Vancouverites awoke to some of the worst-rated air quality on the planet in mid-September. Carried in by southerly winds, smoke from wildfires devastating the west coast of the United States during week after week of record-breaking temperatures caused the quality of the city’s air to plunge overnight and blocked out the following Saturday’s morning sky.
The climate crisis poses a specific threat to the rich biodiversity within British Columbia — the province has been found to be at great risk to severe wildfire seasons, ocean acidification and glacier loss. With the climate crisis being one of the four major issues British Columbians are concerned about this provincial election, The Ubyssey summarized each major party’s key climate platform points in an effort to assist your decision on October 24.
In 2018, the NDP launched CleanBC, a climate plan outlining how the government will achieve the province’s 40 per cent greenhouse gas reduction target by 2030, based on 2007 levels. The party’s 2020 platform largely mirrors the CleanBC plan.
In early October, NDP leader John Horgan announced that a re-elected New Democratic government would pass legislation mandating that BC achieves net-zero emissions by 2050.
“Meeting this ambitious target of net-zero emissions will help us create good jobs through the recovery while we reduce air pollution,” said Horgan in the announcement.
CleanBC predominantly focuses on clean and renewable energy, with a major tenet on zero-emission forms of transportation. The plan aims for every new car sold in BC to be a zero-emission vehicle by 2040 and currently offers up to $8,000 in rebates for those purchasing a new electric or hybrid vehicle.
The NDP’s platform expands on this, offering an income-based incentive model on both new and used electric vehicles. If re-elected, the NDP would expand right-to-charge legislation that would put more electric vehicle charging infrastructure into apartment buildings, as well as remove PST on e-bikes.
Other CleanBC policies include providing rebates for home energy retrofits, assisting remote communities in reducing their dependence on diesel and developing a framework for carbon capture and storage.
The NDP has committed to reviewing old-growth forest protection standards. This September, the party banned the logging of almost 353,000 hectares of at-risk and old-growth forests.
Other platform points include pushing for BC to get fair rates on the bulk sale of water and banning single-use plastics.
While some aspects of the NDP’s climate policy have garnered praise from climate strategists — including amending the Climate Change Accountability Act so the government communicates with British Columbians on its climate change initiatives yearly and becoming the first province to enshrine the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in law — critics argue that emissions targets without action constitutes greenwashing.
Within a year and a half of becoming premier after the 2017 election, Horgan oversaw enabling legislation for a massive, $40-billion liquefied natural gas (LNG) project in northern BC. Before 2017, the NDP slammed the then-majority BC Liberal government’s work on the Pacific Northwest LNG project.
“Even with the lowest-emitting LNG terminal in the world, emissions from oil and gas production and liquefaction [at the LNG Canada project] would exceed the CleanBC target in 2050 by 160 per cent, even if all other parts of BC’s economy reduced emissions to zero by 2035,” reads a July report from the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives think tank.
In other words, the LNG project emissions are completely incompatible with BC reaching any of the carbon targets the NDP have set.
During his tenure, Horgan has backed the Site C dam project, which would power LNG and other fracking projects. Environmental advocacy groups have also criticized the BC NDP for subsidizing $830 million in fossil fuel production and consumption between 2017/18. However, Horgan stated during the BC leaders’ debate that he would consider cancelling the Site C dam project “if the science tells us and the economics tells us it’s the wrong way to proceed.”
BC Green Party
The BC Green Party platform promises to invest in communities so they’re more sustainable and resistant to future shocks stemming from the climate crisis. Many of its platform objectives focus on an economic recovery based on developing a green and sustainable economy during and after COVID-19.
If elected, the Green Party promises to work with local governments “to drive development of more walkable neighbourhoods, complete communities, and healthy community design” — including funding bike lanes and community spaces, investing in public transit expansions between cities, diversifying farming in BC to make agriculture more climate resilient and building public electric vehicle charging infrastructure along highways.
The Greens are proposing a $1-billion strategic investment fund for business innovation, with particular emphasis on innovations that assist in shifting to a zero-carbon economy. They would also establish a $500-million sustainable job fund and implement a just transition program to guarantee oil and gas workers a job in a green economy.
They have committed to BC becoming carbon neutral by 2045 and have set interim targets to ensure the government stays on track.
The party would immediately reinstate the scheduled carbon tax increase that the BC NDP paused during the COVID-19 pandemic and end all oil and gas subsidies, while directing those funds to the aforementioned investments. The Greens remain opposed to LNG projects.
BC Green Party leader Sonia Furstenau has criticized the NDP’s promise of net-zero emissions by 2050, claiming the promise is baseless without a clear plan for achieving it.
“CleanBC only gets us 75 per cent of the way to our 2030 targets,” said Furstenau in a media release from the beginning of October. “We hoped to be in the Legislature this fall to hold them to account to close this gap. Instead, Mr. Horgan forced an unnecessary election and is out on the campaign trail making more promises that he has no plan to actually keep.”
However, while the Green Party’s climate plan is ambitious, many of its points lack the specificity needed to judge just how feasible its promises are. For example, when discussing the long-term losses facing public transportation infrastructure such as TransLink and BC Ferries due to COVID-19, its platform simply states it will be “dealt with.”
Other platform points may clash with immediate COVID-19 recovery and long-term sustainability.
The ethical removal of fossil fuel subsidies is much more complex than it may initially sound. Research has shown removing fossil fuel subsidies can slightly slow the growth of carbon dioxide emissions in oil-exporting countries such as Canada. But this would also increase the cost of fossil fuels, placing these fuels out of reach to low-income people before affordable, clean energy is more widely available.
BC Liberal Party
Leader Andrew Wilkinson’s BC Liberals frame their climate approach as one that establishes BC as a global leader in the clean energy economy while blasting the NDP–Green coalition’s approach to climate policy.
Some specifics of their platform include working with the federal government to utilize research in carbon capture as a clean energy solution, encouraging the retrofitting of homes and businesses and prioritizing energy efficiency while developing the provincial building code.
The BC Liberal platform outlines fish and wildlife protections, stating that the BC Liberals will implement wetland protection for no net loss of wetlands in BC. They’ll also work to control invasive species populations in BC ecosystems and use hunting and other wildlife fees to fund wildlife enhancement efforts.
If elected, the party promises to reduce the impact of climate-related disasters such as wildfires and floods, but does not specify how. The BC Liberal party supports LNG and Site C and pledges to get the controversial Trans Mountain pipeline built.
The BC Liberal plan suffers from many of the criticisms of hypocrisy the NDP plan faces — it’s in favour of “expediting” the extractive projects most responsible for contributing to the climate crisis in the province, including LNG projects, and it hints at slowing carbon tax increases.
“The BC Liberals’ plan to expedite liquefied natural gas development is concerning, especially without a commitment to meet climate targets and establish sector-specific targets to reduce carbon pollution,” said Karen Tam Wu, BC director of the Pembina Institute in a media release.
“There is no wiggle room in BC’s carbon budget for any new projects, such as new LNG plants, that increase BC’s carbon pollution.”
While the parties’ climate platforms may seem dense and overwhelming, many of us belong to the generations that will be most impacted by the consequences of environmental degradation.
This election will decide who sets climate policy for the next four years out of what scientists say are the ten we have left to prevent irreversible damage from the climate crisis.