Too Timid A Response Considering the Climate Change Consequences
Bill Henderson

February 14, 2007


Premier Campbell and his Liberal government are to be applauded for addressing the climate change challenge with the green energy initiatives in the new budget. But if the worst climate change possibilities are to be avoided the new emission reduction targets are woefully inadequate. The Liberals are proposing a 33% reduction in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from present levels by 2020 but the emerging scientific consensus is that a 90% reduction of GHG emissions is needed by 2030.

The Liberals are proposing government carbon neutrality by 2010, complete CO2 sequestering from any coal fired power and very laudable emissions targets for all energy generation in BC, but they are still subsidizing the oil and gas industry, still planning increased spending on car infrastructure, and - bottom line - are still committed to growing the present unsustainable economy. This will make achieving the already inadequate GHG targets difficult if not impossible.

The emerging scientific consensus is that a temperature rise of more than 2 degrees above pre-industrial levels risks the increasing probability of runaway climate change as present carbon sinks start to add CO2 and methane to the atmosphere. Runaway climate change would almost certainly mean the extinction of humanity and most of the species we recognize as nature.

This means keeping GHG levels below 450 parts per million in the atmosphere. Given carbon cycle time lags there is already more GHG emissions in the pipeline. And we are already several decades late in beginning the needed change to a clean energy economy. The bottom line must be a 90% emissions reduction by 2030 (See George Monbiot's HEAT, chapter one, for the science explaining the runaway climate change danger and the full quantification of this necessary emission reduction target.)

Canadians are just waking up to the serious dangers of climate change and by the end of this year there will be no ignoring the 2 degree scientific consensus. Unfortunately, the inadequate, halfway Liberal emission reduction policies may lull British Columbians into thinking that their government is leading in fighting climate change. Like California, BC will be one of the leading emission reduction jurisdictions, but because the reductions do not cut emissions deeply enough the result will probably just wrongfoot the public with an illusion of climate change leadership.

Furthermore, citizens of the rich, developed world have huge GHG footprints - Canadians have an annual 19 ton per capita footprint vs the less than 2 ton global average needed to keep below the 2 degree bottom line. The present accumulation of GHGs has been almost totally produced by the developed world. We owe a substantial reduction in our GHG footprint and we need to show rapidly developing countries like China and India that there is a sustainable clean energy development path instead of their ambitions for a 20 ton lifestyle for their citizens.

What is needed is an emergency, conscious decision to get off of the fossil fuel economy path as quickly as possible, not merely a cosmetic "Clean Air Act' style tinkering with business as usual. This will mean a major restructuring of our present socio-economy but it doesn't have to mean economic and societal collapse. We are rich and resource fortunate. There is a possible clean economy with quality lifestyles with open-ended wealth creation opportunity. But we won't get there continuing down the fossil fuel path, continuing the drawdown and sprawl growth economy that fossil fuels made possible. There must be a conscious, consensual plan that organizes and nurtures BC unblocking rapid and massive change.

We don't need a throwback, heavily centralized economy, but we do need full accounting so that markets work, and government innovation and power to effectively regulate so that path dependence may be overcome and so that change of a necessary scale becomes possible.

The Campbell government is joining with California (and probably at least Washington and Oregon too) in developing emission reduction strategies. This should lead to increasing awareness amongst policy makers of the 2 degree, 450 ppm - 90% by 2030 bottom line, and, hopefully, the need for governance innovation - a new green energy, global, New Deal for only one possible example.

The Campbell government should be commended for starting to address climate change. But considering: "the more timid our response is, the harsher the consequences will be" the policies put forth in the throne speech are far, far too timid and as Canadians will learn this year, time is far too precious for timid steps at this late date. 90% by 2030 is the all important bottom line.


Green Thoughts


Sustained Yield