British Columbians will not find out before next spring’s provincial election if the province has adequate programs in place to adapt to climate change.
Earlier this month Auditor General Carol Bellringer released a list of projects her office intends to investigate in the next three years and, among the hot button issues — ranging from grizzly bear management to the Site C dam — is whether government is adequately managing risks posed by climate change.
In the wake of heavy criticism of Premier Christy Clark’s August release of the province’s “Climate Leadership Plan” — which does not include carbon tax increases or set emission targets for 2030 — some were hoping that Bellringer would release the report early next year.
“It is a question I am being asked, but the timing is not going to work,” Bellringer said in an interview with DeSmog Canada.
“We are probably going to have finished our field work by spring, but we won’t be able to issue it before the election,” she said.
It is likely the report will be completed by fall of 2017 and will then be tabled in the Legislature, Bellringer said.
Audits of provincial management of climate change risks are being conducted simultaneously across the country and individual reports will then be wrapped into Canada’s first comprehensive national audit of climate policies.
It is the first time provincial and federal auditors have worked together to compile a common audit on any issue, indicating the importance of the issue, Bellringer said.
The federal report, likely to be completed late 2017, will look at how provinces are coping with climate change, both through restricting emissions and adapting to the new reality.
Some provinces will take a look at both mitigation and adaptation while others will delve deeper into one of the areas. The B.C. report will take an in-depth look at adaptation, Bellringer said.
“There’s quite a bit of information about mitigation. It’s easier to find out what emission targets are. It’s harder to pull together the various programs that may be in place around adaptation, so we decided it was going to be a more useful thing for us to work on,” said Bellringer, who, until the report is tabled, cannot discuss information collected or speculate on how B.C. measures up against other provinces.
Sybil Seitzinger, executive director of the B.C.-based Pacific Institute for Climate Solutions, applauded the decision to look at adaptation.
“Many areas of B.C. are already being impacted by the changing climate. A comprehensive adaptation plan will be important in the next phase of the B.C climate leadership plan,” she said.
“Attention to B.C.’s communities and businesses in the coastal and northern regions will be particularly important.”
The auditor general’s office is not given access to confidential cabinet documents, but uses analyses, experts and government documents to come up with base information, so B.C.’s Climate Leadership Plan will be one of the documents under scrutiny.
Lack of substance in the misnamed plan should give the auditor general’s office plenty of food for thought, according to George Heyman, NDP environment critic.
“I would like to see the auditor general look at the reality of the B.C. government’s and Christy Clark’s inaction on the climate file since she took office… .I think the auditor general should assess the premier’s rhetoric against the facts, ” Heyman told DeSmog Canada.
“Her climate procrastination plan skips over the 2020 targets and ignores the 2030 targets… The premier claims to be on track to reduce emissions, but people can see that emissions have been rising steadily since she took office.”
After the plan was launched, Seitzinger said in a speech that it would not take B.C. even halfway towards its legislated 13-million tonne 2050 emissions target.
Environment Minister Mary Polak did not respond to interview requests from DeSmog, but told the CBC that a more comprehensive plan will be developed after meeting with the federal and other provincial governments.
B.C. is missing out on the opportunity to grow the economy through green jobs and, instead, provincial policies are geared to supporting the fossil fuel industry, Heyman said.
New Democrats are holding consultations and will probably be ready to release their climate action plan this fall, said Heyman, who would not speculate on whether an NDP government would increase the carbon tax but said the tax should be restructured to support green initiatives and transit, rather than subsidizing tax cuts for rich British Columbians.
B.C., Alberta, Ontario and Quebec have either carbon taxes or cap-and-trade laws to limit emissions, but federal Environment Minister Catherine McKenna said during an interview on CTV’s Question Period that the federal government is ready to impose a carbon price regime on provinces that don’t adequately regulate their own emissions.
Photo: Province of British Columbia