Like most locally elected people in BC, and a fair smattering of your Provincial representatives, I am in Victoria this week attending the Union of BC Municipalities convention.
This annual meeting is a chance for local government to share ideas, strategies, successes and failures. It is also a chance for us to meet with members of the provincial government and the opposition to tell them our gripes, ask them for money, or find out what their plans are for our communities, pretty much in that order.
This is my first time at UBCM (I couldn’t take time off of work last year), and my schedule for these 5 days is pretty packed, but I am going to try to blog out a few impressions in two or three posts.
My first impression is that the Saanich Peninsula is a great place to ride a bike! I send my luggage ahead so I could spend Sunday multi-moding my trip over. A good friend from Oak Bay rode up to Swartz Bay to meet me, and we pulled off a beautiful 60+km roll down the west side of the Peninsula, over a hill to Goldstream Park, and back along the Galloping Goose. It was a wonderful way to cleanse my spirit before a week sitting in conference rooms.
My first day and a half at UBCM was much less spirit-lifting, because I attended workshops and meetings primarily addressing climate change, and I wish the news was better.
In a broad-reaching workshop on Monday, the Minister of Environment, people from the private sector, NGOs, and local governments discussed progress and problems not to make big change, but just to meet the barest of our Paris commitments. There were representatives from the Minister’s Climate Leadership Team who came out (after the Minister had left) to decry how little in the plan the Provincial government asked them to put together was actually met by the resultant Climate Leadership Plan. That plan doesn’t get us anywhere near the targets we have committed to.
A big part of the problem in BC is that almost all of our electricity is fossil-fuel free (flooding of valleys notwithstanding), so the quick wins of shutting down a few coal plants is not available to us, as it is in other jurisdictions. Most of our emissions are buildings and transportation. We are doing a lot with buildings, but spending $4Billion on bridges to nowhere that none of the region wants instead of $2.5Billion on transit improvements that would make a huge difference in how our region emits carbon shows that Climate Leadership is taking second fiddle to… something. Because it sure as hell isn’t economic development.
Why do we need a Climate Leadership Plan that actually leads on climate? Because we have legislation (provincial, federal, and international) that requires it; because the potential cost of doing nothing is daunting and will crush local government budgets, not to mention global economic security; and because it is a *huge* economic opportunity. We are a highly educated, technically savvy, well-resourced jurisdiction. The amount of R&D that will come with forging a new post-carbon economy is game-changing. We can play catch up to that and buy the results of that R&D from others, or we can take the lead and reap the rewards from fostering innovation here.
All it takes is leadership. Many local governments are doing many great things, but we have two problems. We lack resources. We simply don’t have the tax base to make the kinds of investments that need to be made. We also are risk adverse as a rule, and it is hard to sell bleeding-edge ideas to a reluctant population. If I told the people of New Westminster that we could reduce the energy needs of a new Canada Games Pool and save the city $20 Million over 50 years of the life of the building, but it costs and extra $10 Million that we need to spend (actually, borrow!) today, It would be hard to convince the voters that is a good idea. Because taxes and stuff. There is a lifecycle cost reason to reduce energy use and therefore emissions, but there is a cynical electoral reason to spend as little as possible now, and let the next generation worry about the consequences.
In many ways BC is way ahead. We have the highest percentage of municipalities that have Community Energy and Emissions Plans of any jurisdiction in North America. We have a carbon tax. There was a lot of good stuff in the 2008 Climate Leadership Plan, and it has worked, without tanking the economy. Local Governments and others asking for more form the Climate Leadership Plan 2016 are not asking for the moon, we are asking for the kind of leadership in 2016 that the BC Liberals showed in 2008. Time to take the next step.
I have recently been invited to join the Board of the Community Energy Association of British Columbia, and am now part of the BC Municipal Climate Leadership Council (yes, I care about this stuff), so I was able to attend the BC Municipal Climate Leadership Breakfast in Tuesday.
We met at 7am with the Minister of Environment and a few other members of Cabinet, a couple of members of the Official Opposition, and the sole Green Party MLA. We had local government reps from several BC Municipalities, from Vancouver to Dawson Creek, talking about what we are doing locally, and (it has to be said) some asks for the province to help. Though my writing above includes a lot of criticism, it was a productive, non-partisan, collaborative conversation where the need for leadership was discussed in a respectful manner (helped by the excellent leadership – there’s that word again – of the two Mayors from North Vancouver).
Every person in that room wants to lead on climate; we all said we wanted to do more because we recognize the problem. However, MLA Weaver was quick to point out that none of it will matter if we move along with LNG production. All of the hard work and serious investments local governments in BC are making will not add up to enough savings to make up for a single LNG Plant the size of the one being announced literally while I post this.
It was at the Monday morning Study Session, after 3 hours of talk around half measures and aspirational ideas, where a younger Councillor from Haida Gwaii stood at the Q&A microphone and said, in the most respectful way possible, that he didn’t want to sound like Chicken Little here, but the sky is actually falling.
I also got a similar impression, especially as the Provincial Government representatives tried to polish the turd that is the new Climate Leadership Plan. It’s not that we are fiddling while Rome burns, it is more that Rome is burning, we are mixing ourselves a cool drink an enjoying a cigar while thinking about purchasing a fire extinguisher, when economic conditions are right.