March 7th, 2010, by John Shideler

Winter Olympic Games in British Columbia focused the attention of the world recently on Canada’s Pacific Coast province. The gold, silver and bronze medals earned by athletes from around the world celebrated achievement in demanding individual and team competitions and showcased the province’s world class communities and sporting event venues.

British Columbia also stands out in ways not related to the Olympic Games. It is a North American leader in its commitment to addressing climate change. Through acts of parliament and regulation, British Columbia has directed the provincial government and public sector organizations to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, directed consideration of environmentally sustainable planning and development at the local level, begun preparations to adapt to climate change, and implemented mandatory greenhouse gas (GHG) reporting for regulated industry.

As a member of the Western Climate Initiative, British Columbia, along with the provinces of Ontario, Quebec, and Manitoba and six western US states, is preparing to implement a regional cap-and-trade program to reduce GHG emissions. Cap-and-trade will take effect in British Columbia (BC) on January 1, 2012, the same date that market-based mechanisms are scheduled to start in California and the other WCI member states.

Legislation passed in 2007 set ambitious goals for reducing BC’s greenhouse gas emissions: 33% fewer in 2020 compared to 2007 levels, and a target of 80% reductions by 2050. The law also requires that public sector organizations in British Columbia be “carbon neutral” for the 2010 calendar year and for each subsequent year thereafter. The law specifically targets GHG emissions related to public officials traveling on public business. Carbon neutrality under the law can be met both by GHG emission reductions and by application of emission offsets.

In 2008, British Columbia enacted a “Green Communities” statute. This law strengthened the ability of local governments and Regional Districts to reduce GHG emissions through Community Action Plans and other mechanisms. New and existing authorities allow municipal governments to achieve GHG emission reductions from energy efficiency, more sustainable use of water (moving water requires the use of energy), restrictions on development, promotion of alternative forms of transportation, zoning and building code changes, economic incentives for construction of small residential units, and consideration of land-use planning and environmental impacts when approving development.

Recognizing that the effects of climate change will be felt for decades, even as emission reduction actions are implemented within the province now and for years to come, British Columbia has identified a number of climate change impacts that require adaptation strategies. The impacts include more long-term warming, more extreme weather, changes to precipitation patterns, and rising sea levels. Ministry of Environment public information cites adverse impacts that have already been felt, such as the mountain pine beetle infestation, triggered by warmer winters, seasonal droughts of above-average magnitude in 2003 and 2009, and intense wildfire seasons in the same years. Strategies to prepare for climate change impacts include development of improved knowledge and tools to address climate change, makinge adaptation a part of BC’s planning and decision-making processes, and assessing risks and implementing priority actions in key climate sensitive sectors.

The strategies identified by British Columbia to address climate change are more akin to Olympic team events than to feats of individual performance. The objective is transformational in scope and collaborative in nature. Through its public actions, BC is showing that responding to climate change is a challenge that promises dividends to generations of current and future residents for decades to come.

© 2010, Futurepast: Inc.

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