December 15, 2011 Features & Images » Feature Story

Back to the Drawing Board for Carbon Neutral Government 

As BC Liberals revisit their approach to a carbon neutral public sector, some advice they'll likely get.

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This week world leaders wrapped up a mammoth session on the Kyoto Protocol at the UN Climate Change conference in Durban, South Africa. In reality it was a ground-breaking session to do nothing for now except keep talking. It also saw Canada state that it will not be bound to any second stage Kyoto commitments. Views on climate change and what can be done about it are in flux. Just four years ago this province announced its own plan to reduce carbon emissions. But it was a different world then — now we live in a time of economic challenge and some are asking if spending on climate change initiatives should be front-and-centre. In May of 2013 Premier Christy Clark, and her equally untested rival, NDP Opposition Leader Adrian Dix, must face British Columbia voters in a general election. For both, the millions of dollars in government revenue, public spending, and future tax hikes and disbursements at stake in B.C.'s climate strategy present irresistible, or perhaps inescapable, targets to define their opposing campaigns. In this Tyee feature by Tom Barrett, Tyee Solutions Society, he looks at some of the advice the BC liberals might get as they revisit their approach to carbon neutral policies.

The B.C. government is reviewing its controversial carbon neutral government strategy and Environment Minister Terry Lake says "everything is up for discussion."

He'll get lots of advice. Critics have complained that the strategy uses tax dollars to pay profitable corporations to cut their greenhouse gas emissions and they've questioned whether public money was needed to make those cuts. Some, like Independent MLA Bob Simpson, have called the strategy a "sham" and want the carbon neutral legislation repealed.

It's uncertain how far the government is prepared to go to answer these charges. Nor do critics and stakeholders agree on what Lake should do instead. The consultations will largely take place in private, but here's a peek at some of the proposals — both solicited and unsolicited -— Lake is likely to hear:

Scrap it

The most radical solution, this is also the least likely to be followed by the government. It's the answer put forward by those who believe that the problems with carbon neutral government are more than growing pains.

The idea that the B.C. government is carbon neutral — a net-zero emitter of greenhouse gases (GHGs) — is largely based on the purchase of carbon offsets. If you believe, like Simon Fraser University economist Mark Jaccard, that carbon offsets are an illusion, it's hard to imagine what else can be done with the program except ditch it.

The program works this way: for every tonne of greenhouse gases a government organization emits, it must pay $25. That money goes to a Crown corporation called the Pacific Carbon Trust (PCT), which uses it to buy offsets from B.C. companies and organizations. Offsets represent emissions that these companies and organizations would have produced, but have decided instead to eliminate.

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