OFC Scoop 6: Dec 2015

Paris, Alberta, BC: climate is hot hot hot!

As the world gathers for the United Nations’ climate change conference in Paris and Alberta releases a game-changing plan that includes an economy-wide carbon tax, British Columbians have another opportunity to influence what B.C.’s plan will be to remain a climate leader.

Last week the province released the recommendations of B.C.’s Climate Leadership Team on what a renewed climate plan for B.C. should cover. Premier Clark has said government will take time to consult with British Columbians before coming up with a final Climate Leadership Plan for March 2016.  The consultation period will start in January; make sure you’re signed up for updates from these OFC members (Pembina InstituteSierra Club BC, Wildsight or West Coast Environmental Law) to ensure your voice is a strong one in this process!

The recommendations were largely a consensus among the 18 members drawn from industry, government, communities, First Nations, academia, and environmental interests. They include increasing carbon tax starting in 2018 by $10/tonne (offset by a decrease in the PST, support for emissions-intensive, trade-exposed sectors, and support for low-income and northern residents) as well as improved building and transportation efficiencies, 100% clean electricity and regular reviews of the plan to ensure BC is on track to meet targets. Economic modeling done for the team shows these measures would result in virtually no slow-down in the economy. The team also acknowledged that B.C. will miss its 2020 target, and proposed instead an interim 2030 target on the way to reaching the 2050 target already in place.

In anticipation of the consultation process, groups representing over 1,000 companies, organizations and communities are asking the B.C. government to not squander the opportunity to bring forward ambitious new measures to fight climate change. The Call for Action on Energy and Climate seeks bold measures that will lead to a “province powered by clean energy” and provide “protection from a changing climate”. Its more than 145 signatories include the cities of Vancouver and Victoria, B.C. Government and Service Employees’ Union, Clean Energy B.C., the Canadian Wind Energy Association, Concert Properties, the Pembina Institute, UBC, and National Geographic Society explorer-in-residence Wade Davis.

Alberta raised the bar for boldness with its climate plan, including commitments to a carbon tax of $20 per tonne starting in a year, increasing to $30, equivalent to B.C.’s, in 2018; phasing out of a coal-fired electricity by 2013; and capping emissions from the tarsands sector. While B.C. is starting from a good place, the appetite is there for us to also be bold to continue our leadership that is obviously informing where the national conversation on climate action is going to go. Watch for more info in January about how you can help ensure B.C. gets back on the climate leadership track!

 

Protecting Water for Fish

Freshwater is a resource more precious than gold, and with the new Water Sustainability Act, B.C. now has many more tools in its toolkit to help us manage it in a responsible way. This is becoming more important – and more of a challenge – as we face more frequent and extreme weather events and increasing demands on our water.

With the new Act in place, the B.C. government has started the next big job: setting the regulations that detail how the requirements of the Act will be met in making decisions about water. There are many of them to be developed, but one of the key ones will be how decision makers ensure that “environmental flow needs” are met. This is an important determinant of aquatic health, the answer to the question “how much water does a river need?” It’s about leaving enough water in streams and aquifers to maintain the habitat necessary for healthy fish populations and other aquatic life.

Unfortunately, government’s current plan is to provide only general guidance to decision makers in a policy, which isn’t enforceable. One of the most important commitments in developing a new water law was that water for fish would have legal protection, which means enforceable regulation. Without a regulation, decision makers “must consider” (according to the new Act) environmental flow needs when allocating water for new licenses or reviewing existing ones, but they don’t have direction to not issue licenses where they might negatively impact environmental flows. A well-designed regulation would make these decision-making processes more transparent to the public, and set enforceable standards to be met to ensure rivers, streams and aquifers aren’t over-allocated.

There are several new tools in the Water Sustainability Act that, over time, can ensure the needs of fish and other aquatic life are better accounted for in decisions made about our water, such as water sustainability plans, fish population orders, and sensitive stream designations. But it will be several years before most of those tools roll out across the province. There are also more tools – available immediately – to deal with drought situations where waterways reach “critical flow thresholds”, but those are in place to ensure aquatic ecosystems survive; environmental flow regimes support aquatic ecosystems to thrive.

OFC and its member groups, among many others, are encouraging government to ensure adequate, enforceable protections are in place in the near term while the longer term protections are developed and worked out. This would protect both fish and other creatures that depends on healthy aquatic ecosystems as well as the decision makers who are having to make increasingly challenging calls on when is enough really enough. If this is important issue to you, too, let us know we can call on you when the time is right to show government their constituents care about protecting water for fish. [Our Water BC is a water project of OFC and other partners.]

 

Fall Session Update: Move along, nothing to see here…

It was a very [ahem] light legislative session this fall, especially from an environmental perspective.  More interest was generated outside of the legislative chamber, with a with a new approach to energy jobs proposed as an alternative to Site C by the Opposition and the report from the Budget committee roadshow.

Budget Consultation

The Select Standing Committee on Finance and Government Services undertook its annual, month-long (mid-September to mid-October) tour of the province to hear what British Columbians thought should be prioritized in the development of the 2016 Provincial Budget. Based on the 572 submissions received (written, video and audio submissions as well presentations at eight community hearings and five virtual hearings), the bi-partisan committee produced a consensus report and 63 recommendations in a number of areas.

On the environment, the Committee heard a strong call for increased funding for provincial parks as their funding has been a concern for many years. In particular, the Committee recognized the enormous tourism potential of B.C.’s parks system and endorsed the call for increased investment in parks’ management and maintenance as well as for park rangers.

They also recommended the province “seriously contemplate” developing a clean energy and energy conservation strategy, as well as investment in clean and renewable energy technologies, low carbon infrastructure and ecosystem and biodiversity restoration.

Recommendations in sections other than “environment” included expanding the carbon tax to emissions not currently covered (#15); investing in improvements to cycling infrastructure, safety and promotion (#58); increased funding for public transit (#59); and updated timber, flora and fauna inventories (#49).

Want to have your say in how the government should spend your tax dollars? Click here and we’ll send you a heads up for next year’s consultation period! (Make sure you’re already on our list before signing up for this alert.)

To Site C or Not to Site C?

Just as the government was inking the largest contract for the building of Site C, despite ongoing legal challenges, the Opposition released a plan for creating energy jobs throughout the province as an alternative.  Asserting that “we don’t need [Site C] today”, they propose a range of projects including energy retrofits to buildings, supporting renewable energy, and upgrading existing BC Hydro infrastructure instead of the $9 billion dam.  Not that they would close the door on Site C forever; they leave open the possibility it might make sense in 10-15 years if B.C. needs the power.