B.C. lacks climate change policies, especially for wildfires and flooding, audit finds

British Columbia has no clear plan to prevent threats such as wildfires, flooding and drought as it works to adapt to the risks posed by climate change, the province's auditor general says.

Minister agrees with AG that legislated 2020 emissions reduction target will not be met

A wildfire burns at the Ashcroft First Nation, near Ashcroft, B.C., in July 2017. Last year was the worst year ever for wildfires in the province. The auditor general's report emphasizes a lack of planning in adapting to the climate risks posed by increasingly severe wildfires. (Darryl Dyck/Canadian Press)

British Columbia has no clear plan to prevent threats such as wildfires, flooding and drought as it works to adapt to the risks posed by climate change, the province's auditor general says.

Carol Bellringer says there is little monitoring of progress and reporting on performance involving the ministries of environment, agriculture, transportation, forestry and housing, as well as Emergency Management B.C.

The province may not be able to manage flood risks because roles and responsibilities are spread across many agencies and levels of government that could lack staff or technical capacity, Bellringer said in a report released Thursday.

British Columbia has not completed a comprehensive risk assessment, she said, adding that's a crucial step in adapting to climate change because it provides decision makers with clear information for allocating funds and planning for the future.

"A robust, prioritized, publicly available risk assessment can help ensure that all government ministries and partners are clear about which risks exist and which are the most critical to mitigate," Bellringer said.

She made 17 recommendations, including that the government provide the public with an overview of key risks and priorities and create a plan with facts on timelines and how First Nations will be involved.

LNG a wild card

The audit was developed using the province's February 2010 adaptation strategy, which calls on the government to consider climate change in protecting health and safety, maintaining public infrastructure, managing natural resources and achieving economic sustainability.

"The government has not refreshed or rewritten the strategy since its release, and it is now outdated," Bellringer said.

She said while ministries have made significant progress to build a strong foundation of knowledge by consulting climate scientists, many of the actions were preliminary.

Two responses are needed — mitigation by reducing greenhouse gas emissions and adaptation by lowering the potential harms and negative impacts climate change may cause, Bellringer said.

But overall, she said it's unlikely B.C. will meet its 2020 emissions reduction target of 33 percent below 2007 levels.

The government's August 2016 plan to reduce emissions did not include a clear and measurable path to meeting its emission-reduction targets, which included reducing emissions to 80 percent below 2007 levels for 2050, she said.

"Meeting future emission reduction targets will be partly dependent on the size of the liquefied natural gas industry that develops in the province."

Wildfire, flood risks to worsen

British Columbia experienced its worst wildfire season last year but prevention activities are insufficient, and flood plain maps are mostly outdated while dike infrastructure will likely not be sufficient as risks increase, Bellringer said.

A number of ministries run networks of monitoring stations to collect climate data, such as temperature, precipitation and snow depth, but climate networks do not meet international standards for station density when it comes to different geographic locations, she said.

"Gaps exist in the northern regions of the province and at high elevations. In addition, there are gaps in hydrometric and groundwater monitoring in the province."

Bellringer said local government are on the front lines of the effects of climate change, but a lack of financial support, reliable data and provincial policies create challenges.

Minister agrees 2020 target will be missed

Environment Minister George Heyman said he accepts Bellringer's recommendations.

A flooded playground at Rotary Beach in Kelowna, B.C., in June 2017. (Erica Milligan)

"We agree with the auditor general that the legislated 2020 emissions reduction target won't be met," he said in a statement.

"This is why our government will introduce a new legislated target for 2030 of a 40 per cent reduction in carbon emissions below 2007 levels.

The province is also increasing the carbon tax by $5 per tonne a year, starting April 1, and Heyman said that will help to meet both the new 2030 target and the 2050 target of 80 per cent below 2007 levels.

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