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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The total emissions reductions are supposed to match, tonne for tonne, the emissions put out by the public sector, which allows the government to declare itself carbon neutral.

The principle behind the scheme is that the private sector emissions cuts would not have happened if the government had not bought the offsets. But Jaccard argues that there's no way to be sure that's true.

He said programs like this tend to attract what are known as "free riders," participants who would have reduced their emissions even if they hadn't been paid. And, if the cuts would have happened without the government's help, then you can't claim they offset the government's own emissions.

(The government and its supporters argue that the PCT's offsets are genuine because they are examined closely by independent consultants who reject any free riders.)

BC Conservative Party Leader John Cummins has promised to kill the province's "carbon bureaucracy," including the carbon tax and the PCT. On the other side of the political spectrum, Independent MLA Simpson, one of the carbon neutral strategy's most persistent critics, has introduced a private member's bill called the Carbon Neutral Government Repeal Act. If passed — and private member's bills rarely become law — public sector organizations would still have to track and report their GHG emissions, but they would not have to buy offsets from the PCT.

Don't subsidize, tax

This option could be done with or without scrapping public sector offset payments. In this scenario, rather than paying corporations to reduce their emissions, government would make those emissions more expensive.

Currently, the carbon tax covers emissions caused by burning fossil fuels. That's about three-quarters of the province's total emissions. The other quarter comes from a number of sources, including landfills, gas pipelines and industrial processes like cement making.

Lake said the government is looking at putting a price on these emissions, but critics complain that the government is moving too slowly.

Ian Bruce, a climate specialist with the David Suzuki Foundation, said industrial emissions should be regulated or taxed.

"Instead of being part of the (PCT) offset portfolio, they should be required like other sectors in British Columbia to be contributing to reducing their own greenhouse gas emissions through regulations or through the carbon tax," Bruce said. "That would help shift responsibility back to industrial polluters to reduce their own pollution. And in the long run it would make B.C.'s industry leaders in energy efficiency."

Simpson points to offsets purchased from Encana as an example of what happens under the current policy. The PCT pays Encana an undisclosed amount to reduce emissions at a northeastern B.C. drill site. The PCT says that's a reduction of just under 85,000 tonnes a year. But Encana is also going ahead with the Cabin Gas Plant near Fort Nelson, which will put out 2.2 million additional tonnes of GHGs a year.

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