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B.C. sets new near-term GHG target as pandemic forces carbon cut

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After British Columbia’s Environment Minister found the path to its 2030 emission targets to be more challenging than he first thought, the province has now set a new near-term emission target for 2025 that’s “ambitious but achievable,” to keep B.C. on the right track to cut carbon pollution.

“It’s clear we still have much more to do in order to meet our CleanBC targets – and I won’t be satisfied until we see a significant and steady decline in emissions,” George Heyman, Minister of Environment and Climate Change Strategy, announced in December.

The new emission target requires greenhouse gases in B.C. to be 16% below 2007 levels by 2025.

The province will also set sectoral targets to be established before March 31, 2021, and will develop legislation to ensure B.C. reaches net-zero emissions by 2050.

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The near-term target is supported by the new 2020 Climate Change Accountability Report detailing CleanBC action. The report includes detailed information on CleanBC actions over the 2019-20 period to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, build a cleaner economy and prepare for the impacts of climate change. The report provides data on progress made through CleanBC in sectors like transportation, industry, buildings and communities, and the public service.

In 2018, gross greenhouse gas emissions were 67.9 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (Mt CO2e). That represents an increase of 4.5 Mt CO2e from 2007 levels, 3% higher than 2017 emissions.

The province launched CleanBC at the end of 2018 to reverse the worrisome emissions trend.

“So far, we’ve seen several early signs of success,” Heyman said. “We’ve had a dramatic increase in the sale of new electric light duty vehicles. B.C.’s zero-emissions vehicle sector contributed more than $600 million to the provincial economy.”

The report does note, however, that heavy-duty vehicle emissions still jumped 27% from 2007 to 2018.

Karen Tam Wu, B.C. director at the Pembina Institute, referred to the accountability report as a “much-needed wake-up call.”

“The report offers a frank assessment: our climate plan has a gaping hole that we must fill,” Tam Wu said in a statement. “B.C.’s carbon pollution went up in 2018, the CleanBC plan could leave us 28% to 44% short of our 2030 climate target, and emissions may not start to trend downward for a couple more years.”

The new annual report also includes the advice of the independent Climate Solutions Council. Merran Smith, co-chair of B.C.’s Climate Solutions Council and executive director of Clean Energy Canada, said the province has “put in place a rigorous system of accountability and reporting that will help ensure we reach our emission targets and build a clean economy.” Smith added that the introduction of an interim target strengthens that commitment.

According to the report, models show that in 2019 B.C.’s emissions began to stabilize or slightly increase, before beginning to decrease in 2020 as CleanBC programs began to take hold and the province experienced some of the pollution-reducing effects of COVID-19.

But even as the pandemic reduced air pollution in some cities, Tam WU said it also delayed the delivery of a comprehensive suite of actions to meet B.C.’s 2030 climate target.

“Emissions may level-off in 2021 as B.C.’s economy begins to recover and then continue a downward trajectory in 2022 as more CleanBC policies start to take effect,” the report states.

Adding more to the challenge was that some parts of B.C. experienced the worst air quality ever on record as dense smoke plumes from forest fires in the states of Washington, Oregon and California travelled northward into B.C’s southern airshed.

CleanBC Milestones Achieved

  • Improved uptake of GoElectric rebates and Better Homes & Better Buildings rebates for cleaner vehicles and buildings.
  • Introduced new financing programs to support purchase of heat pumps for household heating.
  • Increased personal climate action tax credits, tied to carbon tax revenues.
  • Completed a first of its kind climate risk assessment for B.C. and committed to reducing risks from wildfire, flooding, and droughts through the development of a comprehensive climate preparedness and adaptation strategy.
  • Through new legislation, mandated escalating sales targets for zero emission light duty vehicles in the province and increased incentives for specialty-use, medium- and heavy-duty vehicles.
  • Launched B.C.’s first active transportation strategy, including cost-shared funding for cycling and walking infrastructure and network planning.
  • Released world-leading industry emissions benchmarks under the CleanBC Industrial Incentive Program, encouraging cleaner industrial operations by returning a portion of the carbon tax to low emission facilities to incentivize further emissions reductions.

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