British Columbia

B.C. carbon tax: is it still a world leader?

Christy Clark has been touting the success of B.C.'s climate change policies, but how do they hold up these days?

SFU prof: Christy Clark 'has frozen all of Gordon Campbell’s climate policies or undermined them'

Christy Clark waves after addressing a gathering during an LNG conference in 2014. While Clark has recently been touting the effectiveness of B.C.'s carbon tax in fighting carbon emissions, she has also aggressively pushed for more LNG development in the province. (Jonathan Hayward/Canadian Press)

Canadian premiers met with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau earlier this week in preparation for next week's international climate talks in Paris.

And at that meeting, Premier Christy Clark did some boasting about B.C.'s record on climate change.

"We think in British Columbia a carbon tax is a really successful way to go," she told reporters. "We've grown our economy at the same time we've had what the World Bank calls the most successful carbon taxes in the world."

But just how innovative is this province's approach to climate solutions?

Mark Jaccard is a professor at Simon Fraser University's School of Resource and Environmental Management. He joined On The Coast host Stephen Quinn to talk about that.

The Premier was quick to point to B.C.'s carbon tax this week, but this isn't quite the same tax as was brought in back in 2008. What's different about it?

The only difference is Gordon Campbell put it it in with a schedule to rise over time. He set it to rise from 2008 to 2012 and he intended for it to keep rising after that. I was on a committee to decide what should happen. He stepped down. Ultimately, Christy Clark took over and froze it.

Separate from the carbon tax, we have an electricity regulation that in 2007, caused BC Hydro to cancel contracts that would have led to the construction of two coal plants and to abandon its own plans for a large natural gas plant on Duke Point on Vancouver Island. Christy Clark has relaxed it, so if you were to build a liquefied natural gas plant on the North Coast, you could burn the gas to create electricity to work the freezers to cool the natural gas.

So with those changes in mind, is B.C.'s carbon tax still innovative?

The Gordon Campbell policy was one of the leading policies in the world, and now other jurisdictions are catching up. You don't need to have a carbon tax. You can do it with a cap on emissions which Quebec has with California. And then there are permits that add up to the cap and then the price of those works like a carbon tax on gasoline prices and so on.

You can also have specific regulations that can be quite efficient. That's been the big heavy lifter in California. They have a vehicle emissions standard that is driving the move to the electric car, and they have a fuel requirement like we have in B.C., although not as stringent as California.

Let's talk about liquefied natural gas for a moment. What message is the Premier sending on climate action when, in one breath she's celebrating our climate policies, and in another she's aggressively pushing for a massive new LNG industry?

Christy Clark has frozen all of Gordon Campbell's climate policies or undermined them, and then she's pushing liquefied natural gas without putting in all of the regulations that would prevent it from having emissions. If any of it happens — and I'm not sure it will — it will drive our emissions right past the target that she said we still had.

If B.C. went into Paris and wanted to put something new and innovative on the table, what would it do?

We should adopt, immediately, the California emission standard. That forces automobile retailer-manufacturers to actually charge a little bit more money for the absolute gas guzzler and make sure the price of the electric or plug-in hybrid-electric car is lower because they have to meet certain sales targets that climb each year. Gordon Campbell put in that legislation. She has not been driving it forward. It would be easy to do.

This story has been condensed and edited for length and clarity.

To hear the full interview, click the audio labelled: Is Christy Clark justified in bragging about B.C.'s carbon tax?


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