B.C.'s greenhouse gases ticked up with economy

B.C.’s greenhouse gases (GHGs) increased 1.6 per cent in 2015 over 2014, according to a provincial government inventory quietly released last month.

The Climate Action Secretariat states it was released in the fall of 2017, but Jens Wieting, forests and climate campaigner for the Sierra Club, said the B.C. government confirmed it was not actually posted publicly until Dec. 15, 2017.

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Oddly, the Climate Action Secretariat states that GHGs in 2015 were 61.6 million tonnes carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e). In fact, the inventory shows it was 63.3 Mt CO2e. That’s up from 62.3 Mt CO2e in 2014.

Over the last 10 years, B.C.’s GHGs fell 4.9 per cent, but rose 2.3 per cent over three years.

“B.C.’s latest emissions data marks years of failure to reduce emissions by more than a token amount,” Wieting said.

“Ten years after the previous government legislated the target to reduce emissions by 33 per cent from 2007 levels by 2020 we are essentially in the same place we started.”

Carbon tax critics may seize on the data to demonstrate that the tax isn’t working. But when B.C.’s GHG fluctuations are tracked on a graph, it becomes clear that the biggest factor in either pushing up or bringing down GHGs is the economy.

The biggest drop in GHGs occurred in the two years following the recession of 2009. B.C.’s economy began to heat up in 2015, and since then has led the country in economic growth, which helps explain why the province's GHGs ticked upwards in 2015. It is very likely that GHGs would have continued to increase in 2016 and 2017, given B.C.'s continued economic growth. There is generally a two-year lag in reporting on GHGs.

“It’s important to note, when we’re thinking about the effect of the B.C. carbon tax, in the absence of that tax, emissions would have been even higher,” said Dale Beugin, executive director for the Ecofiscal Commission.

“You hear people pointing out these upward tocks in GHG emissions and they say, ‘Well, the B.C. tax isn’t working. Emissions are going up. This is a failed policy.’ You need to think about what emissions would have been in the absence of policy, and good statistical research says that emissions would have been five to 15 per cent higher in the absence of the tax.”

Starting in April, B.C.'s carbon tax will increase to $35 per tonne from $30 per tonne.

ghgchart
On a per capita basis, provinces like B.C. and Quebec, which have large amounts of hydro power, generally have lower GHG profiles, compared with provinces like Saskatchewan, which burns coal for about half of its power.
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