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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Charley Beresford, executive director of the Columbia Institute and a co-author of the report, said in an interview that making real reductions before buying offsets should be the "primary principle" of a carbon neutral strategy.

James Tansey, a University of British Columbia business professor and president of Offsetters, counters that if the government had delayed offsetting it wouldn't have gotten the attention of decision-makers in the public sector.

Hadi Dowlatabadi, a physicist with UBC's Institute for Resources, Environment and Sustainability, said that buying offsets doesn't preclude cutting emissions.

"If I can offset my emissions at a lower cost than the offset price, of course I'll be doing that," he said. And if it costs more than $25 a tonne to offset your emissions, then buying offsets from the Pacific Carbon Trust saves you money, he said.

What's important is whether the public sector is being given the right kind of financial help to cut its emissions, he said. Which leads us to the next suggested solution:

Bring back the grants

From 2008 to 2010, the Public Sector Energy Conservation Agreement (PSECA) gave out $75 million to help the public sector cut carbon. But that money has dried up. Almost everybody involved would like to see it come back.

"If there's a cost-effective project in a school we should make sure the funds are there to make sure that project's happening," said the Pembina Institute's Horne.

This is one solution that seems likely to be adopted by the government. Environment Minister Lake said in an interview that "We recognize that people have concerns with private money going to offset private companies. Ideally, what we would do is have a fund that public sector organizations could access to help them reduce their greenhouse gas emissions."

He mentioned PSECA as an example of such a fund.

In answer to the inevitable question of where the money would come from for such a fund, MLA Simpson makes this suggestion: take it from the surplus of the PCT.

Which is a step toward the next proposed solution:

Keep offset money in the public sector

This is a popular suggestion with public sector organizations and is endorsed by the BC New Democratic Party. The idea is that the money now going into offsets could be pooled into a fund that would pay for public sector emissions cuts.

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