Friday, November 13, 2015

BC's Climate Leadership Team Readies Its Report

Vicky Husband: Committee shouldn’t greenwash government plans

by Vicky Husband

In May, Premier Christy Clark named 19 people to a new Climate Leadership Team that included representatives from provincial and municipal governments, industry, academia, the environmental community and First Nations. She said the team was to “consider the best actions” to get a lagging B.C. back “on track” in reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

November 30, the deadline for the committee to submit its recommendations, fast approaches. On that day, international climate change talks begin in Paris and Clark will likely be there boasting of B.C.’s green credentials.

For that reason, it is vital that the team’s members — particularly its environmental reps — not legitimize a “clean energy” plan that could set back renewable energy initiatives by decades and is an affront to aboriginal rights and interests.

Take, for example, a discussion paper on climate leadership released in July by the B.C. government and reviewed by the committee.

“The British Columbia government recognizes that more actions are needed to keep pace and achieve our targets, as our economy grows and diversifies. For example, the province is preparing to develop a liquefied natural gas industry over the next decade. LNG could reduce global emissions by replacing the use of coal in fast-growing economies such as China and India.”

To date, none of the committee’s respected environmental appointees — Tzeporah Berman, former co-director of Greenpeace International’s global climate and energy program, Matt Horne, the Pembina Institute’s regional director for B.C., and Merran Smith, executive director of Clean Energy Canada — have publicly questioned in their capacity as committee members how building just one LNG plant in B.C. is even remotely compatible with “clean energy objectives.”

LNG and clean energy are, in fact, completely incompatible. Higher greenhouse emissions and more contaminated water are a certainty with LNG, which will require vastly more natural gas drilling and fracking.

Nor have they spoken as one about the $9-billion Site C dam. Land clearing in preparation for the dam’s construction has begun, despite a growing roster of organizations opposed to the project, including the Union of B.C. Municipalities. Nowhere in the 22-page discussion paper is the proposed hydroelectric dam even mentioned.

Could that glaring omission have something to do with government plans to harness “clean” power from a new dam to power up increased LNG production? Such a scenario would see massive amounts of fossil fuel shipped across the Pacific where theoretically it could be used to offset the burning of coal. If this is the case, the committee’s environmental reps should forcefully oppose such plans before Clark commands the spotlight in Paris.

Site C’s price tag alone is reason enough for Berman, Horne and Smith to voice concerns. At a 2014 international symposium on energy transition in Hong Kong, academic researchers presented data on cost overruns at 61 hydroelectric dams around the world. On average, the overruns exceeded 70 per cent. Translation? Site C could cost more than $15 billion.

Even a fraction of that money invested in solar, wind and geothermal installations would dramatically diversify B.C.’s renewable energy portfolio while moving us away from an overreliance on hydroelectric power. This should be a top environmental and climate priority, as opposed to building an unnecessary dam that, in the latest wrinkle, the government now suggests could help Alberta reduce its dependence on coal-fired electricity.

Site C is opposed by local First Nations who stand to lose lands along 107 kilometres of the Peace River and its tributaries, to say nothing of the socially, ecologically and economically ruinous loss of some of the best farmland in B.C.

Under the circumstances, Berman, Horne and Smith must not ignore Site C when their mandate is to “provide advice and recommendations” that “further the province’s government-to-government relationships with First Nations while constructively finding climate solutions.”

Site C is not a climate solution. Any alleged climate action plan that fails to even mention the dam, let alone its numerous renewable energy alternatives, is dishonest. The Climate Action Team’s environmental appointees ought to say so — and well before the Paris talks.

“Clean” hydropower to power-up expanded production of some of the dirtiest fossil fuel on Earth? If that’s Victoria’s plan, let the government do the greenwashing, not the Climate Leadership Team’s respected environmental members.

Vicky Husband is the former conservation chairwoman of the Sierra Club of British Columbia.

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