Subsidizing fossil fuel is a bad bet for British Columbia’s future

When British Columbians should have been celebrating our renewed ability to visit with loved ones and travel our beautiful province, we were thrust right back into another public health emergency caused by our record-shattering heat wave. 

B.C. has been in various states of emergency nearly every summer for the past five years. The increased flooding, forest fires and heat waves come at an incredible cost to people’s health and to our provincial economy. From this single heat wave, we have already seen reports of devastating loss of life. Natural disasters now cost the Canadian economy $1.9 billion per year, a $400 million increase from a decade ago. This cost comes in the form of damaged infrastructure, loss of people’s homes and livelihoods and, increasingly as we saw this month in Lytton, devastation of entire communities.

These worsening extreme weather events are exactly what scientists have been predicting would happen if we failed to meet our emissions reductions targets and prevent catastrophic climate change. This knowledge should have been built into our long-term social and economic planning. Yet successive B.C. governments have tied our economic fortunes to the most significant sources of the climate crisis.

The BC NDP has more than doubled taxpayer subsidies to the fossil fuel industry since taking power. These carbon-intensive liquefied natural gas (LNG) megaprojects would not be economically viable without government handouts, and it’s increasingly looking like they won’t even be viable with them.

In May the International Energy Association (IEA) – the most important intergovernmental agency in informing international energy policy – released its road map for achieving global net zero emissions by 2050. This is what scientists say is required to limit global warming to the Paris Commitment of 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial levels. The IEA report throws cold water on the idea of LNG as a “transition fuel” because renewables, like wind and solar, are becoming so technologically advanced and affordable.

The IEA says that many LNG projects in development – like the ones the B.C. government is subsidizing – won’t be needed and are at high risk of becoming stranded assets.

Another new report from the Global Energy Monitor outlines how B.C. LNG projects are at significant risk because B.C. fracked gas is more expensive to produce than U.S. shale gas. When companies strand assets, it’s taxpayers who are left holding the bag for the cleanup.

It shows a stunning lack of vision to bet on a sunset industry in the middle of a climate crisis. The world is changing. As we emerge from COVID-19, the phrase on every government’s lips is a “green recovery.” They are looking at our current reality and future risks and realizing that decarbonizing our economy is an economic imperative. They’re putting their money into the green infrastructure, clean tech and innovation that the world will need to achieve Net Zero emissions by 2050.

B.C. is home to incredible natural resources, and they have formed the basis of our economy. But we have so much more to offer, and much of our recent prosperity has been driven by new industries. We need to reinvigorate our tourism industry, develop our innovation sector and support small businesses to be able to thrive in their communities. We need to build green infrastructure like electrified transportation, which we know will open up new economic opportunities throughout the province. We need to make sure our natural resources are being managed sustainably and that support is available for workers and companies so their industries can survive in a changing climate. Any subsidies currently going to fossil fuels should be redirected to industries that are part of a low-carbon future.

Economic planning is about seizing opportunities on the horizon. It’s clear that renewables and clean technology are where we’re headed. By continuing to insist on subsidizing fossil fuels, the government is undercutting all of the incredible progress being made by innovative B.C. businesses that already recognize this reality. •

Sonia Furstenau is leader of the BC Green Party.