Changes coming to B.C. carbon offsets

The B.C. government's carbon neutrality program is working, but it needs changes, Environment Minister Terry Lake says. School and hospital funds are being diverted to carbon reduction projects at energy, cement and forest companies.

Environment Minister Terry Lake watches an animated climate change course created for B.C. public servants. See sidebar story below for a link to samples of the course

The B.C. government’s carbon neutrality program is working, but it needs changes, Environment Minister Terry Lake says.

Lake spoke to a conference of senior federal officials in Victoria Monday, reminding them that B.C. is the first state or provincial government in North America to be “carbon neutral,” requiring public services to offset carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions by buying credits from the government’s Pacific Carbon Trust.

The offset payments are used to fund emission reduction projects, and to create an incentive for managers to find ways to reduce fuel consumption. The requirement covers not only provincial ministries but school districts and health authorities, and Lake acknowledges that has been controversial because beneficiaries include private resource companies.

“I think the principles are correct, but the implementation needs to be worked on,” Lake said in an interview Monday. “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.”

The Pacific Carbon Trust (PCT) was set up by the B.C. government to collect offset funds from government operations and select projects that cut carbon emissions.

In 2010 the PCT collected $4.4 million from B.C.’s 60 school districts, to compensate for emissions that mostly come from school buildings. School bus emissions are exempt, but other vehicle emissions must be reported and offset.

The PCT has funded projects to reduce emissions of some of B.C.’s biggest industrial carbon dioxide sources, which are so far exempt from B.C.’s carbon tax. They include Encana Corporation’s natural gas operations in northeastern B.C., the Lafarge cement plant in Richmond,  and forest companies Canfor and TimberWest.

Lake said the B.C. government has started working on ways for public money goes to public projects.

“I’m not sure where we’ll end up with it, but I think generally what we’ll see is some sort of fund within the Pacific Carbon Trust that’s dedicated to schools, to hospitals, so that money comes back to them to help reduce their carbon footprint,” he said.

Online climate course released

The Pacific Institute for Climate Solutions has released the first instalments of a climate change course prepared for B.C. government employees.

Samples of “Climate Insights 101” have been posted at the institute’s website. The series uses animation, interviews and website links to set out the data on climate change, and is available free for educational purposes.

“People who don’t work in science are often intimidated by it, so these courses will go a long way towards demystifying the physics of climate change we are seeing,” said Dr. Tom Pedersen, the institute’s executive director. “It makes traditionally tough subject matter accessible as well as entertaining.”

PICS was established in 2008 with a $90 million endowment from the B.C. government to the University of Victoria, the largest endowment to a university in Canadian history.

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