A call for climate action

Leadership requires taking responsibility for our full carbon-footprint

By Ana Simeon and Jens Wieting
Times Colonist, 

Against the backdrop of record temperatures blistering North America and record ice melt in the Arctic, the B.C. government unflinchingly supports new coal mines, fracking projects and unsustainable logging rates without paying attention to the consequences for the atmosphere.

Ignoring the extent of our growing carbon footprint is becoming easy: The provincial emissions tally selectively accounts for only a portion of emissions originating in B.C., leaving entire sectors of the province’s economy and land use out of the reckoning. It shrugs off the responsibility for the emissions created by the fossil fuels we export, and tucks away the dramatically increasing emissions from forest lands as a memo item.

A new Sierra Club B.C. report – Emissions Impossible? – shows that when these “missing” emissions are folded back into the equation, the grand total is 250 million tonnes of carbon emissions in 2010, four times higher than the official tally (62 million tonnes). Meanwhile, leading scientists warn that current emission trends could lead to catastrophic four degrees of warming as early as 2060.

Earlier this year, the B.C. government reported that official emissions got reduced by 4.5 per cent between 2007 and 2010, a modest step toward the 33 per cent reduction target that we are legally required to meet by 2020.

But by disregarding the carbon load of two major sectors of the economy and land use – fossil-fuel exports and forests – B.C. has built two major blind-spots into its decision-making that, if unaddressed, will affect us for decades to come.

The plans for shale fracking, coal mining proposals and the proposed Enbridge pipeline will be much easier to sleepwalk into if their climate impact has been excised out of the reckoning.

How much carbon is at stake? If proposed coal and shale-gas development for export go ahead these projects would result in 115 million tonnes of uncounted emissions and 177 million tonnes carbon dioxide equivalent from leaking methane from shale gas development.

B.C.’s influence over the proposed Enbridge pipeline will decide the fate of another 100 million tonnes of uncounted annual emissions.

And forests? In 2010, uncounted emissions from B.C.’s forests were, for the first time, higher than our official emissions: 82 million tonnes compared to 62 million tonnes. These emissions increased by a staggering 363 per cent over the last 10 years, mainly driven by climatechange impacts such as increasing fires and the mountain pine beetle outbreak, in combination with ongoing poor forest management practices – in particular, clearcuts that leave too much wood waste behind and slash burning.

If today’s emissions were left unchecked – and there are currently no provincial targets or plans to reduce uncounted emissions and little progress in reducing official emissions – the combined emissions B.C. would be directly or indirectly responsible for will grow to more than 600 million tonnes in coming years, 10 times higher than the official provincial emissions today.

Reporting our official emissions is simply not good enough to inform good climate decision-making.

It’s high time for a new climate action plan, one that will position B.C. as a world leader by addressing emissions from all sectors of our economy, including fossilfuel exports and forests.

In particular we have to heed the warning of the International Energy Agency that new fossil-fuel infrastructure built over the next five years will make it impossible to prevent catastrophic levels of climate change.

Key ingredients for an updated provincial climate action plan are: an effective and fair expansion and increase of the carbon tax, with revenues used to accelerate action to tackle global warming; shifting subsidies away from fossil fuels to carefully planned renewable energy projects and energy conservation programs; keeping B.C.’s inner waters free from oil tankers and banning new pipelines to the B.C. coast; and increased conservation of terrestrial and marine ecosystems to protect natural carbon-sinks and allow species a better chance to adapt to a changing climate.

The good news is that, when we look at our full carbon footprint in the world, we have more opportunities to reduce emissions drastically than we have so far recognized.

For example, reductions in our dependence on fossil fuel exports can be made faster than the rate we have set to reduce emissions within our borders.

Saving civilization as we know it will cause significant challenges for the economy. But we will all suffer even more if we continue to ignore our full climate responsibility. It is not too late to pull out of dirty fossil-fuel projects and create jobs in the emerging low-carbon economy.

Ana Simeon is communications co-ordinator and Jens Wieting is forest campaigner for Sierra Club B.C.

Featured image by Jens Wieting