tion and hous­ing that is ex­pected to achieve three-quar­ters of the tar­geted re­duc­tions. But how to achieve the re­main­ing 25 per cent will be re­vealed in 18 to 24 months, the gov­ern­ment said. Many peo­ple will likely be shocked about what fight­ing cli­mate change will cost them once Vic­to­ria starts leg­is­lat­ing sig­nif­i­cant and ex­pen­sive changes to their en­ergy con­sump­tion and in new taxes, as well as in of­fer­ing in­cen­tives to peo­ple and busi­nesses to lower their car­bon foot­prints.

The his­tory of gov­ern­ment at­tempts to cut green­house gases is gen­er­ally one of fail­ure, largely be­cause politi­cians know that in­sist­ing on change that raises peo­ple’s costs sig­nif­i­cantly to fight global warm­ing isn’t pop­u­lar. Con­sider re­cent Cana­dian prom­ises.

At the 1988 Toronto Con­fer­ence, which first put cli­mate change on the global agenda, Ot­tawa backed a call to cut the world’s car­bon­diox­ide emis­sions by 20 per cent from 1988 lev­els by 2005. In­stead, Canada’s emis­sions grew by nearly 25 per cent, ris­ing from about 600 mega­tonnes of CO2 an­nu­ally to 738 in 2005.

Un­der the 1997 Ky­oto Pro­to­col, which Canada later aban­doned, Canada com­mit­ted to cut­ting green­house gases by six per cent be­low 1990 lev­els, from just over 600 mega­tonnes to un­der 500 by 2012. In­stead, they rose to 716.

A sim­i­lar pat­tern fol­lowed af­ter the 2009 Copen­hagen Ac­cord (Canada agreed to cut green­house gases by 17 per cent from 2005 lev­els by 2020) and the 2015 Paris Agree­ment (30 per cent be­low 2005 lev­els). Canada’s green­house gases hit 722 mega­tons in 2015 and are ex­pected to ex­ceed 800 by 2030.

More sig­nif­i­cantly, the world’s to­tal CO2 out­put in­creased by 60 per cent from 1990 to 2013 — to 35.84 bil­lion tonnes from 22.35 bil­lion tonnes. Canada’s share in 2013 was 1.6 per cent of that to­tal.

There are two ways to con­sider these num­bers. Some will ar­gue that fight­ing cli­mate change is largely a lost cause be­cause the cost to av­er­age peo­ple is too great and po­lit­i­cally un­pop­u­lar to im­pose and that green­house gas emis­sions are ev­i­dence of a boom­ing econ­omy that brings wealth.

But the fig­ures tell an­other story — that with­out real ac­tion, green­house gas emis­sions will con­tinue to climb, lead­ing to ris­ing tem­per­a­tures and in­creas­ing en­vi­ron­men­tal dam­age to the earth and its in­hab­i­tants. In other words, that with­out real ac­tion cli­mate change will be­come an in­creas­ingly se­ri­ous prob­lem.

So the Hor­gan gov­ern­ment ( be­ing pushed along by the Green party) is right in im­ple­ment­ing poli­cies so B.C. can do its part in ad­dress­ing what many say is the most im­por­tant is­sue of our times. A rea­son­able car­bon tax that is an in­cen­tive for peo­ple to choose cleaner trans­porta­tion, grad­ual changes to build­ing codes and elec­tri­fi­ca­tion of in­dus­try are a few ex­am­ples in the plan that will lower B.C.’s green­house gases.

But in work­ing to cut emis­sions, the gov­ern­ment needs to be care­ful to con­sider the abil­ity of reg­u­lar Bri­tish Columbians — many al­ready un­der fi­nan­cial stress — to af­ford in­creased cli­mate ac­tion.

New taxes and other costly in­cen­tives need to be ac­com­pa­nied by cuts in other gov­ern­ment fees and taxes other­wise many B.C. res­i­dents will stop sup­port­ing changes to our col­lec­tive en­ergy use be­hav­iour.

The cur­rent ri­ots in Paris and the elec­tion of Doug Ford in On­tario are ex­am­ples of what hap­pens when gov­ern­ment cli­mate poli­cies ex­ceed what peo­ple can af­ford.

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