On May 7, 2018, the BC government unveiled Bill 34, the Greenhouse Gas Reduction Targets Amendment Act, 2018, which updates the province’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions reduction targets. The bill repeals the Greenhouse Gas Reduction Targets Act (GGRTA), passed by the former Liberal government in 2007, and replaces it with the Climate Change Accountability Act (Act), which contains an updated set of GHG reduction targets and introduces other new features, including ministerial power to establish GHG emissions targets for individual industry sectors and government reporting requirements.

GHG emissions in BC in 2007 were 64.7 carbon dioxide equivalent tonnes (Mt CO2e). The most recent statistics available from BC’s GHG inventory show that provincial GHG emissions in 2015 were 61.6 Mt CO2e, representing a 4.7% reduction. In order to meet the new targets, provincial GHG emissions would have to fall below 38.8 Mt CO2e by 2030, 25.9 Mt CO2e by 2040, and 12.9 Mt CO2e by 2050.

The government’s decision to drop the 2020 target comes after the province’s Climate Leadership Team (CLT) issued a 2015 report (CLT Report) stating that the 2020 target would be “extremely difficult” to meet. In fact, the CLT estimated that based on the policies in place at the time, GHG emissions in 2020 would actually exceed 2007 levels. In light of the near impossibility of meeting the 2020 target, the CLT Report recommended that the province establish a 2030 target of a 40% reduction below 2007 levels and reaffirm the 2050 target. The Act implements both of these recommendations and adds an intermediate goal for 2040 that splits the difference, with a view to ensuring the province is on pace to meet its 2050 target.

New GHG Reduction Targets

The centrepiece of the Act is the new GHG reduction targets it establishes. Under the 2007 GGRTA, the Liberal government established two provincial GHG reduction targets:

  1. by 2020, emissions will be at least 33% below 2007 levels; and
  2. by 2050, emissions will be at least 80% below 2007 levels.

The Act replaces the 2020 target with two new targets, oriented towards 2030 and 2040 instead, and keeps the 2050 target in place, with each of the three reduction targets being 20% higher than the one before it. The result is the following framework:

  1. by 2030, emissions will be at least 40% below 2007 levels;
  2. by 2040, emissions will be at least 60% below 2007 levels; and
  3. by 2050, emissions will be at least 80% below 2007 levels.

Sectorial GHG Emission Targets

The Act gives the Minister of Environment and Climate Change Strategy the power to establish GHG emissions targets for individual industry sectors. The government has indicated that sectoral initiatives will include plans for buildings and communities, industry, and transportation sectors. The 2015 CLT Report contains recommendations for GHG reduction targets in the transportation sector, the industrial sector, and the built environment – it is conceivable that we may see the government adopt certain sectoral targets based on these recommendations.

Reports on Climate Change Risks and Process

The Act requires the Minister, in each even-numbered year beginning in 2020, to prepare and make public a report respecting:

a. a determination of the risks to BC that could reasonably be expected to result from a changing climate; b. the progress that has been made toward reducing those risks; c. the actions that have been taken to achieve that progress; and d. the plans to continue that progress.

In addition, the Act gives the Minister the power to prescribe categories of information that public sector organizations must provide to the Minister in preparing these reports, and the government has indicated that it will be working with the broader public sector in developing these reports. This reporting requirement supplements the existing requirement that the Minister prepare biannual reports on the progress made towards achieving GHG reduction targets set by the government.

Looking Ahead

In a press release announcing the introduction of Bill 34, Minister of Environment and Climate Change Strategy George Heyman indicated that the Act sets the stage for a renewed “climate action strategy” to be released this fall. The commitment to develop a renewed climate action strategy featured in the 2017 Confidence and Supply Agreement between the BC Green Caucus and the BC New Democrat Caucus, which ultimately paved the way for the NDP to take up the reins of government in July 2017 with the backing of the Greens. As a government bill with support from both the NDP and the Greens, the bill is likely to be passed without substantial amendment.

The government has emphasized its intention to “remove barriers, and make it attractive and affordable for people, communities and industry to move to lower-carbon alternatives” while at the same time “grow[ing] an economy that’s stronger, cleaner, more diverse and more resilient.” With its most recent announcement, the government is looking to foster increased investment and innovation in the low-carbon energy sector in BC over the coming years.

But questions remain as to what concrete measures the government will put in place through its renewed climate action strategy to ensure the GHG reduction targets are met, and how these measures will interact not only with GHG reduction initiatives across industry sectors, but also with federal climate change policy.

For discussion of these issues and more, stayed tuned to the blog over the coming months. We will be sure to keep you updated on the latest legal and policy developments.