British Columbia

B.C. Environment Minister Mary Polak defends provincial climate change plan

Critics have derided the provincial climate change plan, because it does not raise the carbon tax or include firm greenhouse gas reduction targets for 2020 or 2030.

Critics say the plan does not include key recommendations from B.C.'s independent climate leadership team

British Columbia Environment Minister Mary Polak says the government's climate change plan, unveiled Friday to widespread criticism, is only a first step. (The Canadian Press/Darryl Dyck)

Environment Minister Mary Polak is defending the province's new climate change plan after some critics panned it for rejecting key recommendations by the province's specially appointed climate leadership team.

The plan was released on Friday, and it did not include increases to the carbon tax or set emissions targets for 2030.

One of the most scathing reviews came from a member of the climate leadership team that was created specifically to help guide the province on fighting climate change.

In a Facebook post, environmental activist and academic Tzeporah Berman wrote that she was "disgusted" with the "pathetic" plan.

This is only a first step, and we know it doesn't get us there.- Environment Minister Mary Polak

"The B.C. government has sat on our recommendations for nine months and on a Friday afternoon in August (clearly trying to ensure little scrutiny) they released their new plan. Number of our 32 recommendations accepted in full: zero."

In an interview with Stephen Quinn on The Early Edition, Environment Minister Mary Polak responded by saying the plan is just the first step in a more comprehensive plan that will be developed after meetings with the federal and other provincial governments.

"I understand she's disappointed ... but the fact is we addressed 18 of the recommendations," she said. 

"This is only a first step, and we know it doesn't get us there. We have to do lots more work."

No change to carbon tax

One of the most contentious issues is the fact that the carbon tax remains the same, despite recommendations from the climate leadership team to raise the tax.

Josha McNab from the Pembina Insitute said that without a carbon tax increase, B.C. would no longer be a climate leader. 

"That's going to be a significant blow to B.C.'s climate plan. It's going to make it very hard for B.C. to gain any leadership on this file."

Polak defended the decision not to raise the tax, saying that B.C. is "firmly in the lead" when it comes to carbon pricing.

"We are still out in front," she said. "Even Alberta's plan — which many of these same individuals were praising not that long ago — doesn't get them to the level of pricing until about 2020."

Furthermore, Polak said there are serious concerns about how a higher carbon tax would affect the economy.

"There really is no accurate economic modelling out there to tell us what that does in an environment where no one else is doing it," she explained.

Emission targets could be added

The provincial plan also rejected the climate leadership team's proposal to create emissions targets for 2030.

Instead, it promises to reduce emissions to 80 per cent below 2007 levels by 2050.     

When asked how the province can meet an emission target in 2050 without having any benchmark within the next three decades, Polak said the province could add a 2030 target later on.

"We don't explicitly reject the 2030 setting of the target ... At this stage with the work that's going on with our federal and provincial and territorial counterparts, there are too many unknowns to establish the target in this plan."

Polak says the province will be introducing further initiatives in the fall and will continue to do so every year.

The new provincial climate change plan doesn't set any emission targets for 2030, opting instead for a promise to reduce emissions to 80 per cent below 2007 levels by 2050. (CBC)

LNG not a factor

Polak was also adamant that her government's commitment to fostering an LNG industry did not lead to any reluctance to create strong climate change policies.

"None of it is making us reluctant. Remember, our LNG industry is going to be the only LNG industry in the world that is going to be paying $30 per tonne carbon tax."

Polak says the plan includes the impact of two working LNG plants — the same as the climate leadership team's report.

"This plan on its own gets us eight per cent reduction [in carbon dioxide emissions] ...[and] it does include if we had LNG up and running. Of course, if we didn't [have LNG], we'd see even further reductions."

With files from The Early Edition

To hear the interview, click on the link labelled Minister of Environment Mary Polak on why her ministry did not impose a tougher carbon tax


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