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B.C. failing to treat climate change like an emergency, says action group

Report says B.C. making ‘minor progress’ in some areas, failing in others
UBCIC President Grand Chief Stewart Phillip speaks in Vancover on Nov. 7, 2023, as one of 550 signatories of a report calling on B.C. to take greater action on climate change. (Jane Skrypnek/Black Press Media)

A climate emergency action group says B.C.’s continued expansion of oil and gas projects will make it impossible for the province to meet upcoming greenhouse gas emissions reduction targets.

The BC Climate Emergency Campaign released its second annual progress report on Tuesday (Nov. 7), noting that while the provincial government has made some improvements since 2022, it is far from treating climate change as an emergency.

The report, which was signed onto by 550 B.C. organizations and groups, graded the province on how well it has met 10 action points. On seven of them, the report said B.C. has made minor progress, while on three, it said B.C. has failed.

“I don’t know what it’s going to take, quite frankly, to wake people up above the severity of the predicament we’re in,” said Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, president of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs and one of the report signatories. He said he finds it astonishing that governments aren’t acting with absolute urgency, despite the floods, droughts and wildfires that make it evident that’s what is needed.

“I am very, very, very fearful about what’s to come,” he said.

The primary failure highlighted in the report is in regards to B.C.’s support of liquefied natural gas (LNG) facilities and the fracking required to supply them. The report calls LNG “a carbon bomb” and says if B.C. goes through with allowing LNG Canada, Woodfibre LNG and Cedar LNG to become operational, the three facilities will make it impossible for the province to meet its own emissions reduction goals.

Peter McCartney, a climate campaigner with report signatory the Wilderness Committee, said climate action requires phasing out fossil fuel extraction.

“This is hardly a radical position. It’s what all the international experts and agencies tell us. B.C. will continue to fail until it gets with the program.”

Peter McCartney, a climate campaigner with the Wilderness Committee, speaks out against B.C.’s support of LNG, in Vancouver on Nov. 7, 2023. (Jane Skrypnek/Black Press Media)

The action group is calling on B.C. to stop new fossil fuel expansion and infrastructure. It is also asking the government to reduce the consumption of fossil fuels by accelerating the transition to zero emission buildings and transportation.

The group says buildings are responsible for 12 per cent of B.C.’s GHG emissions and that is only set to increase with FortisBC having signed up 10,000 new customers in 2022. To stop that growth, the group says B.C. must eliminate fossil fuel heating by 2035, by retrofitting old buildings and only using clean energy in new ones.

The transportation sector is an even greater emitter, accounting for 37 per cent of B.C.’s GHG emissions. The climate action group says B.C. needs to redirect funds from highway expansion to active transportation and transit. It applauded B.C.’s work on mandating zero emission vehicles, but says the province needs to move up the timeline from 2035 to 2027 for light vehicles and to 2030 for heavier duty ones.

The group also commended B.C. and First Nations for signing a $1 billion agreement with the federal government to help conserve and protect land. It says this major announcement is offset by B.C.’s failure to put an end to old-growth logging, however.

READ ALSO: Feds promise $500M to ‘fast track’ old-growth, habitat protection work in B.C.

Making these changes is costly work, and the group says B.C. is far from spending enough. Former World Bank chief economist Nicholas Stern recommends governments commit two per cent of their GDP to climate mitigation. In B.C., the group says that would amount to $6 billion a year, yet the province only promised $1.6 billion in its latest budget.

The group says the price of not acting on climate change will be far more costly, however.

“BC is burning” t-shirts are handed out in Vancouver on Nov. 7, 2023, at the release of the BC Climate Emergency Campaign’s 2023 Progress Report. (Jane Skrypnek/Black Press Media)

One area where that is becoming evident is in health care, according to report signatory Dr. Melissa Lem, a family physician and the president of the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment. She said all throughout the summer she was hearing from colleagues who were seeing an influx of people with asthma in their emergency rooms and a surge in the number of patients experiencing anxiety, depression and PTSD from fleeing wildfires.

“The World Health Organization has been saying for years that climate change is the greatest threat to public health of the 21st century. So why is the B.C. government not treating it like the health emergency it is?” she asked Tuesday.

READ ALSO: Doctors, nurses want B.C. to limit wildfire, climate impacts of LNG industry

To help cover the cost of the climate action that is needed, the group suggests making the industries that profit from fossil fuel pollution pay for their contribution to climate damage.

The groups says, overall, it has seen B.C. make some positive steps towards addressing climate change in the last year, but that most of them are reactive – funding emergency management, adaptation and community resilience – rather than treating the root of the problem. The group noted the way B.C. reports on its own progress is also problematic.

“B.C.’s Climate Change Accountability Reports overwhelmingly focus on positive aspects of government action with limited scope, and downplay or ignore the big challenges that will prevent B.C. from meeting its targets,” the group’s report reads.

Commenting ahead of the report’s release on Tuesday morning, Minister of Environment and Climate Change Strategy George Heyman said B.C. has a leading climate change strategy.

“We take these issues very seriously,” he said.

For the BC Climate Emergency Campaign, it’s not seriously enough.

“We are facing an extraordinary challenge that requires extraordinary leadership. And we are calling on the B.C. government to step up,” said report signatory Tracey Saxby, the executive director of environmental organization My Sea to Sky.

About the Author: Jane Skrypnek

Hi, I'm a provincial reporter with Black Press Media, where I've worked since 2020.
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