Will Christy Clark kill BC's climate-change policies?

Reports by the Globe and Mail and the Vancouver Sun indicate that Premier Christy Clark’s cabinet is urging her to abandon B.C.’s climate leadership, an issue which brought her to victory in the race to become premier. 

Finance Minister Kevin Falcon, defeated on his reactionary position on climate change, appears determined to serve the interests of his high-emission industry supporters at the cost of the voters of B.C., who seek a climate-stable world that can offer opportunity and prosperity to their children. Education Minister George Abbott lost the leadership race when he ditched his environmental leadership by advocating an expensive referendum on the carbon tax, which is popular with voters but not high emitting industries. Energy and Mines Minister Rich Coleman has a link to the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, an industry advocacy group, on his ministry’s web page

It appears that Big Oil has friends in cabinet.

Because all carbon-tax revenues by law must be returned to the citizens of B.C., voters experience no financial disadvantage. High-emitting industries do, in the short term. In the long term, the carbon tax encourages them to make capital changes that will serve their ability to compete in the burgeoning low-carbon world economy and keep them in business when governments take action to preserve the health and safety of their citizens through climate action, which they inevitably will. Informal reports indicate that the industry acknowledges this and includes a $40/tonne price on carbon in their forecasts -- far less than B.C.'s carbon tax price of $20/tonne or the legislated rise to $30/tonne in 2012.

Powerful high-emitting industries in BC include: cement manufacturers (the largest cement plant in the Pacific Northwest is located in Delta); natural gas (long considered a clean transition fossil fuel, a recent study found that fugitive emissions of methane from fracking make natural gas from shale as damaging as coal); coal (B.C. exports more carbon in this form than all of its citizens emit); and oil (B.C.’s largest source of GHGs). 

Perhaps more important to B.C.’s future economy, the carbon tax helps make clean energy an economically viable alternative. Clean energy contributed $15.3 billion to B.C.’s GDP (10.2 per cent of the total) and 166,000 jobs (7.2 per cent of the total) in 2008.

Equally important to B.C.’s long term prosperity is its membership in the Western Climate Initiative. Partnering with Ontario, Quebec and California (the world’s eighth largest economy) gives B.C. the opportunity to help set the rules in cap and trade in a manner that reflects B.C.’s interests. Acting early in North America will give B.C.’s economy a long-term competitive advantage because our industries won’t invest in soon-to-be obsolete facilities. Further, B.C.’s participation encourages other jurisdictions to participate, which increases our economic opportunities. The low-carbon economy is coming. If we are prepared, we will prosper.

Our premier’s cabinet is deeply divided between business-as-usual ministers who focus on industry’s next quarterly profits and, hopefully, ministers who will carry out the voters’ will and keep B.C. prosperous for the long term. B.C. politics is littered with the dashed careers of politicians left and right who tried to kill former premier Gordon Campbell’s popular climate-change policies. Will Premier Clark be the next one? Or will she serve the public interest and ensure that the carbon tax and the Western Climate Initiative keep B.C. on track toward a prosperous low-carbon future? Climate voters need to follow through to be sure that the “green Liberal” vote wasn’t a throwaway. You can email the premier at [email protected].

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