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Bill 44: What does it mean?

April 2, 2009

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By KC Bell

In 2008, BC’s provincial government passed the Greenhouse Gas Reduction Targets Act, Bill 44, with significant implications.

Carbon Neutral
The government has established a target for all public-sector organizations (PSOs), including SFU, to be carbon-neutral by 2010. "Carbon neutrality" is defined here as a zero sum between the emissions we generate and carbon offsets we purchase. Like all PSOs, SFU must also achieve specific emission-reduction targets, including reducing emissions by 33 per cent from 2007 levels by 2020 and by 80 per cent by 2050.

These are "hard targets" rather than "intensity targets," which means the reductions are relative to the 2007 baseline established in our first greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions audit and do not change as SFU grows in physical space or full-time employee and/or student numbers.

Carbon Tax
All BC residents were introduced to the carbon tax in July 2008. SFU is already paying carbon tax on campus buildings heated with fuel oil or natural gas, and on fuel for fleet vehicles. The estimated cost of our carbon tax for the 2008-09 fiscal year
is $45,000.

Carbon Offsets
Carbon offsets are financial instruments that correspond to the cost of reducing carbon dioxide or other GHGs by one tonne. The market will determine the cost of purchasing offsets, but it is currently estimated at $25/tonne.

Achieving carbon neutrality by 2010 really means we will reduce emissions, as much as we can, then purchase carbon offsets from the provincial Pacific Carbon Trust (PCT) for all remaining emissions, based on an updated audit of 2010 emissions. Our first purchase of carbon offsets takes place in 2011 for 2010.

SFU now produces approximately 17,000 tonnes of GHG/year, and our current estimate of the cost of purchasing carbon offsets from the PCT for 2010 is approximately $500,000. For now, PSOs are not allowed to seek funding from the PCT to finance projects to mitigate their own emission reduction activities. They must pay the carbon tax, buy carbon offsets and pay separately for their mitigation or remediation activities.

Failing any infusion of new government funding to implement GHG emissions reductions, our carbon offset costs and, to a lesser degree, carbon taxes must affect our other activities. This is a concern for all PSOs, not just SFU.

Bill 44 requires us to make difficult yet essential changes in how we do things. But it also releases us from carrying on a wasteful debate about whether or not to change. And it allows us to focus on how to bring about these critical changes as quickly and cost-effectively as possible.

KC Bell is SFU’s director of special projects and co-chair of the sustainability advisory committee.

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