Environment Minister George Heyman said it is not question of if, but when, fossil fuels are on their way out.
“We all know we are moving in a different direction,” he said. “This discussions are, ‘what is the pace and how do we manage that.”
He made these comments on the way to Dubai, where he represents the province.
COP stands for Conference of Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change and brings together leaders from around the world to decide next steps in the global fight against climate change.
The first of these meetings happened in 1995 in Berlin and COP 21 led to the Paris Agreement of 2015.
It commits signatories to limit the future increase in the world’s temperature to 1.5 degrees Celsius and well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels by 2030. But scientists are warning that countries are running out of runway to meet these goals. Experts are now calling for not just significant cuts in greenhouse-gas emissions, but also for a “phase out” of fossil fuels, completing eliminating the use of oil, gas and coal.
Others are advocating for a “phase down” that would eliminate most but not all fossil-fuel related uses.
Experts say this small but important semantic difference will shape negotiations at COP 28, which will end Dec. 12 after having started Nov. 30.
“I think even the oil and gas companies talk about their products as being in use for a period of time and perhaps a transition toward clean energy in 20 or 30 years and I think every one except for people who think climate change isn’t a problem or doesn’t exist, believes that this will ultimately happen,” Heyman said.
He added that the discussions are around time-frames and “what sort of support we give economies and people and businesses, including those that have built the oil and gas sector, who supported our industrialization for a long time before we realized there were climate-affecting by products that were costing us money and creating problems.”
B.C. needs to ensure “smooth pathway,” he added. “In British Columbia…we are encouraging electrification, we are looking to develop hydrogen and other clean energy. We are also trying to deal with the issue of our gas sector by working them to reduce emissions, not by shutting them down, but by identifying and suppressing methane leakage. We have been very successful in our attempts to reduce methane emissions in B.C. In the gas sector, we are ahead of our target in 2025 already.”
B.C.’s focus lies on investing “in the future energy economy” while “reducing emissions in the existing (economy) one while we go through the next couple of decades,” Heyman added.
When asked whether these comments could be read as B.C. not necessarily being supportive of this general push to wind down entire industries, Heyman said B.C. has “significant” emission reduction goals for 2030, 2040 and 2050, adding that B.C. will introduce legislation to reach net-zero emissions, including steps to capture hard-to-reduce emissions.
“It would depend on how these things are worded,” he said “I think what we want to do is not say, ‘it’s either all-or-nothing. I don’t think climate change action or economic development is frankly that simple. You can’t simply shut something off today and expect that you have an alternative. We have to develop the alternatives in a way that doesn’t create giant dislocations in employment, in economies, while at the same time move at the pace that we need to move to reduce emissions.”
Heyman’s comments come as his ministry released the 2023 Climate Change Accountability Report. The report shows British Columbia’s net GHGs are down five per cent from 2018 when government launched CleanBC and down four per cent from the 2007 baseline year, an improvement of one per cent. Goals call for B.C. to cut GHGs by 40 per cent by 2030 based on 2007 levels.
Heyman said B.C. has seen reductions in both absolute and per-capita terms. “We have had an expanding economy and a growing population and our emissions are still going down, which is a very good sign,” he said. “Our modelling shows that we are on track to about 96 per cent of our 2030 target, which is a gap we can deal with,” he added.
Heyman said the reported numbers reflect the early phases of CleanBC. “We are going to see a significant ramping up,” he said, adding that government continues to learn. “I’m optimistic. I don’t want to pretend our job is done and that we don’t have to bear down. We do. We know we have to do more. We have to acclerate a number of our actions, but we are on track.”
Others would disagree that, including the climate activists, who Thursday erected an ice sculpture on the legislature’s front lawn, where it melted as symbol of the limited time to act.
“This ice sculpture is going to slowly melt away just like our time to address a crisis that affects all of us,” Mike Hudema, spokesperson with Climate Justice Victoria, said.
“The only way that we are going to address it is if we stop growing the problem. When we are talking about new fracking operations we can’t be adding more fuel to this fire. It’s already out of control and it’s time we got a handle on it.”
Heyman said he understands the anxietes of particularly young people around climate change. “I share it,” he said. “I think very seriously about it and my role and my position in trying to ensure that B.C. stays on track with a credible and strong climate plan. As I said, B.C. can model a strong economy while reducing emissions and meeting our targets that were modelled on meeting the Paris commitments. I would also say that B.C. needs to do that, so do other jurisdictions. We don’t live in a bubble.”
People who say that B.C.’s emissions are insignificant take the wrong attitude, he added. “Every jurisdiction has to do its part and B.C. can model success.”
B.C., it should be said, does not actively participate in the COP28 negotiations.
But it “tries to influence and have impact with our national government and our national negotiators,” Heyman said. Issues include emission cuts, exploring clean technology investments, supporting people dealing with “everyday affordability challenges” and preventing disadvantages to local industries.
“The other thing we do is we participate in public panels, we talk about what we are doing, and I believe we create upward pressure to do more,” he said. “It is easier for national governments to commit to action, when they know that the sub-national governments are pushing hard and already making changes.”
COP28 is also an opportunity for B.C. to strengthen its ties with like-minded jurisdictions and signal its openness for investments in critical minerals, clean energy and clean technologies that “will help not just B.C., but also the world reduce emissions.”