The recent musings of the province’s Minister of Environment Terry Lake about the future of the Pacific Carbon Trust has the attention of some stakeholders. Publicly Lake has said that B.C.’s carbon neutrality program works but needs changes.
“I think the principles are correct, but the implementation needs to be worked on,” he said.
“I think people would prefer that when we see public institutions putting money into the Pacific Carbon Trust for instance, that there should be a direct correlation coming back to those organizations to help them reduce their carbon footprint.”
Independent Cariboo North MLA Bob Simpson, an opponent of the current system where the public sector pays to offset its carbon emissions by purchasing credits from the trust that are in turn used to fund private sector projects aimed at reducing green house gas emissions in that sector, thinks it’s time.
“The whole carbon neutral government is a public relations exercise,” he said noting, “The total contribution the public sector makes to B.C.’s GHG is less than one percent so even if you’ve actually achieved carbon neutrality what have you achieved.”
For months Simpson has suggested allowing the public sector to fund their own greenhouse gas emission reduction and energy efficiency projects before having to buy offsets from the PCT. Now he thinks the government should release the public sector from the trust altogether and provide them with funds — as they have in the past — to make capital improvements to facilities that would reduce their GHG.
Simpson suggests for the private sector the production emissions it generates that are not subject to the carbon tax should have a fee per tonne of carbon attached to them and be paid to the PCT. Those funds could then be put into the trust to finance other private sector GHG emission reduction projects.
Cariboo-Chilcotin MLA Donna Barnett agrees that it’s time to look at carbon neutrality and the Pacific Carbon Trust. “I don’t think it’s a good system,” she said. Barnett says as she understands it, public sector organizations like school districts — although they’ve had to purchase offsets — have been compensated through different funding avenues offered by the Ministry of Education. Barnett added that the government has funded improvements to schools’ heating systems in the Cariboo and across the province that lowers their carbon output.
“Those are more carbon neutral so the offsets are becoming less and less,” she says.
Under the current carbon neutral structure, 2010 was the first year provincial agencies including health authorities, schools, post-secondary institutions, and government offices across B.C. had to quantify their carbon output and pay for it.
An organization is deemed carbon neutral if it has a net zero carbon footprint achieved by balancing a measured amount of carbon released with an equivalent amount sequestered or offset, or buying enough carbon credits to make up the difference.
In the pursuit of carbon neutrality, the province has required public sector organizations to measure their greenhouse gas emissions; reduce them; offset the remaining emissions by investing in projects that reduce greenhouse emissions (purchasing carbon offsets) and report publicly on plans and actions to reduce emissions. To improve its emissions and thereby reduce its need to purchase carbon offsets, School District 27 undertook energy-minimizing initiatives such as installing a geothermal field at Mile 108 school, upgrading two boilers at the Williams Lake high schools, and installing a bio-energy boiler at Alexis Creek. Many of the upgrades are paid for through various grants to the district. However, a carbon surplus remained and the district estimated it would purchase approximately $125,000 worth of offsets this year from the Pacific Carbon Trust. Simpson says the government hasn’t given a clear picture of how they might change the trust program.