Hasta la vista, CO2

Vancouver skylineBritish Columbia’s greenhouse-gas emissions dropped so much in a newly released batch of stats that even the provincial government is surprised, according to the Vancouver Sun.

The new figures from Environment Canada, covering 2004-05, say that in that year emissions fell 1.6 megatonnes, to 65.7 megatonnes from 67.3 megatonnes — and it happened during a period of significant economic growth: emissions fell nearly 2.4 per cent as the economy grew 3.7 per cent.

Some of the reasons for the reduction included a decreased use of personal vehicles, which saw emissions drop 5.2 per cent, or half a million tonnes.

Boating also saw a major decrease of 7.4 per cent, or 200,000 tonnes and manufacturing decreased by 11.7 per cent, or 750,000 tonnes.

“We’ve actually seen people driving less,” said [Environment Minister Barry] Penner. “Higher gasoline prices likely encouraged people to reduce unnecessary trips in their personal automobiles and/or move to more efficient vehicles,” he said.

“And we’re hearing anecdotal evidence that boaters are just not burning as much fuel on the water.”

Penner attributed the decrease in greenhouse gases from manufacturing primarily because of changes in efficiency, such as reductions in power consumption by Alcan at its giant aluminum smelter in Kitimat. He also said there was a decrease of 100,000 tonnes of greenhouse gases coming from landfills thanks to new technologies to burn off methane gas.

The announcement happens to come on the same day that California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, probably the highest-profile green pol in the United States, hit B.C. during his whirlwind tour of Canada. Stroke of luck, eh?

B.C. Premier Gordon Campbell seems to have rebranded himself and his government along Schwarzenegger’s lines, making a dramatic cut in B.C.’s greenhouse-gas emissions, to 10 per cent below 1990 levels by 2020 a top priority. (The Sun kind of botches this point, but never mind.) The province still has about 22 megatonnes to go, but at least it’s headed in the right direction.

Campbell and the Governator signed a nice but meaningless (“This Memorandum of Understanding is not intended to be legally binding or to impose legal obligations on either British Columbia or California and will have no legal effect”) agreement to emphasize each other’s green credentials today.

The emissions drop just reported, however, actually happened before Campbell went green. It just happened on its own, as a result of individuals and industrial companies making decisions to burn less fuel to do what they needed to do.

Incidentally, this is a convenient illustration of the arithmetical sleight-of-hand that intensity-based greenhouse-gas emissions caps can do. By my math B.C.’s “real” emissions drop is 2.4 per cent, but when you factor in the economic growth, it’s a drop in emissions intensity of nearly 6 per cent. Amazing how a bit of growth can exaggerate even a small change in reality.


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