The B.C. government today announced increased stringencies in carbon taxes, low carbon fuel standards and other key climate change policies in its CleanBC plan – measures that will increase the cost of gasoline and natural gas for home heating in B.C.
Premier John Horgan and BC Environment Minister George Heyman announced the changes to the CleanBC plan Monday, in advance of the 26th Conference of Parties (COP26), which opens October 31 in Glasgow.
Pointing to increased wildfires in recent years and this summer’s unprecedented heat wave, Horgan said the threat of climate change “is no longer decades away,” and said it was necessary to increase commitments to reduce B.C.’s greenhouse gas emissions through increasing stringencies in its climate change plans.
“Successive governments have focused on this initiative, and we've dialed it up since 2017,” Horgan said of B.C. climate action strategies. “We have to have the same common purpose to attacking climate change that we have had to attack in COVID-19.”
“Implementing the plan is not without costs but it also offers new economic opportunities and will help avoid future costs,” the government acknowledges in technical briefing documents.
It includes harmonizing the B.C. carbon tax with federal carbon pricing, and a range of new limits on industry, particularly oil, gas and LNG.
The current carbon price in B.C. is $45 per tonne of CO2 equivalent (CO2e). It will hit $65 per tonne in 2023, and continue to rise by at least $15 per year until it reaches $170 per tonne by 2030, as per the federal government’s carbon pricing. Each annual increase of $15 adds about $0.03 to the cost of a litre of gasoline.
It will also increase stringency for its low-carbon fuel standard, which can also add to the price that consumers pay at the pump for gasoline, though some of the increase should theoretically be offset, as the amount of fossil fuels decrease in each litre of gasoline with the increase of renewable fuels.
Natural gas prices in B.C. could also increase, as the new plan includes a new cap on GHGs for natural gas utilities like FortisBC. Emissions from natural gas utilities are currently about 11 megatonnes of CO2 equivalent (MT CO2e). It will be capped at 6 MT CO2e annually by 2030.
FortisBC already has a 30 by 30 plan to reduce the emissions intensity of its natural gas by increasing the amount of renewable natural gas it injects into its natural gas system. RNG is more expensive than natural gas, so its increased use would likely increase the cost of gas to consumers.
The plan calls for the virtual elimination of methane emissions in the oil and gas sector by 2035, and all new heavy industries – like new LNG plants – will need to demonstrate how they can fit into the province’s new emissions caps and reduction targets.
While the first phase of the new LNG Canada plant being built in Kitimat is accommodated in the CleanBC plan, it’s not clear if a second phase – the addition of two modules or “trains” – would fit. It may be that the only way LNG Canada could get a second phase expansion approved is if it committed to electric drive for the natural gas processing.
The B.C. government will need to file annual accountability reports to demonstrate its progress or lack thereof under the Climate Accountability Act.
Key policies in the enhanced CleanBC plan include:
- raising the low carbon fuel content standard for gasoline and diesel from 20% content to 30% by 2030, and expand it to include aviation and marine fuels;
- doubling the amount of renewable fuels (like renewable natural gas) produced in B.C. to 1.3 billion litres;
- accelerating the zero emission vehicle (ZEV) mandate targets for passenger vehicles, requiring 26% of all new vehicles sold in B.C. to be ZEV (electric or hydrogen fuel cell) by 2026, 90% by 2030 and 100% by 2035;
- adding medium-duty vehicles to ZEV mandate;
- decarbonizing new construction with new carbon pollution standards in the BC Building Code by 2030;
- capping GHG emissions for natural gas utilities at 6 MT CO2e per year by 2030;
- modify energy efficiency programs to remove incentives for gas-fired heating;
- set new methane reduction targets for the oil and gas sector to a 75% reduction by 2030 and “near elimination” by 2035;
- eliminating the burning of slash from forestry by 2030.
The CleanBC plan also states an ambition of reducing overall road traffic in B.C. by 25% by 2030. Asked how that would be accomplished, officials at a technical briefing said it would be mostly through investments in things like public transit, not mobility pricing.
The new plan was praised by Mark Jaccard, the Simon Fraser University sustainable energy economist who has been a lead author on Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Working Group 3 assessments, and an adviser on the province’s Climate Solutions Council. He said the targets and tools in the new plan have been independently modelled and confirmed.
“Today, with its 2021 roadmap, this government is demonstrating, yet again, and with greater effect, climate leadership,” Jaccard said. “And myself, as a lead author on climate policy with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, I can say that this leadership shown today is of global significance."
The International Energy Agency (IEA) recently stated no new large LNG projects or new natural gas fields may be needed, as global demand begins to peak in the coming decades.
Asked how the LNG industry fits within the CleanBC plan and the forecasts for global demand, Jaccard said the key is reducing production emissions -- something the B.C. government plans to do through things like reducing methane emissions and electrification of upstream natural gas production.
"Natural gas production, in some cases and in some regions, can go up," Jaccard said, with reference to the IEA projections.
"But you need to make sure those production emissions are going down. And that's why we focused on that with the Climate Solutions Council, and we were very happy to see that government adopted the policies that are needed, or say they will adopt and are on the path to adopt the policies that are needed for that to happen."