British Columbia

B.C.'s Environment Minister insists province is a leader in fight against climate change

Despite its carbon tax freeze, the B.C. government insists its climate change plans make it an example for the rest of the world.

Environment Minister Mary Polak insists province still a leader, despite refusing to raise Carbon tax rate

B.C. Environment Minister, Mary Polak, says there will be an update to B.C.'s climate change plan in next spring, but not without consultation from the public and industry, first. (CBC)

The B.C. government insists its plans on LNG and carbon tax make it a world leader when it comes to the fight against climate change, but critics say Premier Christy Clark is not doing enough.

Clark appointed members from B.C. businesses, First Nations, local governments, academia, and environmental groups to a climate leadership team, and last week they came back with a list of 32 recommendations to help guide the province in the fight against climate change.

But this week, Clark told reporters she would not commit to the recommendations without more consultation.

B.C. Environment Minister Mary Polak is at the UN Climate Change conference in Paris.  

She joined  Rick Cluff on CBC Radio One's The Early Edition from Paris.

What are you and the B.C. delegation hoping to achieve at these talks?

Carbon pricing is our most significant effort. We've been working to advance that in other jurisdictions in Canada, but also in other places in the world. That is one of our biggest challenges in B.C. We've made significant progress. We still have one of the highest cost and broadest carbon taxes anywhere in the world. When you get to $30 a tonne, that starts to pose a risk to your industries and your economy, when you're not competitive with other jurisdictions.

Premier Christy Clark froze increases on the carbon tax in 2012. Will your government take the advice of your own climate leadership team and resume those increases?

We committed to having the report out, and then have more dialogue with British Columbians, with industry, and with environmental organizations, so that we can deliver our promised update to our plan in the spring. That's what we're committed to. Starting in January, there will be an opportunity for all those groups and British Columbians to comment on what the leadership team is proposing.

Your climate leadership team included B.C. businesses, first nations, academics, and local governments. How much more consultation do you need? Haven't we reached the point at which big, bold actions are needed?

Big bold actions require all British Columbians to be on board with us. This is not something that would simply affect industry. This affects everyday people. Every time you raise that carbon tax, they're experiencing it there at the gas pump. They're experiencing it when they pay for their heating, if they live in northern British Columbia. We are precisely on the timeline we committed to, and we're doing the consultation as we committed to do.

As the consultations continue, the climate continues to deteriorate. All this talk has to stop some time. People have to make concrete moves to reverse the trend, do they not?

That's why it's important we have one of the most aggressive climate plans in the world. Remember, British Columbia is already 96.9 per cent clean in terms of our energy production.  We are the first and only carbon-neutral jurisdiction in North America. Yesterday, at a discussion here in Paris around carbon pricing, British Columbia was highlighted as one of the models and compares very well to what is happening in Europe where, the vast majority of carbon prices around the world are still under $10. Quebec and California's emissions trading system still only sees Quebec at $17 per tonne. We are in the leading position. We want to stay there, and that means we need to bring others along with us.

The LNG industry does not support increasing the carbon tax and your government has been bending over backwards to support this industry. Is it time to stop, for the sake of the climate?

For the sake of the climate, we need the ability to get countries off coal and diesel. One of the significant areas of discussion here is the challenge that is facing countries, jurisdictions where they are very heavily reliant on coal and diesel to generate their electricity and yet, cannot make an instantaneous move to renewable. They are going to be using natural gas to generate that power and drop their emissions. One of the reasons why the U.S. has been able to significantly drop their emissions is because of the switch to natural gas. So while in British Columbia we use clean electricity production through hydroelectric and 25% renewables, other countries don't have that opportunity immediately. If we're going to get their emissions down, they will need natural gas.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says he wants to develop a national climate strategy within the next three months. What do you think is feasible, at this point?

I think it is absolutely feasible. You've got commitments from the provinces. You've got a federal government that's interested in it. I spent significant time today talking with my counterpart with Quebec about how we can be the most useful in presenting provincial strategies to the federal government when we're meeting together in the 90 days after Paris. I'm very excited about it. It think the time is looking very good in Canada for provincial collaboration and collaboration with the federal government.


To listen to the full interview, click the link labelled: How green is B.C.'s plan?

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