Reports: industry activity and sustainability can coexist

Is it possible for a region to be both resource-dependent and also green? If so, recent research suggests that region would look a lot like BC


The BC economy is highly dependent on natural  resources. They make up four fifths of our merchandise exports and account for roughly one in eight dollars of our total GDP. And now a string of new reports is praising BC for its environmental sustainability, suggesting that resource activity and sustainability can in fact coexist.

Progress on cutting carbon emissions

The first report is the BC government’s climate action update. It outlines BC’s current success in meeting emission-reduction targets and lays out some possibilities for what might be coming next.

And if you’re skeptical of governments telling you they’ve done a good job (as you should be), consider that none other than the Pembina Institute (a Calgary-based environmental group) went out of their way to praise BC’s carbon accomplishments.

In this blog post, Pembina BC regional director Matt Horne writes that BC’s success in curbing carbon emission counts as positive news worthy of attention. What’s more, he attributes much of BC’s success to good government policy, particularly our $30-a-tonne tax on carbon emissions. (BC’s ban on coal-fired electricity earns an honourary mention as well.)

Horne dutifully points out that BC’s ability to meet its emission targets relies fairly heavily in investing in offsets, of which he raises some concerns, and that BC will need stronger rules if we’re going to meet future emission targets. Yet he emphasizes that these challenges should not detract from what’s been achieved, writing that, “the province’s past accomplishments on climate change are something to be proud of.”

More praise for the carbon tax

The next piece that grabbed my attention was an op-ed published last week in the Globe and Mail, provocatively titled “The shocking truth about B.C.’s carbon tax: It works.”

Equally provocative is the group of authors who co-wrote the piece: professor and green-economy expert Stewart Elgie, economist and former former C.D. Howe Institute advisor Richard Lipsey and legendary BC mining entrepreneur Ross Beaty.

The crux of the article is that BC has managed to reduce its carbon emissions without harming economic growth, largely thanks to its carbon tax. As evidence, the authors state that BC has reduced its use of fuels covered by the tax by 16 percent since the tax was introduced in 2008. Canada as a whole has increased its use of these fuels by three percent in the same time period. Meanwhile, BC’s economy has slightly outperformed the Canadian economy since 2008.

Check out this chart comparing BC and Canadian fuel use before and after the carbon tax:


These figures are an update to a more detailed study co-written by Elgie last year through the University of Ottawa’s Sustainable Prosperity group. It’s available here.

More than just carbon taxes

And BC can brag about more than just its carbon tax, considering that the province scored the top spot in Canada in Corporate Knights’ annual ranking of green regions.

The ranking uses measures in a range of environmental areas, including energy use, garbage, air quality, water use, vehicle use and more. And when all the scores were tallied, BC emerged as number one among Canadian provinces.

Here’s how we did in each area relative to nine other provinces:

Third in overall carbon efficiency (GDP per million tonnes of GHG emissions)

Fifth in use of renewable electricity generation (Measured as renewable power generation as percent of total generation. The ranking system gets a bit misleading here as BC is only slightly behind the leaders in Canada at 93 percent renewable electricity generation, well above the 6th place province, which has 35 percent.)

Seventh in average air pollution (This takes the average of each provinces performance for three different types of air pollution)

Fifth in waste avoidance (GDP per kilotonne of waste)

Third in the amount of waste diverted from landfills through recycling and composting

Seventh in water use (in litres used per person per day)

First in prevalence of electric-vehicle charging stations (charging stations per person)

First in minimizing vehicle travel (kilometres driven per capita)

First in protecting land (protected land as percent of total land)

Still more to do

One important thing to point out is that our work in developing sustainable economic growth isn’t over. The BC government’s Climate Action report concludes with a list of actions that may be necessary if BC is to meet its long-term emission targets. These include things like improving transportation systems, boosting energy efficiency in buildings, improving waste-management systems and practices, and developing clean industries and technologies.

Similarly, while the Corporate Knights ranking puts BC in the top spot, it highlights where we can still do better. For instance, BC ranks below most other provinces in terms of air pollution and water use, a clear sign that we have more work to do.

That said, BC clearly has some green accomplishments worth celebrating. It helps confirm the idea that we can have economic development ‒ even when driven by natural resources ‒ and also be good stewards of the environment. Even if BC has not fully realized that dream yet, we’re arguably off to a good start.

Peter Severinson is the research director for Resource Works. Follow on Twitter: @pseverinson


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