My columns a few weeks ago on the B.C. carbon tax generated a lof of interest. My main point is that for the carbon tax to be effective it needs to actually reduce carbon emissions, not just shift carbon emissions offshore. A reader pointed out to me an example of a different policy that achieves something similar right here in B.C. The Ports of Vancouver and Prince Rupert both offer discounted harbour fees to vessels based on their greenhouse gas emissions. I like this initiative for a few reasons and think it could be emulated by other sectors to achieve meaningful results, including right here in Prince George.
First, an overview of how the ports program works. The Ports of Vancouver and Prince Rupert each implemented a grading system to categorise vessels based on their greenhouse gas emissions. Importantly, the grading system was not designed by any government entity. Instead, the effort has been lead by business interests, (notably ,Virgin’s Richard Branson) ,a non-profit umbrella group called The Carbon War Room. B.C. is leading the way but the idea is to implement the standard worldwide.
The first thing I like about this initiative is that it leverages B.C.’s position in a few ways. First, because many goods flow through the two B.C. ports on their way to destinations across North America, this initiative affects final consumption well beyond B.C.’s borders. Also, the vessels that harbour in B.C. of course also use a number of other ports around the world on other journeys. If the shipping companies build more fuel efficient vessels as a result of this B.C. initiative then again, the final impact will be felt outside B.C. wherever the more fuel efficient ships sail.
Another reason I like this initiative is because it is being led by the private sector. Although there is undoubtedly a role for government in environmental stewardship, there can also be some advantages to the private sector leading the way. From a practical perspective, government policies can often have some unintended consequences that can be very burdensome on business, especially small business. Another advantage of business led initiative is that the private sector can operate across international borders much more fluidly than governments. For example, the initiative that the Ports of Vancouver and Prince Rupert are implementing are also being implemented in the Caribbean and around the world without the need for international treaties or protocols that can bog down country to country agreements.
What about other sectors of the economy? For me, the obvious candidate is air transport Like shipping vessels, airliners are a significant source of green emissions. And like our ports, B.C. ferries a lot of product through our airports from around the world and onto further destinations in North America. B.C.’s airports should consider adopting the B.C port model. I know Prince George’s airport has a lot of excess capacity that is targeted specifically at the cargo market. Offering incentives to fuel efficient cargo planes could be a way for the Prince George airport to generate some business while also becoming an international leader in addressing greenhouse gas emissions.