This bill, the Climate Change Accountability Amendment Act, is about basic good governance. It says that governments should follow the law. Governments should ensure every industry operates in accordance with the law and government should report back to British Columbians with accurate, timely data about the progress taxpayers are funding.
S. Furstenau: I’m delighted to be speaking to Bill 38 today, the Climate Change Accountability Amendment Act. I’d just like to follow on my colleague the member for North Vancouver–Lonsdale and her passionate words just now. What she reminded me of is one of our incredible policy staffers in our office, Claire Hume, who often frames our work on climate as a “yes, and.”
There is so much to do. It is such a complicated and, seemingly at times, intractable issue, but what we have to do is adopt a stance of “yes, and.” Yes, the bill is not perfect yet, and we’re going to keep doing better. Yes, other regions haven’t come on board to do their part, and we’re going to keep showing them how.
I appreciate the member’s passion and her words. I also want to acknowledge how much I appreciate Claire for guiding us as well in her “yes, and” stance that she takes.
I will start my comments today with an overview of the broader climate change context within which Bill 38 is situated before turning to its main policy components. For now, I’d like to speak about Bill 38 as an example of good governance and compare it also to the work being done on both vaping and LNG before finishing with a few remarks on how it relates to the future of our province. It may seem a little off-topic at times, but I can assure you that if you stick with me, I’ll bring it back to the important task at hand: a second-reading debate on the Climate Change Accountability Amendment Act, 2019.
As my colleague from Oak Bay–Gordon Head stated in his speech, climate policy rhetoric is nothing without transparent, accurate, timely and publicly accessible data, and political promises are worthless without legislated accountability. “Trust us” is not a good climate policy. It is my sincere hope that the transparency and accountability mechanisms in this bill, if passed, will last well beyond this current government and set an evidence-based foundation from which future climate policy can be built.
I can only begin to describe how desperately this bill is needed. To that end, I’d like to remind everyone of the major reports that have been published just in the last year alone. To start, there was the 2018 IPCC special report, in which the world’s leading climate scientists warned that there are only a dozen years for global warming to be kept at a maximum of 1.5 degrees Celsius, beyond which even half a degree will significantly worsen the risk of drought, floods, extreme heat and poverty for hundreds of millions of people.
A few months later, Canada’s Changing Climate Report was published by the federal government. The report noted that northern Canada is warming at twice the global rate and highlighted B.C. as being particularly vulnerable to drought, glacial loss, severe wildfires and sea level rise, which will salinate farmland.
Shortly after that, we had the report from the UN Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services that stated, in stark terms, that we are in the midst of an extinction crisis, with a million species likely disappearing within decades. The consequences of this will be devastating for ecosystems, stability and food production.
Then we got the report from the UN special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights. Professor Alston said: “The world is on course for climate apartheid, where the rich will buy their way out of the worst effects of global warming and the poor will suffer. Even under the best-case scenarios, hundreds of millions will face food insecurity, forced migration, disease and death. Staying the course will be disastrous for the global economy and put vast numbers of people into poverty.”
Then this summer, the province quietly released their strategic climate risk assessment for British Columbia. In it, severe wildfires, seasonal water shortages and heatwaves were the three highest-ranked risks facing the province in terms of severity, magnitude and likelihood. Ocean acidification, glacier mass loss and long-term water shortages also topped the list.
Just last week, the Climate Transparency analysis of G20 nations found that Canada is in the top three countries furthest off track from meeting their emissions targets. Our per-capita emissions are 18.9 tonnes. The G20 average is 7.5 tonnes.
We talk a lot about being environmentally conscious in B.C. and in Canada. But the data tells a very different story.
Politicians have a moral responsibility to think further into the future and govern not just for their term but for their children and their children’s grandchildren. This is the moon shot of our generation. Let’s talk about some of the policy logistics that will help us land it.
The main components of Bill 38 are as follows: a requirement for government to set an interim emissions target on the path to the legislated 2030 target which is 40 percent in greenhouse gas reductions below 2007 levels. This is similar to the interim target set for 2012 in 2016.
The bill will have a requirement for government to set separate 2030 sectoral targets following engagement with stakeholders, Indigenous peoples and communities throughout the province. This will make sure that the responsibility to reduce carbon pollution is effectively distributed across B.C.’s economy and between ministries. The Minister of Environment alone cannot tackle this challenge.
A requirement for government to table an annual report on actions taken to reduce carbon pollution along with their costs and how they will achieve the government’s legislative emissions reductions targets.
The annual reports will outline the latest emissions data and projections as well as actions planned for future years and the effect they are expected to have. It will also include a determination of climate risks our province is facing along with risk reduction policies and any mitigation or adaptation plans.
The bill will have a requirement for government to establish an independent advisory committee that will be modelled on the Climate Solutions and Clean Growth Advisory Council now that the council has fulfilled its mandate.
The committee will be made up of members from diverse areas of expertise in regions of the province and can provide advice to the minister on policies that can lead to further reductions, progress towards targets, opportunities for sustainable economic development, opportunities for climate mitigation and adaptation among other matters related to the act.
Lastly, this bill gives government the ability to set more detailed targets and other environmental standards for publicly owned buildings and vehicle fleets to help reduce emissions, improve environmental performance, save money and support innovation.
The Climate Change Accountability Act as currently written already includes legislated greenhouse gas reduction targets as well as a requirement to collect data for tracking emissions. But our targets are set ten years apart, and data is published on a two-year delay. Combine that with the four-year government mandate, and you create a situation where political parties spend the first two years blaming their predecessors for bad results and the next two years saying they are just getting started while making promises they can only fulfil if you vote them back in.
Then before you know it, the ten-year target is within sight, but by that time it is too late to substantively change your emissions trajectory. Bill 38 aims to cut through those excuses by shortening the time scale and increasing transparency. For example, by including interim targets again, we’ll be able to evaluate our progress prior to 2030. If it shows we’re on track, great. That adds credibility to government so they can continue their course.
If not, they will be responsible for correcting the trajectory prior to the end of the decade. By reporting emissions annually, the public will get a better sense of where emissions originate, which policies are working, which are not and how all of the above align with the next year’s fiscal forecast.
The existing act also already has a provision that allows the minister to establish sectoral targets, but it is written as an option. Section 1.4: “the minister may, by order, establish greenhouse gas emissions targets for individual sectors,” instead of a requirement. So it has gone unused.
The practise of using sectoral targets to help guide reductions is well established. New Zealand; Victoria, Australia; Germany and the U.K., for example, all have variations on the policy. New Zealand and Victoria, Australia, in particular, are good policy proxies for B.C. because of their comparable population size.
A commitment to set sectoral targets was also included in the minister’s mandate letter and the 2017 NDP platform. So its inclusion in Bill 38 should come as no surprise.
Ultimately, this bill is about basic good governance. It says that governments should follow the law. Governments should ensure every industry operates in accordance with the law and government should report back to British Columbians with accurate, timely data about the progress taxpayers are funding.
To understand why such a basic fundamental bill is so noteworthy and so important, one must consider the state of governance in the fossil fuel area, a political economy so intertwined that the roles have evolved to favour those who stand to gain the most. It is the politics of accommodation. It pivots on the threats of competitiveness, bends to meet demands of fossil fuel interests and is willing to sacrifice all else for their profit. The concentrated power of business as usual exists just to justify the short-term concentration of benefits among the few, even as it comes at the cost to the many and leads us all toward an increasingly catastrophic outcome.
But as academics Thomas Princen, Jack Manno and Pamela Martin write, “Burning fossil fuels has social and environmental consequences that must…be taken into account. These are real costs spread throughout society and borne mostly by those who never profit directly from fossil fuels.” They continue: “Decisions considered to be the subjects of debate are limited to conserving energy, keeping the prices affordable, siting infrastructure, encouraging discovery and development of new sources and cleaning up the messes — but never the decision about whether to extract in the first place.
“Given the environmental and societal consequences of fossil fuel dependence, energy decisions should be determined by a logic other than one based solely on industry profits….”
Instead, ensuring that every British Columbian has the conditions to live a healthy fulfilling life in a flourishing supportive environment should be the government’s most important responsibility. Again, to paraphrase Prince and Manno and Martin, just as tobacco went from being medicinal and cool to lethal and disgusting, the de-legitimization of fossil fuel recognizes that a substance once deemed net beneficial can come to be deemed net detrimental.
In the context of Bill 38 and government’s response to climate change, I think it’s worth considering how they respond to other public health threats. Let’s look at vaping. With vaping rates skyrocketing amongst teenagers, parents, teachers and governments are rightfully concerned. Decades of anti-smoking progress in the face of concerted and relentless lobbying efforts from the tobacco industry are being reversed. As we all well know, in addition to vaping-related lung disease, the longer-term impacts of nicotine addiction can be dire. Just last month B.C.’s provincial health officer confirmed the first probable case of vaping-related illness.
Less than four weeks later, government unveiled an ambitious and comprehensive suite of policy, regulatory, educational and taxation measures to address the issue, with the Minister of Health, the Minister of Education, Minister of Finance, the B.C. Lung Association and the Canadian Cancer Society standing united in their efforts to protect British Columbians from this health risk. That is good governance in action, and I applaud government for their decisive plan to protect youth.
It is challenging, however, to see their vaping reaction stand in such stark contrast to their endorsement of the LNG industry. Reports from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change have made it painfully clear that climate change is the largest public health challenge that we face, with only a few short years to steer away from catastrophic outcomes by dramatically reducing our greenhouse gas emissions starting now. Yet every member of the B.C. Liberals and the B.C. NDP voted in favour of a fossil fuel project that plans to drastically increase our emissions from 2023 through the year 2060, not only permitting their expansion but subsidizing them every step of the way.
LNG Canada, a project set to become the single biggest point source of emissions in our province, will pollute until after our children have retired. It will pollute the province our grandchildren are born into.
I appreciate there are important distinctions between smoking and fossil fuels that allow government to act definitively. For one, it is easier to make the connection between someone vaping and that same person ending up in hospital with acute lung disease. The immediate cause and effect is clear. That said, government also takes the nicotine addiction aspect of vaping seriously, declaring it a public health hazard, with plans to regulate its content level going forward. Nicotine, much like fossil fuel combustion, has a longer lag between the use and the connected harm. Even still, government strives to regulate nicotine because of its future damage.
Industry lobbying efforts are also important aspects of these files. In one, we are discerning enough to recognize that there are some legitimate uses for the product while also maintaining they should not be used excessively throughout society. We trust the guidance of medical professionals who confirm that vaping can be a helpful smoking replacement or cessation tool, and we trust our gut when industry tells us that cotton candy–flavoured, bubble-gum-pink vaping products peddled by models on social media are not aimed at attracting youth buyers. Taking both into account, we tailor our regulations appropriately. With climate change, however, we seem to, at best, be lacking the urgency required, and, at worst, be working on both sides of the issue.
Where government’s choices in response to vaping have been complete and absolute, geared to taking us to a place where our children are not put at risk, the government’s climate response is to build a credible road map and then allow for a growing oil and gas sector. Which brings us back to the importance of good governance.
Instead of the politics of industry accommodation, we need a new governance story that recognizes interdependence, a belief that my well-being is directly related to your well-being, to the well-being of the river, the forest, the salmon, and to the well-being of children, an understanding and acceptance that what we do to the world, we do to ourselves. Even if we can physically survive after the last orca or the last caribou or the last steelhead has gone extinct, when life around us withers and dies, so, too, do we.
We are immensely fortunate to live in British Columbia. It is, quite literally, one of the best locations on the planet from which to navigate the climate-related challenges ahead. We have access to boundless renewable energy, fibre and water like no other jurisdiction in the world. We have incredible potential to create clean, renewable energy and a forestry sector that could be sustainable.
Transitioning to a carbon-neutral world doesn’t mean going back to the Dark Ages. It means transitioning to a cleaner, safer, more sustainable society where economic, social and environmental concerns are central in all of our decision-making. I applaud the work by local governments around the province and across the country that have recognized that now is the time to take action on climate change. In particular, it’s heartening to see the recognition that climate action is not limited to reducing emissions or levelling up renewable energy. On Sunday, it was reported that 50 mayors and councillors from across Canada have signed the Victoria call to action, a promise to build communities that can react to climate change.
Recognizing that helping our communities become more connected, creating a greater sense of belonging for all citizens, ensuring that our neighbourhoods are places where we know that we are looking out for each other and where we work to deepen our empathy for each other, engaging in decolonization and building equity — all of these are essential aspects of climate action. And the outcomes not only benefit our biosphere. They benefit each and every one of us in our day-to-day lives.
Climate change is the result of an imbalance. Human activity has resulted in an overabundance of greenhouse gases in our atmosphere, which is undermining the very delicate balance of our global climate system. But there are other imbalances that we can and must address in this time of transformation: the imbalance of inequality, the overabundance of isolation in our communities, the hollowing out of neighbourhoods while housing becomes a commodity to invest in instead of homes to raise families in.
We have so much to gain. The shift that we can — the shift that we must — take can be the vehicle to deliver a more just, equitable and healthy society in which we put the health of our planet, the health of our communities and neighbourhoods and our own health at the centre of our decision-making.
To capitalize on these possibilities, we need to start planning beyond the next election cycle. We need to focus on building a new economy that works for all of us, not just the privileged few.
That’s what Bill 38, ultimately, is about. It is the foundation for what comes next.