Sybil Seitzinger: B.C. moves the dial on climate action

Renewable Energy

The Oshawa’s General Motors car assembly plant in Oshawa.


Climate change is not tomorrow’s reality because it is here today. Extreme weather is becoming the new normal — take your pick from recent events: this summer’s record wildfires in B.C. and California, last month’s one-in-100-year rainfall in Sydney, or the unprecedented bushfires currently burning in neighbouring Queensland, to name a few.

Clearly, we need to prepare for these physical changes that climate change brings, and as other recent events show, we also need to adapt to economic impacts.

An example is the 2,500-strong workforce of General Motors in Oshawa, facing closure of their gasoline car assembly plant. The widespread reaction to GM’s decision has been shock, but maybe it shouldn’t have been. Last year, the automotive giant announced a shift toward a zero-emissions future, following in the tread of many other manufacturers, some of whom are electrifying their entire fleets by 2020. Auto companies are adapting their business model because the writing is on the wall.

Six countries in Europe and India have announced dates to ban the sale of new gas and diesel cars. In its CleanBC climate-change plan last week, the provincial government has also committed to phasing in 100 per cent clean-energy models for all new vehicle sales by 2040. Crucially, the plan also commits to expanding electric vehicle technician training and clean vehicle development programs.

The B.C. plan, if fully implemented, would significantly reduce emissions across the transportation, buildings and industrial sectors. The measures are specific and therefore actionable, with new requirements to boost clean electricity supply, create net-zero energy buildings, reduce personal carbon footprints and support carbon-capture and storage technology.

Some of the plan’s measures won’t be plain sailing. For example, increasing the low-carbon fuel standard to 20 per cent and boosting the renewable portion in residential and industrial natural gas consumption accounts for a third of the plan’s emissions reductions. But doing this will require development of commercial-scale processing capacity, itself running on clean energy and sourcing of supply. It’s a shortfall that’s occurring on a global scale, with switching to renewable fuels being the holy grail of many climate plans.

With a commitment to reduce carbon emissions 40 per cent below 2007 levels by 2030, this plan will get B.C. 75 per cent of the way. Details on the remaining 25 per cent are due in 2020.

In the drive to reduce emissions, governments must not lose sight of climate-change adaptation Adaptation is about recognizing that B.C.’s recent smoke-filled summers due to forest fires will re-occur, that health services need to prepare and that tourism will be affected. It’s about food security, knowing that imports from drought-stricken California may not be sustainable and about finding new sources. We also need to create climate-friendly investment products that will free up the capital needed to drive investment in clean technology, and therefore create new types of jobs.

As much as some want to turn the clock back, the future is not coal or gasoline vehicles or even LNG, which has a limited life as a bridging fuel. Renewable energy are expected to be cheaper than fossil fuels by 2020 and low-carbon technology is where global markets will be. B.C. and Canada needs to be ready.

In the words of former U.S. president Abraham Lincoln, the best way to predict the future is to create it. Carbon emissions need to fall rapidly to avoid the most dangerous impacts of climate change. Just as crucially, we need to adapt our communities and economy so Canadians — whether they live in Vancouver or Oshawa — can succeed in a low-carbon world.

Sybil Seitzinger is executive-director of the Pacific Institute for Climate Solution.

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