Category Archives: Brown Bag Dialogue

The Future of BC’s Carbon Tax

On March 17, Carbon Talks hosted its third brown bag dialogue of the year. In the past, greenhouse gas emissions were essentially ‘free’ for the individuals and corporations emitting them, and only the environment paid the full price. During this dialogue, Nancy Olewiler asked “what do people do when they can get something for free? They take as much of it as they can!” The potential solution is BC’s carbon tax.

The carbon tax is a price tag on GHG emissions and an incentive to get off a high carbon diet. Nancy Olewiler led the dialogue participants through the many merits of the policy – the gradually increasing tax rates will give industries time to adjust to the carbon tax. The tax also has a definite certainty to it because new tax rates are embedded into legislation.

But like any newly implemented policy, the carbon tax is not without shortcomings. Both Nancy Olewiler and the dialogue participants raised a number of issues with the policy as well as suggestions for ways to improve the policy.

Public support is critical for any government policy to thrive. In order to gain public support, the government ensured that the carbon tax would be 100% revenue neutral: every dollar of carbon tax collected must return to taxpayers in the form of reductions and credits.

Click to enlarge financial statement for carbon tax.

Problems with this aspect of the carbon tax are already arising – the 2009/10 forecasts indicate that the government will be returning over $2 million more than it will collect. This sort of discrepancy is not sustainable. Like energy, taxpayer dollars cannot be created or destroyed, only transferred among sectors. If the government continues returning more than it collects for the carbon tax, the government will have to cut funding or increase taxes in other areas.

Nancy Olewiler concluded her discussion of the carbon tax by saying that it is too soon to tell statistically if the carbon tax is working. There has been some evident that corporations are paying attention to the tax and changing their business practices. Still, Nancy Olewiler speculated about whether the carbon tax does enough to change behaviour on an individual level. One major concern is that the government will not be able to raise tax rates high enough to stimulate substantial GHG reductions.

How should the government deal with these shortcomings in the future? What will happen to the carbon tax after 2012? Participants at the dialogue made a number of insightful suggestions. One crucial key to future success for the carbon tax is the public’s trust in the policy. To attain this trust, the government needs to communicate the policy’s procedures and successes.

There were some interesting proposals from our dialogue participants – the government could associate the carbon tax with Medical Service Plan reductions in on order to increase the visibility of the tax. Another suggestion for increased visibility was to include a line on pay stubs showing carbon-tax related tax reductions. Everyone at the dialogue seemed to be in agreement: consolidating public support is the best way to help the government’s carbon tax policy have the desired impact now and into the future.


The 2010 Olympics: A Case Study in Carbon Management

By Kayla Van Egdom

On Valentine’s Day, Carbon Talks held its fourth Brown Bag Dialogue.  In recognition of the one year anniversary of the Vancouver 2010 Winter Games, we asked Ann Duffy, the Sustainability spokesperson for VANOC and Christopher Hakes of Offsetters to take us through the carbon management plan for the Olympics.

The 2010 Olympics was a massive enterprise, exceeding previous games in terms of spectators, participants and Facebook/Twitter followers. Creating a green, socially inclusive and innovative Games was core to the branding of the Vancouver Olympics, and cultivating environmental sustainability was one of the six primary aims of VANOC.

Carbon management at the Games was achieved through four main steps, which Duffy outlined as:

1. Know

Perpetual advances in science and technology helped the VANOC committee make carbon forecasts and measure carbon emissions.

VANOC took into account the seven-year cycle of the Olympics (from initial planning to the follow-up of the Games) and distinguished between the direct and indirect carbon footprints of the games.  VANOC focused on direct carbon footprints – the operations, facilities, air travel and accommodations of the athletes, their coaches and the staff of the Olympics.  Where possible, VANOC tried to address through education and influence, the indirect carbon footprints, which included the air travel and accommodations of spectators.

2. Reduce

Wherever possible, VANOC first adopted a reduction approach to carbon emissions. Reduced use of fuels, clean technologies and LEED venue designs all helped to reduce the carbon footprint of the Games. In addition, the 2010 Olympic Games featured a carbon neutral Torch Relay, with Bombardier ensuring that the torch itself was carbon neutral.  Where reductions were not enough to reach carbon neutrality, VANOC offsets were purchased.

3. Offset

Christopher Hakes, the manager of Client Engagement at Offsetters, covered the design and delivery of the Olympic offset program. Founded in 2005, Offsetters has been the largest supplier of carbon offsets for the Canadian government as well as the official supplier of offsets for the 2010 games.

In addition to offsetting the direct footprint of the Vancouver Olympics, Offsetters partnered with 2010 Legacies to create a portfolio that would offset the Olympics’ indirect carbon footprint. They also played a key role in the education and enabling program – the fourth step in the Olympic carbon management program.

4. Enable/Inspire

As Ann Duffy emphasized, the Olympic Games presented a once in a lifetime opportunity, to reach a wide audience and impact behavioural change. VANOC targeted athletes, partners, sponsors, media and spectators with their sustainability messaging. Through its Sustainability Star program, VANOC awarded partners like the Hydrogen Highway and Richmond’s Olympic Oval for their green innovations.

A catchy video produced by Offsetters and shown at events, was a key tool in delivering sustainability messages to captive spectators.   The Bobwheeling campaign – a fun climate change educational initiative earned global media attention and accolades for its humorous street level public engagement approach. (Check out some of the Bobwheeling and Carbon Neutral Games videos online at the Offsetter’s Youtube channel).


 

Ann Duffy and Christopher Hake presentation brought home the idea that even the largest and most elaborate events can be successful in reducing and managing carbon. With commitment from the leadership of VANOC, a clear set of principles, a well-developed strategy and creative, multi-media approaches to public participation, VANOC presented a case-study for carbon management worthy of emulation.


Tourism: Maximizing Experiences, Minimizing Carbon Footprints

By Kayla Van Egdom

Today’s Brown Bag dialogue featured Dr. Joe Kelly, a professor at Capilano University and one of the founding partners at Gobi Carbon Management Solutions. His presentation featured eye-opening information on the detrimental effects of climate change, the tourism industry’s part in affecting climate change as well as steps that the tourism industry can take to shift to a low carbon economy.

Tourism is one of the major sectors contributing to climate change. If the tourism industry was a country, it would be the fifth largest emitter of greenhouse gases, emitting somewhere between 4-5 percent of total emissions. In addition to contributing to climate change, Dr. Kelly highlighted four climate change-related risks the tourism industry faces: physical changes to our landscapes will detract from the scenic beauty of nature (which can be seen in the case of Vancouver’s pine beetle infestation), new regulations such as BC’s Carbon Tax will increase costs for tourist operators, markets are shifting and consumers or looking for greener tourism options and companies that do not address these market shifts will have to address increased competition and potential brand and reputational risks.

Dr. Kelly believes there is not only a chance, but a profitable opportunity for the tourism industry to re-brand itself.  He suggests that rather than being a commodity, tourism is about experiences. By maximizing experiences and minimizing GHG emissions, the tourism industry will help slow the effects of climate change.

Dr. Kelly identified six steps to a “low-carbon tourism” industry in B.C.1) conserve; 2) improve efficiency; 3) use renewable energy; 4) purchase offsets for GHG emissions that can’t be reduced through other measures; 5) adapt to the climate changes; 6) share your successes with others.

Many businesses are already reaping the rewards of reducing their carbon footprints. Dr. Kelly profiled Harbour Air, pointing out that after their shift to carbon-neutrality, they experienced a 12% increase in revenues (which was primarily due to increased market share). This is a case in point: the market is ready for greener tourism experiences. Dr. Kelly is optimistic, believing that a combination of an environmentally conscientious market and sustainable tourism businesses will slow the damaging effects of climate change in today’s world.

Dr. Joe Kelly is a founding partner of Gobi Carbon Management Solutions, and teaches at Capilano University.