Thursday 28 March 2013

Pacific Carbon Distrust

In the spring of 2011 a good friend and I were talking about carbon neutrality and all good progressive things green building. He mentioned to me his frustration with the BC government’s Pacific Carbon Trust, and how it was using public sector funds to support carbon reduction in the private sector. At the time I couldn’t and didn’t want to believe it. Not just because I supported the carbon strategy by the BC Liberals but because the plan was the first of its kind.
 BC was the first place in North America to institute a carbon tax in 2007 and was also the first to take progressive and sustainable steps to become carbon neutral. Everyone in the environmental movement supported the move and when the opposing NDP government attacked the plan in the 2009 provincial election as a “gas tax”, few people from the environmental sector came out in support of the NDP. It’s still my belief that it drove many NDP voters to either the Green Party or the Liberals in fear that this ground-breaking move would somehow be overturned. No other elected government had the guts to start such a thing and even if it was imperfect, few in my circle wanted to see it gone.

 After my conversation in the spring of 2011 I began looking into the claim that hospitals and schools were paying into the private sector to make the BC government carbon neutral. In defence of the government it made some sense. If you are going to become carbon neutral you can’t just move carbon credits around your own organization. They need to come from outside of the institutions that are creating them. There is just something that feels wrong about taking school budget money and giving it to Encana and Ecosystem Restoration Associates. Plus I’ve never found tree planting or under-balancing drilling to be very credible carbon offsets. Most trees planted die (or take 50 years to sequester carbon) and anything to do with the oil and gas industry and carbon offsetting is something I meet with suspicion (perhaps unfounded, but there regardless).
 So, that spring I wrote a letter to the auditor general stating my concerns. I received a very nice reply that they completed an audit of the Pacific Carbon Trust (the body tasked with spending public sector dollars towards carbon neutrality), and that they would complete one each year. Now I’m certain that I wasn’t the only one that sent them this information, so it was rewarding to hear this morning that they came out with the report that many of us who would have written the auditor general would have expected.
 Now the timing of this is all very useful in light of the upcoming May election. It’s probably been known for many years that this was an issue. I have no problem with the politics of it (the issue being leveraged by the NDP), but I’m hoping that the NDP will be sensitive enough to the 2009 lesson of having their vote split to not completely abandon the issue of climate change for political gain.
 There are still very credible ways to achieve carbon neutrality. In my opinion most of those have to do with renewable energy generation, but again that is a hot button political issue with BC Hydro’s claims of already being a climate champion with all their hydroelectricity. We should really look to what the province of Ontario has done with their FIT program (which is focused on renewable energy) to chart a true path towards carbon neutrality.
 While the public will likely lose faith in the Pacific Carbon Trust within the coming month, it is my hope that they won’t throw the proverbial baby out with the bath water. World leading provincial carbon neutrality still matters. The carbon tax is still needed. As with all things complicated (like climate change) the devil is in the details.

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