British Columbia

B.C. wins climate award at COP26 — but advocates question gaps in province's plans

Despite the international recognition for B.C.'s plan, some advocates continue to raise concerns about how the province can square its carbon commitments with ongoing oil and gas sector expansion, and whether it can realistically meet its emission targets.

Critics say fossil fuel expansions, subsidies continue, after minister accepts award for CleanBC in Glasgow

B.C. Environment Minister George Heyman (right) tours the Scottish Hydrogen Train Project in Glasgow on Nov. 4, during the COP26 climate summit. (George Heyman/Twitter)

British Columbia's efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions have been recognized with a major award at the COP26 climate conference — despite what critics say are glaring gaps in the province's pledges.

The award for most creative climate solution, from the Under2 Coalition of regional governments, was given to the CleanBC program as the global conference in Glasgow, Scotland, prepared to enter its second week.

B.C. Environment Minister George Heyman told CBC News he was proud to receive the award.

"People here in Glasgow I have talked to — whether from California, Washington state, Oregon, Europe — they're excited about the measures we're taking," Heyman said from Glasgow. "And of course, we all know everyone across the globe needs to do more, B.C. included." 

Ahead of COP26, B.C. unveiled a "roadmap" to meeting its CleanBC emissions pledges, after the province missed its 2020 goals. By 2030, B.C. wants to cut oil and gas emissions 38 per cent below 2007 levels, and to make B.C. a net-zero emitter by 2050.

The award recognized B.C.'s plans to encourage businesses to cut emissions by directing carbon tax refunds toward less-emitting initiatives, and to reduce the tax if an industry is among the lowest emitting in its sector globally.

Heyman speaks to CBC News from his hotel in Glasgow on Nov. 7 after accepting an award for the province's CleanBC plan. (David P. Ball/Zoom)

'Are we fooling ourselves?'

Despite the international recognition for B.C.'s plan, some advocates continued to raise concerns about how the province can square its carbon commitments with ongoing oil and gas sector expansion, and whether it can realistically meet its targets.

Andrew Gage, a staff lawyer with West Coast Environmental Law, says while there are good parts to B.C.'s plan, there are too many unknowns.

He said the roadmap is vague on B.C.'s progress toward its next key milestone — dropping emissions 16 per cent by 2025 — or how B.C. can balance its targets with increasing liquefied natural gas emissions.

"It's all well and good and say we'll make it a goal 10 years out," Gage said. "But if we can't even say whether we're going to meet our goal in 2025 of 16 per cent reductions, then are we fooling ourselves?"

Heyman insisted the B.C. government's new roadmap helps fill the gaps. 

"We're reducing emissions in industry to meet our sectoral targets, and we'll be reducing emissions in our oil and gas sector," he said. 

"We're going to continue to update this plan — that's going to be a process where we learn every year from what's successful and we'll re-calibrate if we need to do more."

Fossil fuel subsidies

But Gage and other critics said oil and gas expansion in B.C. — such as fracking, liquefied natural gas and Ottawa's Trans Mountain pipeline — contradicts such commitments. B.C. "is pouring a lot of money" in subsidies and incentives into the sector, he said.

"They have not shown that is in any way consistent with us meeting our climate targets," Gage said. "What causes most of climate change is the burning of fossil fuels."

Heyman countered that his government remains "concerned about everything to do with" Trans Mountain, and touted his 2030 goal of 33-38 per cent emissions cuts from oil and gas. He said he has been clear that his government will work with industry, Indigenous governments and regulations when needed to meet his goals.

"That is what's factored into meeting our 2030 targets," he said. "So, what I say to critics is: work with us."

Climate activists attend a protest organized by the COP26 Coalition in London on Nov. 6. (Andrew Milligan/Press Association/The Associated Press)

LNG Canada has applauded government incentives to reduce emissions in its industry.

"It's also important that our governments develop policies to further incentivize decarbonization, through new technologies, such as carbon capture, utilization and storage, and nature-based solutions including forest management and tidal wetlands restoration," the company's website states.

After the province unveiled its recent roadmap, the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs criticized ongoing fossil fuel development in B.C. It said last summer's wildfires and deadly heat are signs climate change is an emergency "disproportionately endangering the lives and cultures of Indigenous peoples."

"The window for meaningful climate action is narrowing," UBCIC said on Twitter. "The time is now to decrease oil and gas production in B.C. and get back on track to meet our environmental goals."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

David P. Ball

Journalist

David P. Ball is a multimedia journalist with CBC News in Vancouver. He has previously reported for the Toronto Star, Agence France-Presse, and The Tyee, and has won awards from the Canadian Association of Journalists and Jack Webster Foundation. You can send story tips or ideas to david.ball@cbc.ca, or contact him on Twitter.

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