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Sub-national governments like B.C. lead in climate action

B.C. has the most aggressive climate-action goals in Canada, and we can sometimes think we are the only ones

While national governments from around the world negotiated tirelessly in South Africa, British Columbia was involved in a parallel process with sub-national governments and business leaders who were getting down to the business of reducing greenhouse gas emissions and promoting green energy and jobs.

B.C. has the most aggressive climate-action goals in Canada, and with the implementation of our broad-based, comprehensive and revenue-neutral carbon tax in 2008, we can sometimes think we are the only ones actively pricing carbon and encouraging a green energy sector.

After meeting with global leaders in Durban, it is clear that this is not the case. California, the eighth-largest economy in the world, is now implementing a cap and trade system to reduce carbon pollution. The Golden State has done much more to clean up the environment while awaiting cap and trade, including stringent new car emission standards and renewable fuel requirements. Both were adopted in B.C. and other states and provinces, leading to their eventual adoption at the federal level in the U.S. and Canada.

I had the fortune of sitting on a number of panels with Mary Nichols and Linda Adams, two Californians who have done more for clean air than just about anybody else in the world. I'm looking forward to continuing the great relationship B.C. enjoys with California, along with our other Western Climate Initiative partners: Quebec, Ontario and Manitoba.

There are many other countries putting a price on carbon. The European Union has been doing so for a while, and now Australia has a $23 per tonne carbon tax that will transition to cap and trade in 2015. Dr. Subhjo Banerjee, the Australian director for climate policy, acknowledged that the B.C. experience helped inform the development of their system, which also took considerable political will. Interestingly, Australia will be one of our strongest competitors in future liquefied natural gas export markets so I was keen to discuss this topic with Dr. Banerjee.

Liquefied natural gas from Australia and B.C. can effectively displace more carbon-intensive fuels like coal for electricity generation in Asian countries, which will help to reduce global GHG emissions. When I put this suggestion to the chairman of the China Energy Conservation and Environmental Protection organization, he replied, "I completely agree." This is the national enterprise tasked with reducing emissions and developing clean energy technology in the fastest growing economy in the world, which represents an enormous potential for B.C. companies.

Guangdong province is now implementing a "pilot" cap and trade program that will be larger than Western Europe's, and the intent is to deploy this at the national level in China in 2015.

Korea, Japan and India all have carbon pricing underway with broader efforts targeted for 2015 as well. Leadership in Asia has the potential to make significant impacts on reducing emissions and dealing with climate change.  It will also be a game changer in demand for clean energy and technologies worldwide.

While negotiators struggled over process and protestors demanded faster action, it was clear to me that most of the 20,000 delegates in Durban were getting down to business. Discussions over carbon capture and storage, wind and solar power, and the electrification of remote communities to reduce fossil-fuel dependency took place in formal seminars and informal corridor encounters.

The reality is that no matter what formal agreements are in place, the world is moving toward cleaner energy. It makes sense, not just because it will reduce greenhouse gas emissions and provide cleaner air and water and better health outcomes, but because it is good for the economy. B.C. has demonstrated this in the last four years and this is why B.C.'s Jobs Plan commits that "our province is, and will remain, a climate change leader."

- Terry Lake DVM is B.C.'s Minister of Environment