British Columbians are feeling a little lonely in their bid to save the planet.
Five years ago, the Canadian province enacted a bold set of climate change policies designed to reduce its greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions dramatically. At the time, B.C. lawmakers assumed the United States would follow suit with federal climate change policy. To the south and east, a coalition of seven U.S. states and four Canadian provinces were establishing the Western Climate Initiative (WCI), with a regional carbon cap-and-trade system.
The home of the Spirit Bear, which already has more land conservation area than any other Canadian province, was leading the way in protecting the atmosphere.
Then, U.S. progress on federal climate policy skidded to a halt. And the WCI began to falter. Six states withdrew last November, leaving just California and four Canadian provinces still participating. With its general election one year away, the government of British Columbia, headed by the Liberal Party (known to be more conservative than its rival, the New Democratic Party), is now questioning the future of the climate initiatives it enacted.
“I think it is safe to say that we expected more jurisdictions to be coming up and joining us in this kind of public policy,” said Terry Lake, British Columbia’s minister of the environment, in an interview. “That hasn’t happened.”
Front and center in the debate is the province’s carbon tax, which has been stepped up every year since 2008, with the final legislated increase set for this July. Carbon tax proponents say that to meet its ambitious targets for GHG emissions reductions by 2020, British Columbia will need to increase the tax dramatically.
But sectors of industry that rely heavily on the use of fossil fuels—from cement to agriculture—say the tax puts them at a competitive disadvantage. Seen by many as a sign of its weakening commitment, the government recently called for a comprehensive review of the carbon tax to consider constituent concerns.
“This is a good time to pause and examine how the carbon tax is affecting our economic competitiveness,” said B.C. Finance Minister Kevin Falcon, in a recent budget speech. “To that end, we will carry out a comprehensive review, examining the tax’s impact—both positive and negative—on every economic sector.”