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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"Those moneys should be remitted back to districts or to a common pot, as it were, to distribute to those districts that could make best use of the money," B.C. School Trustees Association president Michael McEvoy said in an interview.

The money, he said, "needs to remain in the public system. That's pretty simple. I don't think it takes a gathering of stakeholders to figure that out. Our view would be the minister and the government should just move to resolve the problem."

Lake seems less enthusiastic about this proposal, however.

"The problem is, if you take that money and don't reduce greenhouse gas emissions elsewhere, you can't call yourself carbon neutral," he said.

The money currently being paid in offsets won't fund enough capital projects to eliminate all of the public sector's emissions, Lake said, although he added that he isn't ruling the proposal out.

Simpson replies that the cuts would at least be real -- no questions about whether offsets are genuine -- and they would save taxpayers money.

Simpson is among those who have put forward another proposal that's popular in the public sector, but unlikely to thrill Lake.

Give the whole public sector the deal local governments get

Municipalities get their carbon tax payments back if they agree to go carbon neutral. But they have a lot more leeway in how they achieve neutrality. They don't have to go through the PCT. Instead they can buy cheaper offsets on the open market, participate in approved GHG reduction projects or start their own projects.

"There's plenty of solutions available," said theDavid Suzuki Foundation's Bruce.

The last proposal on our list deals with the situation mentioned at the beginning of this series on carbon neutral government.

Deal with indirect emissions

UBC wants to build 8,000 new units of student housing. This would lower overall GHG emissions in the Lower Mainland by 7,700 tonnes a year; not only would the students be living in housing that would be more energy efficient than their current off-campus dwellings, but their commuting would be drastically cut.

But, because of a wrinkle in the way the B.C. government counts emissions, UBC would have to buy an extra $145,000 a year in offsets for cutting these GHGs.

In a study for the Pacific Institute for Climate Solutions, PhD student Kim Lau and Dowlatabadi argue that public sector organizations should assess and report indirect emissions such as those associated with commuting. However, they say, organizations shouldn't have to buy offsets for such indirect emissions. Instead, they should be encouraged to reduce them and be allowed to claim the reductions as offsets -- either to sell to the PCT or to balance their own emissions.

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