1 BC NDP v. Liberal climate plans: A score card | West Coast Environmental Law

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BC NDP v. Liberal climate plans: A score card

8 February, 2017

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Last week, the BC NDP released its “Clean Growth Climate Action Plan.” Unfortunately for both the NDP and public debate on climate policy, much of the media coverage focused less on the plan, and more on a leak of the plan by the BC Liberals.  

On the climate front, the BC Liberals are campaigning on the basis of their “Climate Leadership Plan,” which failed to show how BC would deal with its carbon debt and achieve its legally mandated greenhouse gas reduction targets. The fact that the government chose to release on a Friday in the dead of summer reinforces questions about the strength of its plan.

The BC NDP and its climate plan were attacked not just by the BC Liberals, but also by the BC Green Party, with Green Leader (and MLA) Andrew Weaver getting into a war of tweets with NDP Environment Critic, George Heyman. Weaver tweeted:

The BC Greens apparently have not released their climate strategy as yet, although if I understand this tweet correctly, it sounds as if a policy is under development. Since Weaver is a noted climate scientist, it should be interesting to see when released.*

In the meantime, we bring you a score card comparing the BC Liberal and BC NDP climate plans.

The Plans

Does the plan achieve basic climate goals?

BC Liberals

BC NDP

Reducing BC’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions

D – It will not reduce emissions until after 2030.

B – It would result in reductions,although details need to be flushed out.

Complying with the legal targets enacted by the Legislature

F - After an initially promising start, in which 2012 targets were met, the BC government has failed to meet its 2016 target and will fail to meet the legislated 2020 target. The government’s plan does affirm the 2050 target of an 80% reduction in emissions, but identifies no path to achieving it.

B -The BC NDP plans to achieve the 2050 target and proposes to establish a new 2030 target, as recommended by the government’s own the Climate Leadership Team  (40% reductions by 2030). They promise to adopt the Leadership Team’s recommendations and to reconvene the Team to help determine how to achieve these targets.

The NDP also takes the additional step (per the Leadership Team’s recommendations) of creating new targets for different parts of the BC economy – transportation, industry and buildings/homes – which may assist in planning how to achieve the provincial targets.

Specific measures based on science and expert advice on how to achieve climate goals

D -Although the BC government appointed an expert “Climate Leadership Team” amid a media frenzy, the government ended up rejecting the majority of the panel’s recommendations. As noted, the final “plan” does not state how it will achieve its goals. 

B - The BC NDP commits to implement the “full scope and intent” of the Climate Leadership Team’s recommendations – BUT it seems clear that this does not include the controversial recommendation to increase the carbon tax by $10/tonne (or about 2 centres per litre) each year starting in 2018. Since the Leadership Team relied heavily upon this increase in the carbon tax to achieve the legislated goals, the NDP will need additional policies to achieve the legislated targets. This gap resulted in a Twitter exchange between the party’s Environment Critic, George Heyman, and BC Green Party Leader Andrew Weaver. The NDP promises to reconvene the Leadership Team to determine how to achieve the targets.

Reducing subsidies to fossil fuel companies

F -BC’s climate plan must be one of the only in the world that proposes to increase subsidies to fossil fuels in the name of climate action, through cheap electricity and infrastructure for LNG and other oil and gas operations.

D - The BC NDP plan does not mention fossil fuel subsidies.

Ensuring that increases in the carbon tax will play a significant role in reducing GHG emissions 

D - Warning: The government’s policy on this is confusing.

The government acknowledges that a carbon tax needs to increase over time to be effective and has committed, in line with the Canadian climate framework, to increase the carbon tax from $30/tonne to $50/tonne by 2022.  These increases are expected to result in only minimal changes in GHG emissions, and other policies would need to supplement the carbon tax.

However, the Premier also claims – misleadingly – that BC could still choose to refuse to increase the tax, based on a review in 2020. In fact, BC’s choice in 2020 would be between increasing the tax, as promised, or adopting an equivalent or greater price on carbon through a new system. 

C -The BC NDP climate plan would also increase the carbon tax from $30/tonne to $50/tonne by 2022 – the equivalent to an increase of about 4.4 cents per litre at the gas pump over the current carbon tax. However, the BC NDP would start phasing in the increase in 2020, instead of 2021, as required by the national carbon price.

As with the BC government plan, these increases are far below what was recommended by the Climate Leadership Team and will result in only modest greenhouse gas reductions.

However, the BC NDP proposes to divert the carbon tax funds collected from corporations towards transit, retrofitting buildings and other programs that will reduce greenhouse gas emissions, thereby enhancing the impact of the tax.

Ensuring that the carbon tax does not negatively impact ordinary British Columbians

C+ -The BC government is proud that the carbon tax is “revenue neutral,” meaning that the funds collected result in corresponding tax cuts. In theory, this means that British Columbians should not be worse off as a result of a carbon tax, whether it be $30/tonne, $50/tonne or a larger amount (as recommended by the Climate Leadership Team). That being said, the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives has pointed out that 2/3 of the funds raised are currently used to support tax cuts for corporations, raising questions as to whether ordinary British Columbians get their fair share.

In addition, the BC government plan does not recognize that climate change will result in new climate impacts and higher infrastructure needs for ordinary British Columbians and their communities. An entirely revenue neutral carbon tax may mean increased property taxes as municipalities struggle to pay for the costs of preparing for climate change.

B+ -The BC NDP plans to reduce corporate tax breaks associated with the carbon tax, and to ensure that about 80% of households receive a climate rebate – at least some of that in the form of an actual cheque rather than a reduction in other taxes. This is similar to the carbon fee and dividend system which has been proposed by the Citizen’s Climate Lobby. (Note that the BC NDP apparently does not propose to reverse individual income tax cuts).

As noted above, by increasing the tax for corporations, it appears that the BC NDP does propose to end revenue neutrality, instead investing the revenue in government actions that will actually reduce greenhouse gas emissions. That being said, with personal rebates being increased, it is not clear exactly how much new government revenue from corporate tax payments will be available.

 

Job Creation

In addition to climate goals, both parties do put a lot of emphasis on job creation in their climate plans. The BC government’s Climate Leadership Plan goes to the extent of estimating job creation associated with each element of the plan, while the NDP plan makes job creation a key principle of its plan – referring to a Clean Energy Canada study that estimates that climate leadership could result in 900,000 new jobs. Each party criticizes the jobs claims made in the other’s plans. 

So how do they do on job creation? In our view, the assumptions behind the parties’ approaches to job creation are worth highlighting.

 

BC Liberals

BC NDP

Does the plan maximize the job creation opportunities from climate action?

D - The Liberal plan assumes that job creation lies in conventional industries, and does not fully realize the job creation potential of moving towards a sustainable economy. Consequently, we have a “climate” plan that expects to create far more jobs through natural gas (4,043 jobs) and forest exploitation (19,942 jobs) than through retrofitting buildings to make them more energy efficient (230 jobs). While transportation, including transit, is estimated to provide 41,525 jobs, many of these appear to be associated with expanding highway infrastructure (for example, the plan includes replacing the George Massey tunnel with a bridge, which is estimated to result in 9,000 jobs).  

While the Liberal plan may or may not result in the promised jobs, many, perhaps most, of those jobs are not the result of ambitious climate action. 

B -The BC NDP plan clearly recognizes the synergies between building a new type of economy and job creation, promising to divert carbon tax revenue into “job-creating infrastructure and projects that actually reduce carbon pollution, like new transit and transportation, renewable and clean technology, and energy efficiency upgrades.”

 

Clearly the NDP plan is not as fully developed, costed or modelled as the government’s plan. However, the NDP plan identifies where funding will come from and the job-creation potential associated with transit, building retrofits, etc.

 

Overall, the BC NDP’s climate plan receives a B grade, while the BC Liberals receive an F.

The BC NDP’s climate plan suffers from a lack of detail (which is understandable given the more limited planning resources of an opposition party).  It is a promising start, which will need to be fleshed out further if the party wins the election this May.

However, the BC Liberals – through the “Climate Leadership Plan” – seem to have dropped the mantle of climate action that their former leader, Premier Gordon Campbell, had taken up. 

By Andrew Gage, Staff Counsel
West Coast Environmental Law Association

* The BC Green Party’s Policy says that it supports “a proactive strategy to mitigate and adapt to the effects of climate change,” and there are mentions of climate change elsewhere in the Policy, including highlighting the security implications of climate change for BC. We look forward to seeing the more detailed strategy when it is released.