COLUMN: We, the people, should demand green strings attached

From columnist Michael Jessen

By Michael Jessen

What have the B.C. and Canadian governments got themselves and their taxpayers into?

The $40 billion LNG Canada project was to be the largest private sector and natural resource investment in Canadian history.

Now prospects for nearly half of the world’s projects to build infrastructure for exporting liquefied natural gas have faltered in recent months, amid rising concerns about climate change, public protests and delays due to the coronavirus pandemic.

B.C. paid out $830 million Cdn in subsidies to help build its liquefied natural gas industry in 2017-18 while the feds have pumped $275 million into the Kitimat LNG project.

The province has also extended $2.6 billion to $3.1 billion in credits for royalties oil and gas producers were supposed to remit to government coffers. Despite the doubling of gas production in B.C. since 2005, total royalty revenue has declined by 84 per cent.

B.C.’s current government has offered a much sweeter deal to the LNG industry than what the previous government was willing to extend, making four major concessions: discounted electricity prices, exemptions from increases in the BC carbon tax, a corporate income tax break and deferral of provincial sales tax on construction.

According to the International Institute for Sustainable Development, Canada’s federal government fossil fuel subsidies in 2019 amounted to at least $600 million.

In a report just issued by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, veteran earth scientist David Hughes says LNG exports will doom the province’s emissions-reduction targets and compromise Canada’s long-term energy security.

Did our governments follow prudent advice before pledging our tax dollars and forgoing future tax revenue on our behalf?

Nope. For instance:

• Issued in August 2017, and now signed by 500 civil society representatives spanning more than 70 countries, the Lofoten Declaration declares that, “[I]t is the urgent responsibility and moral obligation of wealthy fossil fuel producers to lead in putting an end to fossil fuel development and to manage the decline of existing production.”

• In December 2017, over 80 world-renowned economists called “for an immediate end to investments in new fossil fuel production and infrastructure, and encourage a dramatic increase in investments in renewable energy.”

• Climate Action Network International, representing over 1,300 global civil society organizations in more than 130 countries has called for “action by governments to manage a just and equitable phaseout of fossil fuel supply by leaving coal, oil, and gas in the ground.”

The Production Gap – a December 2019 report by the Stockholm Institute and others – highlighted the alarming discrepancy between countries’ planned fossil fuel production and levels consistent with limiting warming to well below 2°C.

• The report Oil, Gas and The Climate: An Analysis of Oil and Gas Industry Plans for Expansion and Compatibility with Global Emission Limits, also issued in December 2019 examines the oil and gas industry’s expansion plans over the next five years, from 2020 to 2024. It finds the sector plans to invest $1.4 trillion U.S. into new extraction projects. This would lock in 148 gigatonnes of cumulative carbon dioxide emissions, equivalent to 1,200 new U.S. coal-fired power plants. The report reveals 85 per cent of the expanded production is slated to come from the United States and Canada over that period.

There are, of course, many more such reports. I have only highlighted a few.

But instead of listening to these caring civil society representatives, economists, scientists, and non-governmental organizations, our provincial and federal governments chose – on our behalf – to listen to the power of the natural gas lobby which filled our government ministers’ heads with visions of a $100 billion windfall.

We are the people who will pay for the many lies and misperceptions of project costs and benefits.

We should demand instead that our provincial and federal governments attach these seven “green strings” to any and all post COVID-19 recovery expenditures:

• Support only companies that agree to plan for net-zero emissions by 2050.

• Make sure funds go towards jobs and stability, not executives and shareholders.

• Support a just transition that prepares workers for green jobs.

• Build up the sectors and infrastructure of tomorrow.

• Strengthen and protect environmental policies during recovery.

• Be transparent and accountable to Canadians.

• Put people first and leave no one behind.

We are the people, we’re not corporations. We are the people, stronger than one fate.

Michael Jessen has been involved in many environmental endeavors during the 50 years he has lived in Nelson, including writing more than 800 columns and letters to the editor.

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