October 8, 2007

BC's planned GHG legislation to include binding reduction targets, cap-and-trade mechanism

New legislative measures to be introduced by the British Columbia government this fall will mandate greenhouse gas (GHG) reduction targets and provide legal tools to enable the province to reduce its GHG emissions by 33% below current levels by 2020.

"In this coming fall session, we intend to legislate the 2020 target, as well as a target for 2050," Premier Gordon Campbell told the recent Union of British Columbia Municipalities convention. "The bill will also require us to establish legally binding emissions reduction targets for 2012 and 2016," he added.

Legislation will also be introduced next spring to allow for the creation of market mechanisms and make B.C. the first province in Canada to legally require "hard caps" on GHG emissions. Those caps will be used as part of a "cap-and-trade system" that is scheduled to be developed by next August through the Western Climate Initiative.

The government will shortly be setting up a Climate Action Team whose members will include leaders from environmental organizations, private enterprise, the scientific community, First Nations and academia. This group's task will be to determine the most credible, aggressive and economically viable sector targets possible for 2012 and 2016. That work will be completed by July 31, 2008.

The targets arrived at for 2012 and 2016 must be scientifically supported and backed up by viable emission reduction strategies that are economically and fiscally achievable. Those targets will be put out for public review, either accepted or amended, and legally mandated through regulation by the end of 2008.

The province will also convene sectoral symposia in various locations around BC to discuss GHG emission reduction strategies with representatives from forestry (Prince George), mining (Terrace) energy (Fort St John) waste and landfills (Nanaimo) and agriculture (Kamloops).

Getting its own house in order, the government will introduce further legislation this fall requiring all provincial entities, including Crown agencies, to be carbon-neutral by 2010. All public sector organizations, including school boards and health authorities, will be required by law to produce annual public reports on their progress.

In addition, all government travel will be required to be carbon-neutral starting this year. Emissions from government travel will be tracked, calculated, peer-reviewed and audited. Measures to reduce unnecessary travel, such as video-conferencing capabilities, will be extended.

Moreover, for every tonne of GHGs associated with official government travel, the province will invest $25 in a new BC Carbon Trust, effective this fiscal year. The Trust, to be launched early next year, will ensure that tax dollars are invested in valid offset projects in BC.

It will also be open to individuals, companies and other levels of government to help them become carbon-neutral and help reduce emissions by supporting a made-in-BC offset project. Projects funded by the trust may include enhanced energy efficiency, produce clean, renewable energy or sequester carbon through incremental afforestation measures.

"In the long run, this has the potential to save agencies money. It does not cost us to turn off the lights. It does not cost us to turn down the thermostat. It does not cost us to drive a smaller car with a more efficient engine," said Campbell, adding, "we should all know by now that the costs of doing nothing are getting higher every day."

BC's GHG emission reduction plan also includes the following measures.

*GHG emission reduction strategies and targets will be legally required in all official community plans and regional growth strategies.

*Municipalities will be given the power to waive development cost charges as a way to encourage green developments, small-unit housing and small-lot subdivisions.

*Construction of all new government buildings or facilities will have to meet a minimum LEED Gold or equivalent certification.

*Legislation to be introduced next spring will require the adoption of California tailpipe emission standards, with a phase-in period from 2009 to 2016.

*BC will also be the first province to legally adopt California's low-carbon fuel content standards, a requirement that will reduce carbon intensity of all passenger vehicles by a further 10% by 2020.

*The provincial government will also establish a 5% average renewable fuel standard for diesel by 2010, and will support the federal government's plan to increase the ethanol content of gasoline to 5% by 2010.

*BC Transit will receive an additional $50 million this year from the province to purchase new, clean buses and expand public transit service across BC. The government will soon be unveiling a vision for public transit, whose scale and scope will be aimed at making BC a global leader in this area.

"Later this fall," Campbell concluded, "we will be releasing phase one of our climate action plan that will detail strategies we've identified so far which have the potential to reduce our GHG emissions by 24 to 33 million tonnes. That's enough to get us anywhere from 60 to 82% towards our target of a 33% reduction."

A cabinet committee on climate action has so far received 177 presentations from scientists, public servants, environmental organizations, academics and industry sectors. As a result, the committee has singled out strategies whose implementation could reduce sectoral GHG emissions by an estimated seven to nine million tonnes from electricity, two million tonnes from buildings, seven to 10 million tonnes from industry, six to nine million tonnes from transportation and two to three million tonnes from waste. A peer review panel will conduct an independent verification of these reductions. The current estimates are expected to change as new strategies are developed and as the government hears more from each sector about what it thinks is possible.

Meanwhile, BC's Ministry of Finance is seeking the public's input on how the government's 2008 budget can encourage environmentally responsible choices that reduce GHG emissions. For the second consecutive year, a budget consultation paper has been distributed to BC residents (and is also available on-line). Finance Minister Carole Taylor noted that more than 8,300 British Columbians participated in the budget consultation process last year, marking record participation for a legislative committee in the province.

"Our tax system already promotes environmentally responsible choices," said Taylor. "We currently offer tax incentives for the purchase of hybrid vehicles, production of wind power, and use of bio-fuel. But we can do more. We'd like British Columbians to share their ideas for new measures that will reduce our footprint on the environment and maintain a strong economy."

BC's Budget Transparency and Accountability Act requires that the annual budget consultation paper be presented to an all-party committee on finance and government services. This paper serves as a starting point for discussions between the committee and the public about budget priorities. The committee will be holding public meetings throughout the province and is due to present a formal report on the consultations by November 15, 2007.

The deadline for budget paper submissions is October 19, 2007. The consultation paper may be viewed on the Ministry of Finance Web site, www.fin.gov.bc.ca/budgetconsultation/budgetbrochure.pdf. Comments may be submitted on-line at www.leg.bc.ca/budgetconsultations/survey.asp.

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