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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That's 25 times the emissions reduction the PCT paid for through offsets. In fact, it's three times the total annual emissions offset by the entire B.C. public sector.

"That's bad public policy," Simpson said.

Keep it and fix it

Not everyone wants to scrap the program. Matt Horne, of the Pembina Institute, argues that B.C.'s carbon neutral government initiative is a "relatively unique" policy. "To expect to have gotten it exactly right on the first pass through probably isn't realistic."

He said he's concerned about calls to drop the strategy because it has put a price on emissions in the public sector and has caused those working in government to think about their carbon footprint.

"It's not universal, but there's certainly lots of people thinking, 'We're paying $25 a tonne — how can we not pay that,' " Horne said. "That's something that other types of green government programs haven't accomplished."

Horne is one of several people following this file who think offsets could be retained, but with a change in emphasis.

Give more weight

to reducing

The B.C. carbon neutral strategy was policy in a hurry. Public sector organizations were given less than three years to cut their emissions before having to buy offsets. A government eager to develop a B.C. offset industry ended up giving much more weight in its strategy to offsets than to emissions-reducing capital projects.

A program of government grants eliminated 35,600 tonnes of annual GHGs, about four per cent of the total government output. But that grant program has been cancelled, and public organizations argue that they don't have the capital funds to make further cuts.

Other jurisdictions have given themselves more time to reach the carbon neutral goal. And they've put emissions cuts before offsets. The U.K. Climate Change Department's Guidance on Carbon Neutrality, the UN and ICLEI - Local Governments for Sustainability all stress reducing emissions before buying offsets.

A report from the Columbia Institute, a Vancouver civic governance think-tank and community group, shows how this approach to carbon neutral government has played out in the Australian state of New South Wales (NSW).

"Rather than setting a short timeline that would almost inevitably lead to high offset purchases, the NSW government in 2008 set a target of public sector carbon neutrality by 2020, giving public sector bodies time to implement real emissions reductions in their own operations," says the report, titled Catch $25. "Under the NSW framework, offset purchases will not even be considered until 2014 (Year 6 of the plan), and only then after 'all other means of reducing emissions have been put in place.' If offsets do become part of the NSW plan, they would not be required until 2020, Year 12 of the program."

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