With "Forging Gold Medal Standards" as its theme, the 2010 convention of the Union of British Columbia Municipalities (UBCM) is seeing carbon offsets emerge as a common thread among local governments.
That was particularly true of the convention's second day, where John Yap, Minister of State for Climate Action, announced to a session of the UBCM Green Communities Committee that the province is working on a framework whereby local governments can offset their output of greenhouse gases through projects within their communities.
"The framework will provide guidance on optional reduction projects that a local government may want to invest in, as well as offset providers such as Pacific Carbon Trust and Offsetters," Yap said in an interview.
To date, 179 local governments have signed up to the B.C. Climate Action Charter, a commitment by each community to achieve carbon neutrality by 2012. That means each of them has committed to taking stock of their carbon output and buying "carbon offsets" to create an equivalent reduction of carbon emissions elsewhere.
To achieve that, local governments have committed to purchasing carbon offsets through firms such as Pacific Carbon Trust, a Crown corporation, as well as Offsetters, a private firm based in Vancouver.
Offsets are purchased through these firms for anywhere between $20 and $25 per tonne of reduced carbon. That money is put towards projects that aim to reduce the amount of greenhouse gases released into the atmosphere.
In the case of Pacific Carbon Trust the money goes towards projects such as a biomass burner at a cement plant in Richmond; energy curtains at private greenhouses in Delta, Abbotsford and Langley; and to a biomass burner at a Quik Farms greenhouse in Chilliwack.
Whistler is buying approximately $50,000 worth of offsets through Pacific Carbon Trust in its first year of working towards carbon neutrality. Councillors Ted Milner and Ralph Forsyth have expressed concern that money is leaving the community as Whistler attempts to achieve carbon neutrality.
The framework announced by the provincial government this week responds to those concerns. But Yap said the province doesn't yet have a full measure of how the new carbon offset regime will work. However he said it will allow communities to offset their carbon emissions in-house, so to speak.
"In addition to carbon offsets, local governments can look at pre-approved projects to put their offset funds into credit on a tonne-for-tonne basis," he said. "So every tonne of carbon emissions has to be offset by a tonne of offset, or reduction in emissions.
"What would be of interest is the third option, which is to look at investing in local projects that will lead to meaningful, credible emissions reduction."
Those projects could take various forms, Yap said. It could be a public utility, giving incentive to communities to take on retrofits to satisfy their energy needs.
"We need it to be credible and we need it to be verifiable," Yap said.
Ted Battiston, the RMOW's strategic energy and emissions manager, said in an e-mailed response that there are still many challenges associated with locally-based carbon offset projects. Among other things, he said third party validation costs tend to be large, relative to potential revenues.
He added that Whistler is interested in local projects but that the scale of such projects generally creates a situation where the fixed carbon offset budget will only achieve a small fraction of the reductions required to reach neutrality.