Editorial — Carbon offsets are smoke and mirrors

The carbon offset program needs a more thorough examination, and should be curtailed until that examination has taken place.

The audit of the Pacific Carbon Trust raises many fundamental questions about the province’s claim to be carbon-neutral.

Many people have questioned the scheme which forces public agencies to pay funds equalling $25 per tonne of greenhouse gas emission to PCT, a Crown agency. This money has come from the operating budgets of schools, hospitals and universities.

PCT in turn buys carbon offsets from private organizations, so that a wooded area in the Kootenays was saved from logging, in part through this agency.

It is highly questionable to take money from classrooms and emergency rooms to buy carbon offsets. It would make much more sense to give capital funds to various provincial agencies to physically reduce their greenhouse gas emissions through, for example, more efficient furnaces or better insulation.

However, like many political programs, there is a large element of smoke and mirrors in this. The public are being told that government is reducing emissions, and some of them actually believe it.

What is even more bizarre about this audit is that PCT and other individuals and groups that benefit from carbon offsetting were circulating information ahead of the release of the auditor-general’s report, and actively attempting to debunk it.

Environment Minister Terry Lake, who otherwise seems to be a reasonable individual, bought into this, and said at a press conference “Who audits the auditor-general?”

He clearly does not believe that there is anything wrong with taking money from schools and hospitals and redistributing it to private corporations which, according to the report, would likely undertake programs to reduce emissions anyway.

The audit indicates that the entire carbon offset program needs a more thorough examination, and it should be curtailed until that more detailed examination has been made.

In the meantime, if the government has money it can put towards reducing emissions, it needs to put it towards actual projects within the public sector — not to private corporations and non-profits.

Reducing carbon emissions is a worthy goal. Government has a role to play, but must do so in a way that is seen to be an effective and practical use of tax dollars.