Changes in store to B.C.’s carbon offsets program

Province looking at ways to show better return to public

The B.C. government’s carbon neutrality program is working, but it needs changes, Environment Minister Terry Lake says.

Lake spoke to a conference of senior federal officials in Victoria recently, reminding them that B.C. is the first state or provincial government in North America to be “carbon neutral,” requiring public services to offset carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions by buying credits from the government’s Pacific Carbon Trust.

The offset payments are used to fund emission reduction projects, and to create an incentive for managers to find ways to reduce fuel consumption. The requirement covers not only provincial ministries, but school districts and health authorities, and Lake acknowledges that has been controversial because beneficiaries include private resource companies.

“I think the principles are correct, but the implementation needs to be worked on,” he said in an interview. “I think people would prefer that when we see public institutions putting money into the Pacific Carbon Trust for instance, that there should be a direct correlation coming back to those organizations to help them reduce their carbon footprint.”

The Pacific Carbon Trust (PCT) was set up by the province to collect offset funds from government operations and specific projects that cut carbon emissions.

In 2010 the PCT collected $4.4 million from B.C.’s 60 school districts, to compensate for emissions that mostly come from school buildings. School bus emissions are exempt, but other vehicle emissions must be reported and offset.

Greater Victoria School District paid $152,040 in offsets, down from $200,000 the year before.

The Vancouver Island Health Authority paid $822,981, and public post-secondary institutions in Greater Victoria paid $475,967. They include the University of Victoria, Camosun College and Royal Roads University.

The Trust has funded projects to reduce emissions of some of B.C.’s biggest industrial carbon dioxide sources, which are, so far, exempt from B.C.’s carbon tax. Only one project has qualified for funding on the Island. TimberWest received money to conserve an old-growth forested area near Strathcona Provincial Park that would otherwise be harvested. The protected area will reduce 600,000 tonnes of carbon over three years.

Lake said the B.C. government has started working on ways for public money to go to public projects. “I’m not sure where we’ll end up with it, but I think generally what we’ll see is some sort of fund within the Pacific Carbon Trust that’s dedicated to schools, to hospitals, so that money comes back to them to help reduce their carbon footprint.”

– with files from Roszan Holmen