A Heads Up on Climate Accountability in BC


A Heads Up on Climate Accountability in BC

By March 31, 2021, the BC government is required — by law — to establish “greenhouse gas emissions (“GHG”) targets for individual sectors” of the BC economy. These “sectoral targets” form part of BC’s “climate accountability” framework — the governance structures and processes to help ensure we follow through on our climate commitments. So what does this mean for BC lawyers and our clients?

The need for “climate accountability” arises from the failure of jurisdictions around the world, including Canada and BC, to meet the GHG targets they have set for themselves. Repeatedly — and to great fanfare — our politicians have set ambitious long-term GHG targets yet dodged the tough work of setting the near and medium-term policies required to achieve those targets.

The United Kingdom was the first country to implement a climate accountability framework through the 2008 Climate Change Act. The Act sets a 2050 emissions target, requires 5-year carbon budgets, sets planning and reporting requirements, and establishes ministerial responsibilities and an independent advisory body. The Act has been instrumental in reducing the UK’s emissions and has served as a model for climate accountability legislation in jurisdictions around the world, including New Zealand, Germany, and Sweden. Canada is now getting in on the game, with legislation expected in late 2020 or early 2021.

In BC, we have the Climate Change Accountability Act, SBC 2007, c 42. This Act sets emissions reductions targets for 2030, 2040 and 2050 (40%, 60%, and 80% below 2007 levels), requires an “interim” target between now and 2030, requires sectoral targets, establishes an advisory committee (the Climate Solutions Council), and requires the Minister to make an annual report to the Legislature. This report includes emissions data, actions and expenditures to reduce emissions and manage climate change risks, expected outcomes of these actions, and plans to achieve the various targets.

BC is the first North American jurisdiction to incorporate sectoral targets in its climate accountability framework, so the ongoing process to establish the targets is treading new ground. Sectors must be chosen with sufficient granularity to allow easy identification of heavy emitters and climate leaders (i.e. by not having a catch-all “industry” sector). The targets must be set realistically — based on available low-carbon technologies — but also fairly and ambitiously, to ensure that all sectors pull their weight in helping achieve our climate goals on time.

Effective targets are important to hold sectors (and responsible ministries) to account for their emissions. They will guide the development of targeted climate policies, and will create certainty for businesses and industry to plan current and future operations, over multiple timelines. For example, we can see targets being referred to by a variety of stakeholders in environmental assessments.

Public consultation to-date on the development of sectoral targets has been limited and the March 31 deadline is fast approaching. Fortunately, the fun does not have to stop there. The Act implies that the Minister will set plans to continue progress toward the sectoral targets; ideally the Minister will establish multi-stakeholder roundtables for each sector to develop these plans. This would be an effective way for government to obtain buy-in and expertise of industry, academics, non-governmental organizations, and Indigenous organizations.

The Minister must also review the targets before the end of 2025 and every five years after. Here, the targets can be revised to reflect updates in available technologies and climate science. This is another opportunity for stakeholder roundtables to shape the future of their sector.

Beyond a brief introduction to climate accountability, this article should flag that individual sectors of the BC economy will have emissions targets to guide their progress over the next decades. Lawyers should consider the opportunities and challenges that these targets may present to clients who operate in these sectors in order to achieve their objectives and secure a healthy climate for us all.