Sierra Club of Canada: 1996 Rio Report Card

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British Columbia



1993 Grade: -

1994 Grade: C-

1995 Grade: C+

1996 Grade: B-

British Columbia has made substantial progress in the last year on protected areas. In the 1995 Rio Report Card, we noted that B.C. had created over 100 new protected areas since 1991. To that impressive record, this year the province added protected areas in the Stein Valley, the Skagit Valley, Tetrahedron, as well as a series of new Lower Mainland to increase by four-fold the park land in the greater Vancouver area. While it should be obvious -- but given resource development within provincial parks in Manitoba and Alberta, we know it is not always -- it is important to note that protected areas in British Columbia really are protected.

However, on endangered species, the government still has no legislation. The NDP, in an election questionnaire from West Coast Environmental Law, committed itself to bringing in some form of endangered species protection which would include habitat protection. We will be watching for the promised endangered species legislation for next year's Report Card. Meanwhile, the province still permits grizzly hunting. The grizzly is protected once it crosses the border to the U.S. under their legislation, as it is endangered.

On wetlands, the Government deserves less credit. A significant wetland area outside Vancouver, Burns Bog, is still threatened with development. The area could be turned into a golf course if protection is not offered soon. Also the government was lax about a sewage control facility being built on the world famous migratory bird flyway at Boundary Bay. Boundary Bay is in need of permanent protection.

As well, despite the Forest Practices Code, many forest practices continue to put biodiversity at risk. New landslides from clear-cutting on Vancouver Island are decimating salmon habitat. The Forest Practices Code is weak in its biodiversity provisions. Forest managers are only allowed 1per cent "above code" to protect biodiversity. This is based on the etsimate that the impact of the Forest Practices Code will be to remove approximately 6 per cent of the forest land base from exploitation. Anything above the 6 per cent is considered "above code". Planning in this way is unlikely to protect biodiversity on the ground.

Current planning for the old growth forests of Vancouver Island offends not only public process but ecological principles. The Vancouver Island Resource Targets Process proposes that half of Vancouver Island's forests be zoned for Enhanced Management. Most of this is on the west side of the island where the last remaining coastal old growth forest is found. While Sierra Club of British Columbia is very concerned that management practices allowed in "enhanced management" are antithetical to biodiversity protection, no one from our organization is allowed to voice this opinion as the whole process is not open. Sierra Club is allowed to attend as an observer, but not to speak.

Clayoquot Sound is also still being logged without fully implementing the recommendations of the Clayoquot Sound Scientific Panel. Cuts are approved without prior inventories and industry is interpreting the no clear-cut position of the Panel (that no opening could be more than two tree lengths from the next stand of intact forest) as permission to clear-cut log in long ribbons four trees lengths in width.

Despite industry claims to the contrary, species have gone extinct in British Columbia due to logging. A long list of plants, particularly those dependent on old growth forest ecosystems, have already been lost. The conversion of the remaining old growth in B.C. to younger forests in secondary growth has significant risks to biodiversity. Large intact areas of forest ecosystems in old growth state must continue to be set aside. As well, industrial logging practices must change to minimise environmental damage.

Now that the NDP Government has a second mandate under Premier Glen Clark, we hope to see some of the rhetoric about forest practices in B.C. start to make real changes on the ground.


British Columbia - Climate Change

1993 Grade: -

1994 Grade: C-

1995 Grade: C+

1996 Grade: D+

Carbon dioxide emissions (kilotonnes)
1990: 41,094
1994: 44,670
Increase: 8.01%

British Columbia takes the prize for creating the best green sheen. Unfortunately, on climate change, its mostly smoke and mirrors which is why a D+ has been awarded this year.

Former Environment Minister Moe Sihota deserves credit for pushing for national action on climate change in every forum possible, and for having the longest list of initiatives of any province - unfortunately the list of actions which have been completed and will have any impact is much shorter and many options which the B.C. Government promised to evaluate have since been rejected.

According to analysis of the B.C. Action Plan by the West Coast Environmental Law Association (WCELA), the B.C. Government deserves credit for several initiatives, including continual upgrading of energy efficiency standards for new appliances and equipment, its support of Destination Conservation, a school retrofit program, for action on methane emissions from landfills and for passing the Growth Strategies Statutes Amendment Act, enabling municipalities and regional districts to develop and implement strategies that manage growth to restrict urban sprawl.

B.C. is also the only province indicating it will adopt the new Energy Codes for Buildings and Houses, a slightly higher efficiency standard that baseline projections assume all provinces would adopt. This means any potential reduction in emissions is already calcuated in energy projections and cannot be counted again by B.C. It should also be noted that the adoption of the Energy Codes, while generally a positive step, may mean slightly lower standards for natural gas heated homes in the southern part of the province, where most new home construction is taking place. A small commitment to purchase 59MW of renewable electricity is a step in the right direction, but it is lost in the noise of a 12,000 MW system. B.C. Hydro also plans to expand capacity at its Burrard thermal plant by almost 50 per cent. Burrard Thermal is already the largest single emitter in B.C.

According to WCELA,1 the Plan will not succeed in its target of limiting growth in emissions to 4 per cent between 1990 and 2000 (actually entailing a reduction from 1994 levels) unless many options which the plan promises to evaluate are actually implemented. Unfortunately, many of these options are not being implemented, particularly in the transportation sector where emissions growth is the greatest. The Plan commits the B.C. government to evaluating a minimum 10 per cent renewable energy content in gasoline and diesel. WECLA reports that "according to staff at the Ministry of Environment, Lands and Parks, this action item had the greatest estimated emission reduction benefit of any action point in the Plan. However, within three weeks of the publication of the B.C. Greenhouse Gas Action Plan, the province enacted the Cleaner Gasoline Regulation which contained no renewable energy content requirement. Indeed, the reformulated gasoline required by the Regulation has marginally higher life cycle greenhouse gas emissions than current gasoline (takes more energy to make). There are no ongoing discussions within government or with industry regarding renewable energy content requirements and the New Democratic Party has said 'it will not be proceeding with a renewable content requirement at this time.'

The Plan discusses promotion and purchase of alternative fuel vehicles and introduction of advanced technology vehicles such as zero-emission vehicles. The government has acted on its commitment in this area by enacting the B.C. Motor Vehicle Emission Reduction Regulation. The B.C. Regulation requires California low-emission vehicles and sets targets for "cleaner technology vehicles" sales. These vehicles are, however, not more efficient and will NOT reduce greenhouse emissions.

WCELA has also questioned the impact of B.C.s 1100 car per year scrap program on greenhouse gases. Fuel economy standards for vehicles have not improved in Canada since the early 1980s. As a result, a joint B.C. government/oil industry/auto dealer car scrappage program may reduce smog emissions, but it is not clear if it will reduce carbon dioxide emissions. Many vehicles scrapped will have the same fuel efficiency as current vehicles. Moreover, it is not clear if the size of the program is sufficient to accelerate retirement rates for old cars.

There is also a contradiction between the Greenhouse Gas Action Plan and transportation demand management measures. Several highway expansions in the Lower Mainland are to include so-called high occupancy vehicle lanes where vehicles with three or more passengers qualify. High occupancy vehicle lanes only have an impact if they are incorporated into existing infrastructure. Increasing infrastructure only leads to more traffic. Highway development on Vancouver Island is also inconsistent with emissions reductions. While investment in highways continues unabated in B.C., investment in transit falls short. While the Greater Vancouver Regional Districts long-term transportation plan called for a doubling of the number of buses to meet transit modal split goals, B.C. Transit's 10-year plan provides for only modest increase in the number of buses which will at best keep pace with the current low levels of service, and most likely lower them further.

Finally, a requirement that utilities engage in integrated resource planning, a part of the Greenhouse Action Plan, has been reversed in the courts as a result of a successful appeal by the Crown Corporation B.C. Hydro. Integrated resource planning would have required co-ordinated and consistent consideration of social and environmental costs in utility planning.

The results of the recent Mackenzie Basin Impact Study show that a 40 per cent reduction in water demand for the Bennett Dam could offset the impacts of climate change on the Basin. B.C. should commit to adjusting water flows from the Bennett Dam to compensate for the impact of climate change on the Mackenzie Basin.

British Columbia predicts that its plan will limit growth in greenhouse gas emissions to 4 per cent above 1990 levels by the year 2000. B.C. deserves full credit for attempting to quantify the impact of its plan - more than any other province has done. It appears unlikely, however, that the plan will achieve this goal given the vague nature of most of the commitments and lack of full implementation of the measures. As a result, emissions are more likely to be closer to the projected 10 per cent growth over 1990 levels by the year 2000, than 4 per cent growth with the plan.

According to WCELA, B.C. has yet to publish a review of the state of carbon sinks from the province's forests. The much anticipated report is an essential step to measuring successes in this area. Although the Growth Strategies Act is a step toward curbing urban sprawl, urbanization continues to destroy forest and agricultural carbon sinks in the rapidly growing Lower Fraser Valley.

25 - Comments on the British Columbia Greenhouse Gas Action Plan, A presentation to the Air and Water Management Association, Christopher Rolfe, West Coast Environmental Law Association, April, 1996.

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Copyright 1996 Sierra Club of Canada