Legislating accountability for taking climate action

Nov 19, 2019 | 41-4, Bills, Blog, Environment, Governance, Video | 2 comments

Bill 38, the Climate Change Accountability Amendment Act (2019), strengthens the responsibility of the provincial government to take action on reducing emissions and addressing climate change.

It is important that government is accountable because trust us is not good climate policy.

The Bill establishes the requirements for government to: set interim and sectoral targets, table an annual report on the progress of our emissions reduction, reduce the time for publishing data, and establish an independent advisory committee to advise the Minister.

In my second reading response to the Bill I highlight why setting these accountabilities law is important. And, I cast forward to what it will be like living in a low-carbon, low-emissions society. I pause for a moment on the opportunity we have to build for British Columbia a sustainable economy, safer more secure communities, and resilient well-functioning eco-systems that increase the quality of life for everyone.

Bill 38 is a foundation for what comes next.


I’m grateful to stand for second reading of the Climate Change Accountability Amendment Act, 2019. As my colleague has stated in his remarks previously, climate change rhetoric is nothing without transparent, accurate, timely and publicly accessible data. Political promises are worthless without legislated accountability. “Trust us” is not good climate policy.

I’m proud the B.C. Green caucus has been able to contribute to the development of this legislation in such a fundamental way. It is my sincere hope that the transparency and accountability mechanisms in this bill, if passed, will last well beyond this minority government and set an evidence-based foundation from which all future climate policy can be built.

The main components of Bill 38 are requirements for government to set interim targets, sectoral targets and to table an annual report to the Legislature to detail our emissions reduction progress. The annual reports will outline the latest emissions data and projections as well as actions planned for future years and the effect that they’re expected to have.

It will also include a determination of the climate risks our province is facing, along with the risk reduction policies and any mitigation or adaptation plans.

It also legislates the establishment of an independent advisory committee. The committee will be made up of members from diverse areas of expertise and regions of the province and can provide advice to the minister on policies that can lead to further reductions, progress towards targets, opportunities for sustainable economic development, opportunities for climate mitigation and adaptation, among other matters related to the act.

Lastly, this bill gives government the ability to set more detailed targets and other environmental standards for publicly owned buildings and vehicle fleets to help reduce emissions, improve environmental performance, save money and support innovation.

The Climate Change Accountability Act, as currently written, already includes legislated greenhouse gas reduction targets as well as a requirement to collect data for tracking emissions. But our targets are set ten years apart, and data is published on a two-year delay. Combine that with the four-year government mandate, and you create a situation where political parties spend the first two years blaming their predecessors for bad results and the next two years saying that they’re just getting started while making promises that they can only fulfil if you vote them back in. Then, before you know it, the ten-year target is within sight, but by that time it’s too late to substantively change our emissions trajectory. Bill 38 claims to cut through those excuses by shortening the time scale and increasing transparency.

To situate Bill 38 in the broader climate context, I would like to bring to the chamber’s attention some of the reports that have been published in the last year. I appreciate that my colleague has done the same, but I think it warrants repeating.

To start, there was the 2018 IPCC special report, in which the world’s leading climate scientists warned there are only a dozen years for global warming to be kept to a maximum of 1.5 degrees Celsius, beyond which even a half degree will significantly worsen the risks of drought, floods, extreme heat and poverty for hundreds of millions of people. A few months later, Canada’s Changing Climate was published by the federal government. The report noted that northern Canada is warming at twice the global rate and highlighted B.C. as being particularly vulnerable to drought, glacial loss, severe wildfires and sea level rise, which will salinate farmland.

Shortly after that, we had the report from the United Nations Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services, which stated in stark terms that we are in the midst of an extinction crisis, with a million species likely disappearing within decades, the consequences of which would be devastating for ecosystem stability and food production.

Then we got the report from the United Nations special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights. Professor Alston said the world is on course for “climate apartheid,” where the rich will buy their way out of the worst effects of global warming and the poor will suffer. “Even under the best-case scenario,” he wrote, “hundreds of millions will face food insecurity, forced migration, disease and death…. Staying the course will be disastrous for the global economy and put vast numbers into poverty,” he wrote.

Then this summer, the province quietly released their strategic climate risk analysis for British Columbia. In it, severe wildfires, seasonal water shortages and heatwaves were the three highest-ranked risks facing the province in terms of severity, magnitude and likelihood. Ocean acidification, glacier-mass loss and long-term water shortages also were on the list.

And just last week, the climate transparency analysis of G20 nations found that Canada is in the top three countries furthest off track from meeting their emissions reductions targets. Our per-capita emissions are 18.9 tonnes. The G20 average is 7.5 tonnes. Not an illustrious list to be on.

We talk a lot about being environmentally conscious in British Columbia and Canada. The data tells a different story about who we are and how we are. We are managing to zero as we jump from crisis to crisis, so consumed by triaging that we fail to pause and consider what is causing these crises in the first place.

What is the state of governance in the fossil fuel era? It’s a political economy so intertwined with industry that the rules have evolved to favour those who stand to gain the most, where a government that should be protecting its people cringes in the corner when multinational corporations level empty threats.

It’s about good governance. It is the politics of accommodation. It pivots on threats of competitiveness, bends to meet the demands of fossil fuel interests and is willing to sacrifice all else for profit. It is a system that relies on narrowly defined cost-benefit analysis that discredits ecological value and dismisses cultural well-being. When you consider the true costs of expanding the fossil fuel sector in the face of a growing climate crisis, only those who stand to profit or those who have been made to feel there is no other option could possibly feel it is a worthwhile endeavour.

Consider for a moment a simple local example. According to the provincial and federal governments’ analysis of the most severe climate change risks facing British Columbia, the quality and quantity of fresh water is on trend to be the most pressing. We know fresh water is quite literally essential for human life, ecosystems and agriculture. We know that mimicking natural filtration systems with staggeringly expensive water treatment facilities makes our population less resilient and more vulnerable, not to mention the other plants and animals it leaves with unhealthy water. Yet this government continues to approve unsustainable logging practices that put our watersheds and water supplies at further risks, beyond the challenges that climate change will bring.

Only if you are using an incomplete analysis can the value of fibre justify the costs to the local community and ecosystem. Peachland, with a population of 5,500, for example, must now spend $25 million on a water treatment plant. The Comox Valley is on the hook for a $125 million plant. Just because we don’t account for the other costs doesn’t mean we don’t have to pay for them.

Adding further insult to injury, this year every member of government and every member of the official opposition voted in favour of massively expanding the fossil fuel industry in British Columbia, offering them hundreds of millions, possibly billions in subsidies to further tip the equation in their favour. While we superheat our environment, 82 members in this place offered a golden handshake in grotesque corporate welfare.

I wonder what our children and grandchildren will think when they look back on this year and realize that in the face of all the evidence to the contrary, this government decided: “Yeah, now is the time to massively increase fracking in British Columbia. Let’s take more of that precious fresh water, mix it with chemicals and push it underground. What’s more, let’s target that fracking in some of the most fertile land in the province and flood a huge portion of it to power the whole operation.” Oh, and don’t worry about the earthquakes. You know what the industry says about that? They say those were going to happen anyway.

Who pays for those unaccounted costs? Well of course, we do. The people do. First Nations, commercial fishermen, hunters — they’re already paying for the missing salmon and wildlife. Communities will pay for it every time they have to rebuild after a fire or flood. The 2017- 2018 forest fire season cost us $1.2 billion. Most of all, it’s our youth who pay for it. Major flooding in the Fraser delta as is expected with the increasing sea level rise could cost us up to $30 billion. Are we planning for that? Have we thought about that?

Despite what the entrenched incumbent players will have you believe, it does not have to be this way. Actually, I don’t think it can be this way. We can’t afford it.

Luckily, we are fortunate enough to live in one of the best locations on the planet from which to navigate the climate-related challenges ahead. We have access to boundless renewable energy, fibre and water, like no other jurisdiction in the world. We have incredible potential to create renewable energy and sustainable forestry sectors to support our economy and feed innovation.

Transitioning to a carbon-neutral world doesn’t mean going back to the Dark Ages. It means transitioning to a cleaner, sustainable society, where economic, social and environmental concerns are central in our decision-making. They actually inform our decision-making. They actually are not scoffed at.

It is exciting to think about what a carbon-neutral society would look like day to day, as we went about our busy lives. To start, it would be quiet and clean. Cities would be designed for walking, cycling, electric public transit and electric cars. There would be less traffic, less smog. Our homes would be more comfortable, bright, warm and dry in the winter and cool in the summer. We’d have less plastic and garbage, and our communities would be no longer strewn with litter.

With more trees planted and natural spaces conserved to absorb carbon and filter water, we’d have fresh air and the songs of birds on our way to work. The salmon would come back, maybe the bees too. Sustainable agriculture would provide local, healthy food grown on farms that sequester carbon in the soil and use less pesticides. Sure, we might eat less meat, but by trading factory-farm beef for cattle raised locally using slower, sustainable practices that regenerate the land, it would taste better. And it wouldn’t be loaded with antibiotics.

With less air pollution and more active transportation, we’d feel healthier. There’d be more interconnected communities and less fear over a climate catastrophe. We’d actually feel happier. We have so much to gain.

It’s not just possible that the transition to a clean economy would create jobs; it’s actually inevitable — jobs that are inspired, important and valuable. This shift can be the vehicle to deliver a more just, equitable and healthy society. What I’m describing is not an impossible utopia. Every example listed is grounded in current economic trends, scientific evidence and already established best practice.

Through the Green caucus’s work with the government on CleanBC and the amendments included in this bill, we have created the conditions for this change. To fully realize these possibilities, we need to start planning beyond the next election cycle. We need to focus on building a new economy that works for us all, not just the privileged few. That’s what Bill 38 is about. It’s the foundation for what is next.

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  1. Gerry Taylor

    Good news finally with Bill 38 and attempts to house climate change issues. The current problem is where is the action implied in the Act to be “managed”? I would suggest it is presently fractured badly in our provincial government and not much better federally! It is now long time past for viable co-ordination through new paradigms in new Ministries of Ecology (Ecosystems), alliances of environmentalists, public advisories, public Ecosystem Foundations and supporting Ecosystem Trusts. Tough times ahead require some innovative thinking and timely application in a non-partisan fashion. To do otherwise is at our peril!

  2. Kiersten Brookes

    Thank you Adam, you have spelled out the need for accountability. I think we need a public and scientist run task force to keep the government and corporations accountable. After reading a sign at PKOLS beach recently and being surprised that no more run off water testing is going to be occuring. I wonder who will be watching and keeping the pollutants and energy use in check. We all have the responsibility to ensure our emissions and pollutants do not create a world where the temperature rises further. This requires quick system wide response. Instantaneous implementation of all institutions and public buildings solar powered, with the implementation of heat pumps, the stopping of all slash burning, and a stoppage of logging all old growth and the protection of all wetlands. As well as no fossil fuel development, no fracking, no pipelines, and the conversion of all existing refineries to run using solar power. These implementations may be enough here but we also have to convince other countries to follow suit. I want to make it happen. I wonder how many others want this too? I still have hope. As my students head to the legislature Monday and we tie messages of care to the large trees in our midst who are providing carbon sequestration and oxygen for us to breathe, stabilizing the soils to prevent erosion and providing habitat for untold species. We will breath our wishes to the wind that the governments and corporations will listen for our youth want a safe future. I want that for them and for my own children too.



  1. Powered by sunshine - Adam Olsen, MLA - […] this week, I delivered my second reading speech to the Climate Change Accountability Amendment Act (2019). In that speech, I highlighted…

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