By Alex Boston
I eagerly rolled out the CleanBC Roadmap to 2030 to explore the waypoints for B.C. communities on the province’s short-term climate action agenda.
While there are bumpy sections that will benefit from upgrading and at least one major hazard that should be avoided, there are also lots of worthwhile roadside attractions, including major new landmarks that should be visited by jurisdictions across North America to inform their approaches to confronting this local and global crisis.
While the province was lost in the wilderness for a half decade, the NDP government’s Roadmap sets a course out of the woods to meet its intended 2030 destination, building on some important cornerstones laid by Gordon Campbell’s Liberal government a decade ago.
Based on our historic GHG activity, it’s clear we must rapidly accelerate down this road to avoid a steeper and more dangerous descent to 2030. To date, B.C.’s climate action leadership has been 90 per cent aspiration and 10 per cent implementation. If B.C. is to meet its targets, we must all fasten our seatbelts. Fortunately, the Roadmap has made the journey to 2030 increasingly attractive, so the ride will be worth it.
Strong Design Principles
Roadmap to 2030 was laid by accredited engineers. Strong design principles place the province on a solid runway for bending the GHG trajectory towards 2030 targets.
- A score of new sub-sectoral plans and policy reforms are scheduled over the next several years. The BC Government should adopt a learning by doing ethos that allows early action on clear priorities while full policy and planning frameworks are put in place.
- Specific GHG reductions are quantified by sub-sector to guide further policy development, monitor progress and strengthen accountability, building upon the foundation of sectoral targets established earlier this year.
- The Roadmap establishes a solid set of leading indicators with targets and timetables, e.g. share of renewable fuel, sustainable transportation mode share or Zero Emission Vehicle sales by 2025, 2030, etc. These leading indicators are vital as they drive GHG reductions. Renewable Cities underscored the strategic importance of these leading indicators and their connection to meaningful policies and plans in a submission to the BC Government earlier this year. They are critical for helping the provincial government, as well as local governments, utilities, transit authorities, civil society and markets understand our collective pathway. Leading indicators should be comprehensively developed across all sectors and sub-sectors (e.g. there are no leading indicators for existing buildings or organic solid waste).
- A continuous improvement philosophy to iteratively strengthen existing climate policies is emerging—this enables the province to prepare markets and players to deliver progressively deeper reductions, building upon the success of the BC Energy Step Code, the ZEV Act for light-duty vehicles and the Low Carbon Fuel Standard.
Worthwhile Roadside Attractions
The Roadmap is dotted with worthwhile roadside attractions that can play a decisive role in driving deep GHG reductions across B.C. communities.
Solid Bricks & Mortar: Zero Carbon New Construction
The NDP Government builds on a solid footing for new high performance building construction. The groundwork for the Energy Step Code was originally laid by the City of Vancouver with a notable contribution from the Pembina Institute. Exemplary stewardship by B.C. government civil servants and BC Hydro engaging with other local governments, building inspectors and professionals, builders and developers has created the world’s most effective market transformation building energy policy framework.
The Step Code’s well-defined performance improvements out to 2032 has already inspired North America’s most explosive growth in net zero new buildings. The powerful framework is inspiring other jurisdictions across North America to follow suit.
Roadmap to 2030 will fix the Step Code’s single biggest design limitation: a focus on energy consumption versus carbon emissions. A 2030 zero carbon target will supplement the 2032 net zero energy target with a number of stepping stones along the way.
While the Step Code will only make a modest contribution towards meeting 2030 targets, its big contribution is avoiding carbon lock-in with our next generation of buildings, making a growing contribution to meeting 2050 net zero targets.
A Big Tool Just Got Better: Zero Emission Cars & Trucks
The single biggest legislative tool pulled from the trunk in Roadmap to 2030 is a mega Zero Emission Vehicle mandate, phasing out fossil fuel powered light-duty cars and trucks by 2035. Largely due to the size of this sub-sector—15 per cent of total provincial GHGs—2040’s 100 per cent ZEV sales target put in place just two years ago was the province’s single biggest GHG reduction tool. This tool has just gotten bigger and better.
Renewable Cities made the case for 100 per cent ZEV sales for light duty vehicles by 2030, and we standby this timeline. Adopted by leading European jurisdictions, a 2030 100 per cent ZEV mandate would save the province a megatonne of problems. There are, nevertheless, some small-run, specialized light-duty trucks used commercially that may be difficult to electrify by this horizon, so the government’s steep ramp up to 90 per cent ZEV sales by 2030 and 100 per cent by 2035 is still bold and defensible. The BC Government should monitor market transformation and strengthen requirements if they can be throttled.
Criticism that this policy is weak-kneed and simply following federal commitments is tenuous. The Federal Government has not yet moved from aspiration to legislation in this space. I would put my money on the BC Government leading the country. The feds will then follow.
This important policy has been driven not only by the BC Government, but also by the leadership of many others, including cities, car dealers, private sector fleet managers, and notably, conscientious British Columbians who have driven away from car lots with electric vehicles at unequalled rates across North America.
Tanking Up on Renewable Fuels
While what is under the hood is steadily changing, an even more rapid transition in our vehicles is being pumped into the tank. B.C.’s Low Carbon Fuel Standard requires fuel suppliers to sell fuels with progressively higher shares of renewable fuel content. This innocuous requirement has driven B.C.’s tiny, timeworn refineries and a range of players along the supply chain to become Canada’s most advanced renewable transportation fuel innovators.
Rather than geological carbon, a growing share of feedstock is biological: oilseeds to diverse wastes, including beef tallow, curbside organics, cooking fat and manure. On CleanBC’s Roadmap, gas stations will be serving 30 per cent lower carbon intensity fuels than traditional fossil fuels by 2030 up from 20 per cent today. The Low Carbon Fuel Standard will also extend from road to marine and aviation fuels.
High-Octane Driver’s Seat for Local Government
While its pivotal role is more deeply appreciated in B.C. than anywhere else in Canada, local government still does not have the resources—nor the mandate—necessary to take advantage of its powerful authority and influence on climate action. The Step Code is demonstrative of local governments’ decisive role in market transformation.
Earlier this year, local governments’ meager resources were further hampered by cuts to the Climate Action Revenue Incentive Program (CARIP) grant, a carbon tax rebate created for local governments. Without CARIP, B.C. would not have its Step Code, a large-building EV charging infrastructure bylaw (developed by Richmond used across the province and beyond), Canada’s most successful residential retrofit program in Nelson that is helping inform the province’s emerging retrofit agenda, or the natural asset infrastructure program, discussed below.
Under Roadmap to 2030, a new funding program will be introduced in 2022, ideally with clear and flexible criteria to permit spending on diverse innovations that meet unique local needs and also continue to catalyze initiatives that others can learn from and be scaled more broadly. The new program should prevent spending being diverted into general revenue—though rare, this was a CARIP limitation.
Roadmap to 2030 also outlines commitments to: strengthen community energy and emission data; provide better supports, tools and guidance; advance strategies, actions and incentives; and revive a UBCM-provincial government climate action stewardship council.
Natural Asset Infrastructure
An important landmark on the Roadmap and the first for any province is natural asset infrastructure protection. With smart design—or simply protection—forests, streams, wetlands and foreshores provide diverse services (from flood protection to storm water management to urban heat island mitigation) that are equivalent to or better than hard engineered assets. More than ever, these natural assets can increase resilience to climate change impacts and protect or restore terrestrial carbon and support healthy ecosystems.
The Roadmap indicates the Province will support local government work in this area. The province should support and require action in this area, including natural asset integration in provincially-supported infrastructure projects. This innovation has been driven by leadership from the Town of Gibsons and the Municipal Natural Assets Initiative.
Roadmap to 2030: Top Roadside Attraction
Obscured behind flashy new cars and trucks and high-tech heat pumps lies the top roadside attraction in Roadmap to 2030: sustainable land use. The BC Government is joining a small, elite vanguard acknowledging that driving deep GHG reductions in the transportation sector is not just a series of simple techno fixes, but requires solutions to complex, systemic problems.
The math is straightforward. It takes 30 years to turnover 100 per cent of light duty vehicle stock—the last of the vehicles driven off new car lots today will be pulled off roads in 2050. Today, 90 per cent of these vehicles are powered by fossil fuels. Due to auto-oriented urban growth, driven by local land use plans and facilitated by a steady expansion of highways and bridges, B.C.’s vehicle stock is growing at twice the population growth rate. Since B.C. established its first climate targets in 2007, the population has grown by 20 per cent, yet vehicle stock has grown a whopping 40 per cent.
If you think congestion is getting worse, you’re right. A million cars have been added to BC’s roads since we made a commitment to tackle climate change, rising from 2.5 to 3.5 million. Under current trends, another 1.5 million will be added by 2030 and 3.5 million by 2040.
Under the current ZEV mandate, B.C. will continue to grow the fossil fuel vehicle stock until the mid 2030s. Under the Roadmap’s new ZEV mandate, fossil fuel vehicles will now peak in the late 2020s, preventing the addition of nearly 1 million fossil fuel vehicles to our roads. Coming late to the climate action race, however, means there is going to be a massive stock of fossil vehicles driving around in 2050, undermining the Province’s net zero targets. While resource intensive and costly for consumers, the 100 per cent ZEV sales mandate will require a 100 per cent ZEV registration requirement by the mid 2040’s to meet 2050 targets.
In the short-term—and more important to our quality of life, environment, resilience, public and personal transportation spending—the Roadmap to 2030 lays out an intention to steward better land use, which will cut carbon and congestion and bend the trajectory of vehicle stock and the associated carbon emissions downward.
There is only one country in the world that has cut its transportation sector GHGs to below 1990 levels: Sweden. B.C. has many of the pillars raised by Sweden:
1. Carbon pricing √
2. Renewable content in transportation fuels √
3. Strong Zero Emission Vehicle sales requirements √
B.C.’s Roadmap to 2030 has provided for one more pillar underpinning Sweden’s success:
4. Integrated land use and transportation infrastructure
Sweden has Europe’s lowest sprawl rate, essentially zero. Sweden has eliminated the loss of nature and farmland to urban growth. The North American jurisdiction with the most successful transportation climate action track record is California. GHGs from light duty cars and trucks in B.C. have grown 16 per cent since 2007 while California’s have dropped 6 per cent. California also uses this four-pillar approach.
The sustainable land use pillar sketched out in the Roadmap has the potential to not only cut carbon in light-duty vehicles, it can drive cuts in heavy-duty transportation carbon and operational and embodied carbon in buildings, while protecting terrestrial carbon stores. Urban growth patterns are the biggest and most consistent driver of permanent forest loss after energy development—oil and gas extraction, as well as hydroelectric development.
Sustainable land use can dovetail the province’s agendas for affordability and resilience. Moreover, it’s the Roadmap’s lowest cost strategy. Good land use is a negative cost. The returns are immense. Taxpayers will get far more value for their investments. Focussing growth along transit corridors puts riders and revenue into transit systems. With good land use planning, bridge and highway expansions can improve traffic flow for many, many more years. Sustainable land use puts more money in taxpayer’s pockets as they reduce transportation spending.
Key Roadmap features that define this pillar include:
- Creating a Clean Transportation Action Plan in 2023 that includes integrated land use and transportation planning
- Integrating a climate lens into Official Community Plans and Regional Growth Strategies
- Exploring Local Government Act improvements to land use planning
- Providing better data, support, tools and guidance
Renewable Cities highlighted the benefits and strategies for a sustainable land use pillar in a paper to the UBCM Climate Action Committee that helped establish robust land use recommendations in the final report. This well-hewn cornerstone in the Roadmap builds upon foundational ideas laid by the Gordon Campbell government, which almost every local government in B.C. signed on to in the 2007 Climate Action Charter: a shared commitment to “creating complete, compact, more energy efficient rural and urban communities.”
While so much attention focusses on the headline grabbing conclusions of the IPCC 1.5°C report: 40-60 per cent reductions by 2030 and carbon neutral by 2050, the most germane conclusion for local governments is below the fold:
“effective urban planning can reduce GHG emissions from urban transport between 20% and 50%.” IPCC 1.5°C Report, 2018
Consistent with most of the world, B.C.’s largest and fastest growing emissions sector is transportation. This new land use pillar has potential to not only enable B.C. to meet its transportation sector targets, but as the first province in Canada and one of two jurisdictions in North America, to inspire other jurisdictions. It has taken 15 years to move from an idea to sketching out a pillar. Now, we must thoughtfully and swiftly begin raising it.
Caution: Strategies Slippery When Wet
While it would be too much to expect the Roadmap to set a perfect course to 2030, there are some strategies that are slippery when wet. Early provincial intervention could smooth out this otherwise bumpy ride.
Missed Turn: Organic Waste, Circular Economy & Renewable Fuels
The Roadmap rolls through the bioeconomy, but its focus is on trees when the forest is actually made up of organic waste in every community, household, sewer and livestock farmer’s barn.
The Plan missed an important turn to build on CleanBC’s commitments to divert 90 per cent of organic waste by 2030. This is the single largest source of waste that local governments send to landfill—at a great cost with negligible recovery of its value. The potent methane emissions from organic waste are the source of 5 per cent of provincial GHGs.
Organic waste should be effectively integrated into the circular bioeconomy through anaerobic digestion, enabling local governments to meet their zero waste goals, generating products that help remediate soils and producing renewable natural gas.
While RNG is referenced as part of a general strategy to decarbonize the gas grid, policy should help allocate this strategic fuel to decarbonize complex, high energy intensity activities like cement, heavy-duty, long-haul trucks and highway-based commercial, and public buses.
Don’t Get Caught in the NET
The growing interest in Negative Emission Technologies (NETs) that remove carbon from the atmosphere has many risks. NETs can get caught up in the wheels of governments, dragging time and resources away from the primary focus which must remain stewarding their jurisdictions towards halving GHGs by 2030 and getting to net zero by 2050.
NETs have a useful role in select, high-emission intensity activities like cement, but they should supplement, rather than distract from, efforts to reduce demand and advance diverse decarbonization strategies. If fossil fuel industries chose to finance NETs, they can. Subsidies that sustain fossil fuel development, including NETs, should be phased out.
As carbon accounting exercises, natural carbon sequestration strategies, such as marine blue carbon cultivation, reforestation and soil carbon sequestration are extremely risky as the carbon can disappear abruptly due to intense storm events, wildfires, heat waves and insect infestations. Enhancing ecological carbon can and should be a co-benefit of bigger ecological restoration and protection initiatives. The number one priority for natural carbon storage systems should be protection. Every year, B.C. loses natural carbon systems due to urban growth, industrial development and even transit infrastructure deployment, like the new Surrey Langley SkyTrain that is pushing rails through forest and field with inadequate safeguards to cut carbon and congestion.
To keep us on course, Roadmap to 2030 should lay down some rumble strips to alert us before we get trapped in NETs.
Existing Buildings Largely Bypassed
While new construction is given a prominent spotlight in the Roadmap, existing buildings—comprising 12 per cent of the province’s GHGs—are largely bypassed. This is a complex challenge demanding a multifaceted framework.
Hopefully the Roadmap’s commitment to high-efficiency standards for heating equipment and reference to regulations in existing buildings will be laid out in the Comprehensive Existing Building Strategy briefly described for 2024. This strategy should clearly define an on-ramp to zero carbon retrofits and a pathway to a zero-carbon building stock with well-defined benchmarks along the way, similar to what has been laid out for new building construction and light duty ZEVs.
Large buildings are only one heating system replacement away from 2050. Virtually every heating system replacement going into buildings today is inadequate and will have to be replaced again by 2050, adding additional, unnecessary costs for building owners and taxpayers. This sector requires methodical, accelerated action.
Solid Mass Timber Signpost Should be Prefab
Mass timber is prominently featured along the Roadmap to 2030, and it should be. However, it appears mass timber development is the ends versus part of the means to meeting multiple strategic objectives, specifically:
- low operational carbon in buildings
- high resource efficiency and embodied carbon in buildings
- secure value-added jobs in forest dependent communities
- forest protection and sustainable forest management
- industrial development for domestic and international markets
Building the capacity of a high-performance, prefabricated construction sector is a more sure-fire pathway to meeting these objectives rather than a primary focus on mass timber. Prefabricated construction is almost certainly necessary to deliver at the top of the Step Code across B.C. and allows us to adjust to a steadily declining workforce. Prefab increases labour productivity. Similarly, prefab will probably be needed to scale many zero carbon building energy retrofits, as it is in leading European jurisdictions. High performance prefab has immense domestic and international market potential. Prefab will almost invariably include significant engineered, mass timber wood products, but could also include other products, including low and mid-rise wood frame construction and other sustainable, low embodied carbon materials.
Focussing narrowly on a mega mass timber versus prefabricated construction has risks:
- Reputational/market risk associated with real and perceived unsustainable forest management.
- Rising innovation and market demand for diverse, sustainable low embodied carbon materials could squeeze out product exclusively focussed on mass timber.
- Declining forest fiber quantity and quality, compromising production volume.
B.C. should critically evaluate the mass timber agenda relative to a prefabricated construction agenda to optimize a pathway that mitigates risks and maximizes opportunity across multiple objectives.
Roadmap Misses Major Hazard: Phasing Out Oil and Gas Extraction
With a requirement to cut upstream oil and gas GHGs 35 per cent by 2030, the Roadmap falls short of requiring this large sector—one-fifth of B.C.’s total GHGs along with significant collateral damage—to match the province-wide 40 per cent reduction by 2030 target. Unlike other sectors (e.g. light duty fossil fuel vehicles or carbon in new buildings), the Roadmap didn’t define a final stop on the fossil fuel extraction journey at any point in the future.
While fracked gas will generate public revenues, they are modest given the enormity and diversity of subsidies afforded to the industry. There is a zero carbon solution for every application of natural gas. British Columbians are simply not fairly compensated for these non-renewable resources. These ledgers also ignore the immense ecological cost in the form of water contamination, seismic risk and habitat loss, as well as the rising evidence of public health risks. The balance sheet also omits the atmospheric cost and sustained climate change impact on communities in B.C. and around the world.
The full social, environmental and atmospheric cost of oil and gas should be incorporated into its royalty structure when B.C. reviews royalties for the oil and gas regime.
Sustaining oil and gas extraction is a major obstacle on the road to net zero. Leading climate action plans require methodical strategies for an orderly phase out of fossil fuel extraction. This must be prioritized in future planning processes.
Alex Boston is Executive Director of Renewable Cities and a Fellow with SFU’s MJ Wosk Centre for Dialogue. Alex has served scores of local governments, utilities, senior governments, real estate developers and non-profits on climate change mitigation and adaptation.
Download the Roadmap to 2030.