Carbon offsets cost UBC $1.7 million last year

June 7th, 20125:11 am @


Kai Jacobson/The Ubyssey

Last year, UBC paid approximately $1.7 million to Pacific Carbon Trust (PCT) to offset its carbon emissions.

This is mandated by the province’s 2008 Green House Gas Reduction Act (GHGRA), which forces all public institutions to pay a tax on their greenhouse gas emission at an established rate of $25 a ton. But some critics question the effectiveness of this program, and wonder if other solutions might help UBC better reach its sustainability goals.

The GHGRA was designed to grow BC’s green economy by offering an economic incentive for increased carbon efficiency.

UBC sustainability director Orion Henderson was hesitant to say exactly what effects the GHGRA has had on the university. He thinks that campus sustainability projects such as the steam-to-hot water heating conversion were viewed as more favourable in light of the law. However, he believes UBC still has room for improvement.

Henderson also mentioned the work by Hadi Dowlatabadi and Kim Lau, UBC climate researchers, who wrote a critique of BC’s carbon offset system in March 2011.

Currently, UBC is required to pay for all emissions the province calls “Scope 1″ and “Scope 2,” which include those from power plants and UBC-operated vehicles. But emissions considered “Scope 3,” which include those caused by commuting to and from campus, aren’t accounted for by the GHGRA. Dowlatabadi and Lau have suggested altering the GHGRA to allow UBC to offset some of its Scope 1 and 2 emissions with reductions in Scope 3 emissions.

For example, under Dowlatabadi and Lau’s proposed scheme, UBC would be able to offset the new emissions caused by increasing student housing with the decrease in the commuting emissions due to more students living on campus. UBC’s initiative to add 8000 more beds for students would result in an estimated overall decrease in BC emission by 7,700 tons per year, according to Dowlatabadi and Lau. But, under the current law, UBC would actually have to pay for the resulting increase in on-campus carbon emissions at a cost of approximately $145,000 dollars each year.

Some wonder if a different arrangement might allow UBC to better achieve its sustainability goals. Justin Ritchie, AMS sustainability coordinator, would prefer that the $1.7 million were spent on more educational programs similar to the ones the AMS runs now, rather than being paid to PCT. “Imagine if we were able to take that over a million dollars and use that for students…and then produce this group of people who are coming through UBC who really get sustainability means,” said Ritchie.

Ritchie suggested the extra funds might be able to help UBC might be able to expand its current worm-composting program and allow students to manage some of the sites.

But overall, Henderson believes that the incentive provided by the GHGRA has pushed UBC in a more sustainable direction. “Has the carbon tax and the Pacific Carbon Trust offsets that we pay around [greenhouse gas] emissions affected [UBC]. I would say absolutely, definitely yes,” said Henderson. “It says the real cost…is actually a lot higher than the market price, so we’ll tax it. And the principles of supply and demand say that if we increase the cost, then we will demand less.”

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