B.C. issues carbon offset procurement call

The B.C. government is resuming the buying of carbon offsets, over a year after it announced it would dissolve the controversial Pacific Carbon Trust.

The B.C. government issued a procurement call September 18 to fund private enterprise projects that reduce greenhouse gas emissions through carbon offsets.

Under the program, the government will invest in projects, like tree planting or fuel switching, if the proponent can demonstrate they will reduce greenhouse gases.

“B.C.'s carbon neutral government successes have shown that offset projects provide a cost-effective approach to meeting the province's GHG reduction targets while supporting innovation for new, clean technologies,” B.C. Environment Minister Mary Polak said.

The buying and selling of carbon offsets was previously done by the Pacific Carbon Trust, a Crown corporation set up in 2008.

In 2013, after a core review, the government announced it would dissolve the PCT and bring the buying and selling of offsets in house.

The PCT was criticized by former auditor general John Doyle, who issued a scathing indictment of the PCT, and noted energy economist Mark Jaccard.

The government’s carbon trading scheme was criticized as being both ineffective in reducing greenhouse gases and questionable in the way it raised money and funded some projects.

The government gets almost of its money to buy offsets from public bodies – such as school districts, hospitals and municipalities – not large industrial polluters. They have paid more than $50 million in carbon fines for failing to meet B.C.’s carbon neutrality targets.

Bob Simpson, a former Independent MLA who was highly critical of the PCT, said all the fundamental concerns with the government carbon offset scheme remain, just under a different roof.

“The structure of the offset program hasn’t gone away,” Simpson told Business in Vancouver. “We’re still punitively charging the public sector, which amounts to less than 1% of B.C.’s total emissions, at a time when the government is nickeling and diming their basic budgets.”

In reaction to criticisms about taking money from cash-strapped school boards and giving it to large companies like TimberWest, which received $5,609,250 worth of offsets, and Encana Corp. ($1,617,716), the government announced a program that would grant some of that money back to school districts to fund capital projects that will reduce energy consumption.

“If you actually ask the school districts, the vast majority of the school districts don’t get any money back,” Simpson said. “Most of the school districts don’t have money to do capital and maintenance projects of that kind.”

As a series of Business in Vancouver articles pointed out, one of the problems with the investments the PCT made was that some of the projects it funded appeared to fail the “additionality” test. 

The idea behind additionality is that offsets should only be invested in projects that might not otherwise go ahead, due to financial or technical constraints.

But as BIV revealed in a series of articles, a number of projects that received carbon offsets had either been planned or already in the works before the PCT even came into being.

The Nature Conservancy of Canada, for example, received $4.5 million in PCT carbon credits for preserving trees that were not likely to be logged in the first place. There were also fuel-switching projects that received PCT funding had been approved even before the PCT came into being.