We should support leadership that tackles climate-change issues

Best Practice: public sector of North American Britisch Columbia goes carbon-neutral. Offset funds must become a source of capital for the promotion of innovative private sector projects aimed at reducing public sector emissions rather than public funds supporting industry projects, but these are just teething pains and can be overcome with policy changes.

Andrew Weaver is a professor and Canada Research Chair in the School of Earth and Ocean Sciences, University of Victoria. He is the author of Generation Us: The Challenge of Global Warming. This article he wrote for The Victoria Times Colonist.

British Columbia has become an international leader in the development of policy and solutions for climate change mitigation and adaptation.

B.C.’s innovative revenue-neutral system of carbon pricing was recently copied by the Australian government. B.C.’s goal of becoming a green energy powerhouse is far-reaching in its ambition and scope and forward-looking in terms of economic planning.

B.C.’s commitment to a carbon-neutral government has meant public-sector leadership in the transition to a low-carbon economy. And the introduction of B.C. Hydro’s smart meter technology is a crucial first step on the path toward better energy conservation and base-load electricity management.

As B.C. forges ahead with its environmental and clean energy policy, some will resist the change. But change does not have to be something we fear – it can be exciting and empowering.

Take smart meters, for example. We have known since 2007 that they were on their way. Successful pilot projects were run in Vancouver, Campbell River and Fort St. John.

Smart meters will improve service. They will create opportunities for consumers to conserve electricity, introduce smart appliances and monitor energy use. The modernization of our electricity grid is long overdue. What are we afraid of? Likely it is our instinctive fear of the unknown which, when combined with our natural tendency to resist change, feeds a desire to criticize.

As B.C. breaks new ground on greenhouse gas management there will be teething pains. Cariboo North MLA Bob Simpson recently skewered the Pacific Carbon Trust for doling out public sector money to Encana for a greenhouse gas offset project.

The trust can argue that it simply followed the rules set out in B.C.’s emissions offset regulations. But that doesn’t make it right.

Simpson also pointed out the glaring inconsistency between B.C.’s treatment of the public sector and the fossil fuel industry – an industry that produces 24 per cent of B.C.’s greenhouse gas emissions. B.C. has no hope of reaching its legislated emissions reduction target of 33 per cent below 2007 levels by 2020 if it doesn’t tackle growing emissions from this sector. And the only way to do that is through regulation or emissions pricing.

Simpson wants to repeal the requirement of carbonneutral government – but this is not really a solution. We need leadership by example from our public sector. The carbon-neutral requirement provides an incentive for the public sector to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

For example, the University of Northern British Columbia installed a modern biomass gasification system to provide heat for the Prince George campus. By replacing natural gas as its heat source, up to 3,500 tonnes of greenhouse gases each year are kept out of the atmosphere. UNBC also saves about $87,500 annually in offset costs.

But here’s the problem. Current carbon regulation means that Nexterra, the B.C.-based company that built the biomass facility, could not access Pacific Carbon Trust funds for the project. If Nexterra had instead built the biomass facility for a private sector client in B.C., it would have been able to sell offsets to the Pacific Carbon Trust.

In essence, public funds would then have been used to support industry projects, as Simpson points out.

Rather than turning back the clock to 2007 and abolishing the requirement for a carbon-neutral public sector, it would be more progressive to adopt an additional regulation that public sector funds must be used for public sector projects.

That way, offset funds become a source of capital for the promotion of innovative private sector projects aimed at reducing public sector emissions. And reducing emissions also improves the annual operating budget for public institutions. Everybody wins.

Based on all the scientific evidence before us, the only compelling argument for inaction on greenhouse gas reduction is that as a society we do not believe that we have any responsibility for the well-being of future generations.

But the Oct. 3 speech from the throne clearly stated the government’s commitment to sustaining its leadership in the fight against climate change. The official Opposition is committed to the same goal.

Opinion poll after opinion poll tells us that Canadians are looking for such leadership. It’s a basic human instinct to want to provide for our children and to offer them a better life.

But when we get leadership, we need to support it. That doesn’t mean that we can’t be critical or hold governments accountable, nor does it mean that policy can’t be modified when unforeseen consequences are discovered.

But it certainly requires us to redirect the energy we expend in opposing suggested solutions into more constructive things – like ensuring that effective solutions are in fact put in place.

Source: The Victoria Times Colonist, Oktober 2011

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