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Opinion: The next phase of CleanBC can reshape the green economy

What's next for British Columbia's ambitious climate journey?
The province's CleanBC plan includes a range of policies, including rebates intended to encourage electric vehicle adoption.

B.C. is well down the path of implementing one of North America’s strongest climate plans. And though a number of key policies continue to be developed—including the oil and gas emissions cap, an emissions cap on natural gas utilities and measures to reduce vehicle kilometres travelled by 25 per cent—many CleanBC policies are now substantially advanced. The plan is working: B.C. has seen a meaningful decline in emissions following a 2018 peak—and in spite of a growing population and economy.

At the same time, B.C. has experienced some of the best per-capita GDP growth in the country over the past decade alongside Quebec, Canada’s other climate leader. The province is home to an impressive seven of the world’s 100 most-promising clean-tech companies, and modelling from Clean Energy Canada and Navius Research shows that B.C.’s clean energy sector could grow six per cent a year out to 2050, if our political leaders seize the opportunity.

At the household level, residents are similarly embracing the transition away from fossil fuels to a cheaper and cleaner future. The province boasts Canada’s highest EV uptake, and heat pump installations soared from 619 in 2019 to well over 6,000 in 2023.  

Which raises the question: What, if anything, should the next government do from here?

CleanBC’s laser focus on emissions reductions must evolve to maintain the support of B.C. residents and businesses. We believe that the next phase of CleanBC—or whatever it will be called—should address three high-priority areas: Building on efforts to get money-saving clean technologies into homes, supporting the growth of clean industries and better helping British Columbians and B.C. industries adapt to climate impacts.

Though inflation has come down from its high point earlier this year, there’s no question that affordability challenges are making it harder for B.C. families to make ends meet. Addressing this challenge needs to be a key priority for any government. Heat pumps, electric vehicles, energy efficiency upgrades and even small installs like smart thermostats can save British Columbians money, all while reducing emissions. Setting ambitious targets for their deployment and directly helping reduce the upfront costs of these technologies should top the climate policy priority list.

Government must increase efforts to attract and build out clean industries that provide economic opportunities provincewide. The energy transition is picking up speed globally, and our competitors and trading partners are securing big investments and breathing new life into legacy sectors with access to clean energy.

B.C. has long been home to promising startups, but until recently—with the announcement of a $1 billion battery manufacturing facility in Maple Ridge—the province has not secured the same scale of investments we’ve seen in places like Ontario and Quebec. The difference? A focus on specific sectors with major opportunities, followed by an alignment of policies and incentives to land these deals. We need the same sort of targeted industrial strategy in B.C., one that leverages our clean electricity to build out sectors like critical minerals and batteries and secures investments in new manufacturing facilities.

Finally, B.C. needs to scale up its efforts to address and communicate the very real costs of climate change for the province. In just the last two years, floods and wildfires have wreaked havoc, caused billions in damages and forced people from their homes. Let’s not forget that over 600 people died in the 2021 heat dome, an event scientists say would have been virtually impossible without human-caused climate change.

The current government has done an admirable job responding to these crises as they have arisen, taking credible steps to help build more resiliency, but this needs to be a larger part of their message. The costs of inaction are enormous, and this truism should be centred in every political conversation around—and analysis of—climate policy.

After all, climate action is as much about protecting our way of life as it is about building a more sustainable economy. There should be nothing less partisan than protecting our neighbours, our local businesses and the pastimes we love.

Mark Zacharias is the executive director and Evan Pivnick is the clean energy program manager of Clean Energy Canada.