With general voting day right around the corner, many people have already cast their ballots, but polls show that others remain undecided.
In a continuation of our series to lay out where each of the three major parties stand on issues that matter most to you, our valuable readers, this article lays out what policies the BC Liberal, NDP, and Green parties plan to implement in order to tackle climate change.
This platform breakdown is augmented by analysis from Peter McCartney, a Climate Campaigner with the Wilderness Committee.
McCartney has over a decade of experience working in environmental policy and advocacy. He says that the parties have a broad consensus on support for Electric Vehicles and associated infrastructure, and they all support investments in renewable energy.
Beyond those points, there are some fairly significant differences.
The BC Liberals’ platform includes promises to:
- Create jobs and reduce energy costs for British Columbians, by encouraging the retrofitting of homes and businesses.
- Expand public transit options.
- Support investments in more electric vehicle charging stations across BC, working with municipalities and businesses.
“I’m glad that they say that retrofitting is a good way to create jobs and make life more affordable,” says McCartney.
However, he adds that the Liberal platform fails to discuss industrial emissions, which account for large portions of all emissions.
“By focusing on transportation and buildings I think that they’re not acknowledging that there’s another sector that creates a lot of emissions in this province.”
The Liberal platform also promises to support investments in clean energy technology and carbon capture solutions, which McCartney says simply hasn’t been proven to reduce large-scale emissions.
“Talking about next-generation technologies is not actually a plan to reduce emissions,” he says.
“[Carbon capture] hasn’t been proven at scale; the idea that this technology will be powerful enough to suck down our emissions at the industrial level is pretty far-fetched. It’s concerning when governments are relying on that as part of their climate plans.”
The Liberals also included a promise to review scheduled increases in the provincial Carbon Tax “in light of the current economic recession.”
McCartney says that while there is no question of the burden on taxpayers during this difficult time, scheduled carbon tax increases are important to maintain their efficiency as an emissions-reducing policy.
“I understand why governments are hesitant to continue raising a carbon tax at a time when people are stretched, but we’ve shown that carbon taxes return money to people, and we’ve shown they don’t hurt the economy.”
McCartney added that BC’s Carbon Tax has been in place for over a decade and the provincial economy remains one of the fastest-growing in Canada.
He cautions that tweaking scheduled increases can seem like a small thing but can disincentivize industrial emitters from making large-scale change.
“For example: if I’m looking at buying a fleet of vehicles for my business, if I know that’s going to keep going up for $10 a year over the next 10 years, I’ll go for the electric option. If I think the government may or may not increase that tax, it makes the decision more complicated.”
Another promise by the Liberal party on emissions reduction is a pledge to support increased tree-planting.
The issue with this promise, according to McCartney, is that it assumes that trees will reach maturity and therefore function as carbon sinks.
He says that grant-supported forests in California recently burned during wildfire season, and added that if these tree-planting grants are offered to the forestry industry, they don’t actually offset industrial emissions.
But McCartney’s biggest criticism of the Liberal platform is that emissions targets are nowhere to be found.
“They don’t mention anything about a percentage in reductions, by 2030, 2050. I can only assume that they’re going with the 80 per cent reduction by 2050, which is unacceptable from a climate standpoint.”
The BC NDP platform includes promises to:
- Provide a new income-tested incentive on new and used zero-emission vehicles
- Increase public vehicle charging availability (including legislation on charging infrastructure in strata and apartment buildings)
- Remove PST on e-bikes
McCartney says that he’s pleased to see a more equitable take on EV rebates and to see charging infrastructure in strata addressed.
“They’re all effective ways at reducing transportation emissions,” he says. “There’s consensus on charging infrastructure — again, who could argue with that?”
Unlike the Liberals, the NDP platform does offer a target for emissions reductions, with a promise to legislate net-zero emissions by 2050 and achieve 40 per cent reduction in emissions by 2030.
McCartney says it’s good to see a target, but added that deadlines have been missed before, regardless of legislation.
“Net-zero by 2050 is sort of where the consensus has moved,” he said.
“I think more importantly, it’s very easy to set targets, very hard to make them. British Columbia sailed past its 2020 target. I’m less concerned about the targets, I’m more concerned about how a government prepares us to not rely on fossil fuels and other polluting land use.”
The BC NDP also promised to invest in carbon-capture technology while also expanding zero-emissions vehicle programs to cover industrial vehicles and bus fleets.
As with the Liberals’ promise to look into carbon capture, McCartney is critical of the NDP’s pledge as well.
“I think the pollution from large industrial emitters is probably not coming from the vehicle fleets; it’s coming from their operations,” McCartney said.
“That said, I think what this kind of point addresses is that there’s some of the transportation sector that’s been left behind. I’m sure industrial users won’t be upset by a rebate.”
He is also critical of promises in the NDP platform to “provide additional funding for our CleanBC industrial emissions strategy so that more mines, pulp mills, oil and gas processing plants, and other industrial facilities can reduce harmful emissions.”
McCartney says the problem with this promise — and a promise to conduct a review of oil and natural gas royalty credits — is that it fails to show how the NDP can maintain a Liquid Natural Gas (LNG) industry while reducing emissions.
“The NDP is promising to have an LNG industry that increases emissions, and to offset those via carbon capture and storage — which we can’t rely on at this point,” he said.
“I think if you read between the lines in this platform, that’s kind of what they’re arguing and I don’t think the math adds up.”
When it comes to a promise of a royalty review, McCartney asks why the NDP can’t simply commit to ending a broken program upfront.
“I don’t want to assume [royalty review] means nothing, but this government reviewed Site C, and went ahead with it anyway. You could just commit to ending royalty reviews we know aren’t working.”
One item that McCartney applauds in the NDP platform is a promise to “employ world-leading regulations and technologies to detect and reduce harmful methane emissions.”
He says that emissions detection is a huge problem in fracking operations in northeast B.C. Research suggests reported levels of emissions — which are currently based on averages — undersell the severity of methane emissions.
“I think this is a good thing,” McCartney says of the NDP’s promise to implement better detection.
“You can’t eliminate something until you know how much you’re emitting.”
The BC Green Party platform includes promises to:
- Commit to be carbon neutral by 2045
- Set an interim target for 2025 to make sure the government is on track to 2030
- Develop comprehensive plans to meet the 2030 and 2045 targets
- Immediately end oil and gas subsidies
McCartney says that he is glad to see an acknowledgement that a comprehensive plan needs to be in place to meet emission reduction targets.
“When it comes to cutting carbon pollution, sooner is better — 2045 is better than 2050,” he said.
“I am glad that they have noted that we need comprehensive plans to meet these targets.”
He added that the specificity of ending oil and gas subsidies “immediately” is a positive step in the right direction.
One item that McCartney is unclear on is a promise to “develop an accountability framework” to ensure targets are met.
“I think there is one in place, and I believe the movement was quite happy with it,” he said. “I’m not sure what they want to add to it.”
The Green Party also pledged to spend $1 billion on an investment fund towards business innovations that move the province towards a zero-carbon economy.
McCartney says he agrees with the idea of subsidizing emissions reductions and creating green jobs, but is critical of the lack of detail in the promise.
“The question I have that I don’t see an answer to necessarily is where that money will be going. Will it go to existing industries, or be used to support new industries?”
A more concrete promise from the Green Party is to reinstate scheduled Carbon Tax increases and to return to predictable increases of $10 per year.
McCartney says that’s a badly needed return to a stable, sound policy. “We had a good thing, it was working, it’s disappointing that it was paused… I think we need to be looking at what an economy without pollution looks like, and build that from the ground up.”
On that front, the Green Party promised to provide $500 million to support sustainable jobs, and says they would also develop a “clean jobs program” while also implementing a “just transition program” for workers in the oil and gas sector.
McCartney says there’s no doubt that a transition away from oil and gas towards green energy is justified, but he worries that the program is both non-specific and may be underfunded in the Green platform.
He says that communities in northern B.C. have workers who live off oil and gas, and they need more than just vague promises when it comes to a transition.
McCartney added that any political party hoping to win their votes needs to offer oil and gas workers concrete ideas.
“A climate plan is not just the math and the modelling, it’s the political realities as well. Fleshing out some of the just transition stuff, how they make these ideas politically possible would be a good thing,” McCartney said.
However, he adds the Green platform is more detailed on targets, and on the need for comprehensive strategies, and that fills him with more confidence.
“Generally, governments imposing targets gives me more reassurance that it’ll get done,” he said.
Across all three platforms, McCartney is encouraged to see a broad consensus about the need for climate change action.
“Really, the biggest question for me is the ‘hard stuff.’ Gas development, major polluters. The big question from a climate perspective is ‘what’s the plan with LNG?’ If you are claiming that we can have an LNG industry and meet our targets, you have to show us the math.”