BC government is not carbon neutral, finds auditor general
By , March 27, 2013, The Hook. Read excerpts below.
The British Columbia government has been buying carbon offsets that are not credible and therefore the government's claim to being carbon neutral is inaccurate, Auditor General John Doyle concluded in a report released today.
Doyle also noted in his report An Audit of Carbon Neutral Government that "vested interests" targeted his office and delayed the report.
The government created the Pacific Carbon Trust to take money from public sector bodies including schools and hospitals to buy carbon offsets from the private sector. The idea was to reduce the public service's carbon footprint to zero by buying emission reductions.
"The credibility of carbon offsets is the crux of the entire concept," wrote Doyle. "Within a complex system of dense terminology and calculations is mired a common sense test: Would the project have happened in the absence of carbon finance?"
Doyle's office took a close look at two projects that accounted for 70 per cent of the offsets the government bought in 2010, the first year it claimed to be carbon neutral: the Darkwoods Forest Carbon project in southeastern B.C. and the Encana Underbalanced Drilling project near Fort Nelson.
"This claim of carbon neutrality is not accurate, as neither project provided credible offsets," wrote Doyle. Both projects would have happened without the money for the carbon offsets, he said.
"Neither project was able to demonstrate that the potential sales of offsets were needed for the project to be implemented," he wrote. "Encana's project was projected to be more financially beneficial to the company than its previous practices, regardless of offset revenue, while the Darkwoods property was acquired without offsets being a critical factor in the decision."
Doyle also went into detail on the interference with his office during the audit. "Of all the reports I have issued, never has one been targeted in such an overt manner by vested interests, nor has an audited organization ever broken my confidence, as did the senior managers at PCT by disclosing confidential information to carbon market developers and brokers," he said.
"The orchestrated letter-writing campaign from domestic and foreign entities which followed this disclosure demanded considerable staff time, and resulted in the delay of this report. I cannot sufficiently express my surprise and disappointment that a public sector entity, with a fiduciary duty to the people of British Columbia, chose to expend its time and energy in this manner, rather than addressing the concerns raised in the audit –- and that they did so with the knowledge of their governing board," he wrote.
Environment Minister Terry Lake questioned Doyle's expertise. "We reject entirely his conclusion that the offsets he examined are not credible," said Lake. "We fundamentally reject the auditor general's conclusion that government has not met its objective of achieving carbon neutral public sector."
**********************************************But Auditor-General John Doyle – whose report was withheld from release Tuesday by the Speaker of the legislature – says that the Pacific Carbon Trust has been paying too much, often double the free- market price, and that the offsets do little to reduce B.C.’s greenhouse-gas emissions.
The Globe and Mail obtained a copy of the report from other sources.
Instead of releasing the document as scheduled Tuesday, Speaker Bill Barisoff issued a brief statement saying it is being withheld.
“Since a breach of Parliament may have occurred, the report will not be distributed until the Speaker has concluded his discussions with the Auditor-General,” stated Mr. Barisoff.
Mr. Doyle said his office had shared draft copies of the report “with the relevant ministries,” but that was standard practice.
“What we’ve done this time is what we’ve done time after time again,” he said of his office’s policy of providing advance drafts to the affected ministry and to MLAs who have been involved in the issue under scrutiny.
Ben Parfitt, of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, has long been a critic of the government’s carbon program.
“It’s a damning indictment of the province’s whole carbon neutral policy,” he said when asked to comment on Mr. Doyle’s findings. “It sounds like the Auditor-General has found the vast majority of the offsets sold by the Pacific Carbon Trust turn out to be bogus credits … it’s shocking.”
Mr. Parfitt called on the government to release the Auditor-General’s report immediately.