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Everyone agrees climate change is real, but debate continues over how to manage it


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NDP cabinet ministers are doing all they can to sell their multi-billion dollar climate agenda, but they have yet to get either environmental groups or business leaders behind it.

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The ministers of environment, public safety and forests spoke to journalists on Thursday, to highlight plans for spending $2.5 billion over the next three years to recover from the floods, mudslides, wildfires and heat waves of last year and to prepare for the new ones they warn are inevitable.

“Last summer delivered a devastating message. People lost their homes, their communities, their livestock and their economic stability,” said Environment Minister George Heyman.

Heyman said he will unveil an $83 million strategy on climate preparedness and adaptation in the coming months. It will include measures to help communities act quickly to prevent a repeat of the 600 deaths during last year’s heat dome.

Climate monitoring networks will be expanded to predict how rivers and snow packs will behave before mudslides or other natural disasters take out more highways, bridges, dikes and dams. The Rivers Forecast Centre will be expanded and floodplain mapping will be stepped up.

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But Heyman admitted it won’t all be in place by the time this year’s flood and wildfire season begins.

“It will obviously not all be in place in order to take the data and make some of the predictions that we would all hope that we would have for this summer,” Heyman said. “But it is a critical piece of being prepared for the years to come.”

The minister responsible for Emergency Management B.C., Mike Farnworth, pointed to $110 million to improve disaster response, including its financial assistance program and to help communities prepare for future emergencies.

However, legislation won’t be coming before this fall despite it being nearly four years after it was first promised.

Groups like Stand.earth support spending on climate adaptation and mitigation programs but are opposed to continued subsidies to the fossil fuel industry.

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“We need to work on a cure for climate change,” said Sven Biggs, the oil and gas program director at Stand.earth. “And in B.C., that means tackling coal, oil and gas emissions.”

Biggs said oil and gas produces 20 per cent of greenhouse emissions in B.C., but contributes only three per cent to the provincial GDP and represents just 0.5 per cent of jobs here.

Heyman insists B.C. will meet its emissions targets in 2030 and 2050 with a new emissions cap on natural gas utilities, along with incentives to polluters to reduce their carbon footprints and to convert heavy machinery and vehicles to cleaner electric and hydrocarbon fuels. 

“The CleanBC program for industry was recognized in Glasgow with an award as the most creative government climate program among over 126 regional and subnational governments,” he said. “B.C., frankly, is a leader in that transition on the continent, but we know we have much more to do.”

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Biggs disagrees with that approach because “it violates the polluter-pay principle.”

“Polluters should pay to clean up their mess and there is no other industry or business that can turn to government for huge handouts to meet the new laws and regulations that government is bringing in,” he said.

The minister of forests, Katrine Conroy, pointed out other changes are underway with more than $185 million that will be spent over the next three fiscal years for forest dependent communities to transition by financing early retirements, retraining and economic development.

Biggs said more money should be spent on transitioning communities that rely on other resource industries.

“In northeastern BC., if we reduce fracking they will need support in diversifying and I think that is a key gap in the plan.”

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However, it was oil and gas along with high lumber prices that kept government coffers fed during the pandemic.

“The forest sector provides more than $2 billion in revenues to the provincial government each year and that helps pay for things like hospitals, schools, mental health support, and other critical services that make life better for people,” said Andrea Young from the Council of Forest Industries. “So it important for government to recognize that.”

Resource industries and business groups say provincial policies are driving investment away and trading high-paying jobs for low-paying ones.

Ken Peacock, the chief economist with the B.C. business council said having the highest carbon tax in North America has made the province less competitive.

“We are saying we support the carbon tax but it has to be acknowledged this is a very significant competitive disadvantage to energy intensive exporters. It is resulting in less capital investment in B.C. and we are concerned about that,” he said.

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