'The science is clear. It leaves no room for procrastination. Global warming is real.'

'The science is clear. It leaves no room for procrastination. Global warming is real.'
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With those words, the government of the Canadian province of British Columbia took what might be the most aggressive leadership position in the world on the issue of global warming.

The quote – that headline – is taken from the provincial Speech from the Throne, a broad statement of intent that parliamentary governments use to begin new sessions of the legislature. As such, it is a policy statement, rather than a legislated commitment. But the vision – the sheer audacity – of that stated policy puts British Columbia at the forefront of the global battle against climate change.

For example, the government promises that “It will aim to reduce B.C.’s greenhouse gas emissions by at least 33 per cent below current levels by 2020. This will place British Columbia’s greenhouse gas emissions at 10 per cent under 1990 levels by 2020.” You might quibble about seeing the word “aim” in the preamble, but it takes real political courage to set out a 33-per-cent reduction in 13 years. And every politician knows that the weasel words never count at the polls. If you try something, and fail, you pay the price.

But B.C. Premier Gordon Campbell clearly realizes that there is a potentially larger price to pay. The speech says that, of all the government’s environmental priorities, “none is more important than the critical problem of global warming and climate change,” a problem that is “literally threatening life on Earth as we know it.”

It also says, “The more timid our response is, the harsher the consequences will be.”

This response was not timid in the least. One of the boldest initiatives was this: “Effective immediately, British Columbia will become the first jurisdiction in North America, if not the world, to require 100 per cent carbon sequestration for any coal-fired project… That means no greenhouse gas emissions will be permitted for coal-fired electricity projects anywhere in British Columbia.”

In other times, this could have been dismissed in a province where most electrical energy comes from hydro developments, but the BC Utilities Commission had given approval to two coal-fired plants in the last year. Those are now dead in their tracks.

The government also promised a new energy plan that would “require British Columbia to be electricity self-sufficient by 2016” and that “All new and existing electricity produced in B.C. will be required to have net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2016.” That, too, is unprecedented in North America.

It should be noted, for those outside of this jurisdiction, that the current B.C. government is not one of those wild-eyed, left coast radical groups. Although Liberal in name, it is not associated with Canada’s Liberal party. Rather, it is a coalition of right-of-centre provincial parties – including Liberals and Conservatives as well as the more populist Reformers and Social Credit. When Premier Campbell’s government was first elected in 2001, it immediately instituted the largest tax cut in provincial history and the left-wing New Democractic Party has continued to complain about the aggressive way this Liberal party has reduced the size and scope of government in British Columbia.

But when it comes to climate change, Premier Campbell obviously “gets it.” But his government is just as obviously aware of the challenges of meeting hard targets.

Acknowledging, “Clearly there is a limit to what can be credibly accomplished within any given period of time,” the government promised, “A Climate Action Team will be established. Working with First Nations, other governments, industries, environmental organizations, and the scientific community it will determine the most credible, aggressive, and economically viable sector targets possible for 2012 and 2016.”

B.C. will set automobile emission standards that keep pace with those in California, and will work with California, Oregon and Washington on other climate and environmental policy developments.

The overall tone of this speech is one of optimism and – frankly – opportunism:

“Indeed, being bold and far sighted will foster innovation, new technologies, and plant the seeds of success. Just as the government’s energy vision of 40 years ago led to massive benefits today, so will our decisions today provide far reaching benefits in 2040 and 2050.

“Our actions will mean more jobs, new investments, and ultimately greater prosperity for British Columbia. Climate action must be seen and pursued as an economic opportunity as well as an environmental imperative.”

This is inspiring stuff. It is the kind of political leadership that has been lacking in North America, with the sole exception of Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s initiatives in California.

We can only hope that British Columians – and especially B.C. businesses – rise to the challenge, and that other political leaders in Canada and farther afield pay close attention to the good things that can come from addressing climate change.

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