Monday, November 23, 2015

Opinion: B.C. must become a climate leader

                               John Horgan, Leader of the Official Opposition   

                                     Photograph by: Arlen Redekop , PNG


The United Nations Conference on Climate Change, due to open in Paris in a few days, is one of the most consequential gatherings of world leaders in our lifetime.

The Paris talks are our best chance to slow and reverse the human-caused changes to our atmosphere that threaten our way of life. British Columbia must play an important role as Canada and the nations of the world reach for an accord and begin to take decisive action.

In British Columbia, we see the effects of climate change in the growing number of powerful storms that pummel our coast, record wildfires that destroy our forests, and water shortages that harm our agricultural sector. To the north, glaciers are in retreat. To the south, California has endured catastrophic drought. Greenhouse gas emissions in B.C. have increased every single year since Premier Christy Clark took office, and they are still trending upwards.

It’s not too late, but real action will only come with real leadership, and we’re not getting it from Premier Clark. The climate change plan she inherited has run out of steam. She imposed a five-year freeze on the carbon tax, refuses to use carbon tax revenue to fund climate solutions, exempted the LNG industry from calculating greenhouse gas emissions on 70 per cent of its operations, cancelled a home retrofit program, and derailed public transit expansion plans with a built-to-fail referendum.

We must change course, and we can. Last week at BCIT, I announced a bold, progressive plan for jobs and energy called PowerBC. Our plan includes an ambitious program of energy retrofits for public and private buildings, upgrades to maximize our existing hydroelectric dams, and an aggressive move toward renewable technologies like wind and solar power. Our plan looks forward, not back.

PowerBC would make energy retrofits a top priority of government, while creating jobs and supporting the economy in every community in the province. Energy retrofits of major public buildings like schools and hospitals are a direct way government can lead on energy conservation. But Premier Clark doesn’t see that. Empowering and enabling families to renovate their homes would not only reduce emissions, but would also save money. But Premier Clark cancelled a retrofit program in 2014 after British Columbians signed up for it in great numbers.

Right across B.C., there are more opportunities for us to take meaningful action against climate change. For example, we should be considering serious investment in infrastructure for electric vehicles, and expanding on programs that incent British Columbians to adopt this forward-looking technology. And we should be investing in our public transit system to reduce congestion and cut vehicle emissions. The game-playing on transit funding that has characterized Premier Clark’s leadership has to end. New Democrats have long argued that a portion of the money raised through the carbon tax should be used specifically to reduce carbon emissions through support for projects like transit expansion.

It’s time to move beyond talk and photo ops. This moment in our shared history demands leadership and political courage. It’s time for real action on climate change to ensure that we leave our children a province, and a planet, as bountiful and healthy as the one we were entrusted with.

John Horgan is leader of the B.C. New Democrats.