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B.C. ill prepared to cope with climate change: auditor general

B.C. not on track to meet GHG reduction targets, and it's in good company
The Trudeau government’s decision earlier this year to take upstream emissions into account for environmental assessments has dramatically altered the landscape for the roughly 20 LNG projects proposed for B.C.’s coast.

B.C. will not meet its 2020 greenhouse gas emission targets and is not adequately prepared to mitigate the impact of fire, flooding, and drought precipitated by climate change,  B.C. Auditor General Carol Bellringer says.

In an audit of B.C. climate change policies and the province’s ability to address both risk and adaptation, Bellinger confirmed what the B.C. government already has admitted: it is not on track to meet its interim 2020 targets of reducing greenhouse gases by 33% below 2007 levels by 2020.

But it’s also unlikely to meet its longer-range targets either, Bellringer concludes, with its current climate change policies, and says carbon taxes alone are insufficient tools for reducing GHGs.

“The trajectory to 2050 is indicating it will not be met with what’s currently in the plans, and that’s even before you take into account the LNG,” Bellringer said at a press conference Thursday, February 15.

Then again, few jurisdictions in the world are on track to meet their respective climate change targets.

Even Germany, often held up as the climate change poster child, has considered scrapping its 2020 interim targets – an acknowledgement that it won’t meet them.

According to Climate Action Tracker, the only two countries in the world that are track to be compatible with the Paris Agreement are Morocco and Gambia. Even Norway, a leader in clean energy, gets an “insufficient” rating from Climate Action Tracker.

In other words, few countries in the world seem to be on track to meet the commitments they made under the Kyoto Protocol and Paris Agreement.

A paper in Nature last year says that all major industrialized countries are failing to meet their climate change commitments and suggested that too many countries are focused on “numerical targets” and should focus more concrete actions.

B.C.’s new interim target for GHG reductions is 40% below 2007 levels by 2030. Bellringer points out carbon taxes alone won’t get B.C. anywhere close to that reduction, saying carbon taxes alone would account for only 5% to 15%.

“If the target is 30 or 40 per cent, then obviously you need to have other initiatives as well,” Bellringer said.

Even if B.C. did manage to drastically reduce its GHGs, it won’t prevent the ravages of climate change, Bellringer warned.

“Even if all of B.C.’s emissions were reduced to zero tomorrow, we would still face significant climate change, so B.C. needs a sound adaptation plan to reduce the risk of climate change,” she said.

The report points to last summer’s wildfires and flooding in the Okanagan as recent examples of natural disasters caused by climate change.

Bellringer’s office audited six provincial ministries to determine where the province may be falling short in terms of both risk mitigation and adaptation.

“Overall, we found that the B.C. government is not adequately managing the risks posed by climate change,” Bellringer said.

She noted outdated floodplain maps, data gaps resulting from a lack of climate monitoring stations in Northern B.C., and insufficient monitoring on smaller rivers and streams.

Dykes now in place are not likely to be sufficient to deal with flooding, Bellringer concludes, and said that the province needs to do a better job of reducing “fuel” (i.e. dead wood) in B.C. forests in areas most at risk for fires.

Bellringer made 15 recommendations for improving risk mitigation and two for adaptation. The NDP government immediately accepted Bellringer’s report and recommendations.

"We agree with the auditor general's report that stronger action must be taken to both adapt to and mitigate the impacts of climate change,” Environment Minister George Heyman said in a press release. “We accept the recommendations in the report and will work to ensure their intent is achieved.”

With 12.8% of Canada’s population, B.C. produces 9% of Canada’s GHGs.