Critics question B.C.'s growing fossil fuel subsidies in wake of dire new climate change report
'It's as if we're paying someone to go around and throw gasoline on the ground,' analyst says
Following the release of an alarming new report on climate change that the UN's secretary general said "must sound a death knell" for the fossil fuel industry, environmentalists in B.C. are asking why the province is still giving billions to subsidize oil and gas producers.
On Monday, the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released a report showing that greenhouse gas levels in the atmosphere are already high enough to guarantee climate disruption for decades or even centuries to come, and humans are "unequivocally" to blame.
Those dire warnings have B.C. Green Party Leader Sonia Furstenau calling for concrete action from the province.
"Our climate plan does not meet our targets. This government continues to subsidize the oil and gas industry," she said Monday.
"We need to see concerted urgent action and a plan backed up by funding to respond to climate change right now."
UN Secretary General António Guterres said the IPCC's findings "must sound a death knell for coal and fossil fuels, before they destroy our planet."
But according to the environmental group Stand Earth, the B.C. government will give away a record-breaking $1.3 billion to subsidize the fossil fuel industry this year, including $421 million in tax credits for fracking wells.
Tom Green, a climate solutions policy analyst with the David Suzuki Foundation, said most British Columbians don't realize the extent to which the province is propping up the industry.
"It's as if we're paying someone to go around and throw gasoline on the ground, in front of the wildfire fighters," he told CBC News.
According to Clean Energy B.C., about two-thirds of the energy used in the province still comes from fossil fuels. Green says time is running out to change that.
"Each tonne of fossil fuels that we burn, each tonne of CO2 that we add to the atmosphere is a tonne we can't afford anymore," he said.
'An opportunity to make a difference'
In a tweet addressing the IPCC report, Premier John Horgan acknowledged the obvious consequences of runaway climate change in B.C., including recent record-breaking heat and devastating wildfires.
He touted B.C.'s current renewable energy plan, but added "there's much more to be done to build the cleaner economy [and] brighter future that people and our planet need."
However, he did not offer any hint of what further action the province might take or when that might happen.
Since launching our CleanBC plan, we've moved quickly to regulate big polluters & reduce emissions, set climate targets in law, and help people switch to clean energy.<br><br>But there's much more to be done to build the cleaner economy & brighter future that people and our planet need—@jjhorgan
Kathryn Harrison, a professor of political science at the University of B.C., said there's little political motivation for the government to move away from subsidizing fossil fuels, despite the clear consequences for the climate.
"They make easy money from royalties from oil and gas and coal production, creating jobs — and creating jobs in the four-year electoral cycle is a great way to get re-elected," she said.
For Robin Cox, head of the Climate Action Leadership Masters Program at Royal Roads University in Victoria, the IPCC report does offer some hope.
"It's an opportunity to make a difference, to take advantage of this narrowing window in order to do the things that we need to do to get on with it so that we're reducing our global emissions ... while at the same time preparing for the unavoidable impacts," she said.
Cox said that will mean taking "much more aggressive" action to reduce emissions, far beyond the modest targets of previous years.
"It needs to be an expectation of all government funding that emissions reduction is absolutely incorporated," she said.
"The B.C. government came out with a climate preparedness and adaptation strategy recently and it's quite broad and comprehensive, but in my estimation, it is nowhere near as assertive as it needs to be in terms of actually addressing this."
With files from Baneet Braich, On The Coast and Reuters