Credibility questioned in some carbon offset purchases in Kootenays

Auditor General John Doyle has found a lack of credibility in some of the province’s carbon offset purchases.

  • Apr. 3, 2013 1:00 p.m.

Auditor General John Doyle has found a lack of credibility in some of the province’s carbon offset purchases.

According to his latest report entitled An Audit of Carbon Neutral Government, the majority of offsets purchased to meet the government’s carbon neutral goal in 2010 were not credible.

The audit payed particular attention to two projects, which accounted for nearly 70 per cent of the offsets purchased by government to achieve their claim of carbon neutrality, one of which is the West Kootenay forest reserve called Darkwoods.

The B.C. government, while accepting recommendations included in the Auditor General’s report, rejects the conclusion that the government has not met its object of achieving a carbon neutral public sector.

Darkwoods, a 55,000-hectare property near Kootenay Lake, was purchased as a forest reserve by the Nature Conservancy of Canada in 2008. Doyle notes that the decision to buy the land was made in 2006, and a carbon offset feasibility study was not completed until January, 2009.

“Offsets can only be credible in British Columbia if, among other things, the revenue from their sale is the tipping point in moving forward on a project. It must be an incentive, not a subsidy, for the reduction of Greenhouse Gases,” said Doyle. “However, neither project was able to demonstrate that the sale of offsets was needed for the project to be implemented.”

The Darkwoods project was acquired without offsets being a critical factor in the decision. Doyle referred to the project (which combined with the Encana, the other project targeted in the report, has received $6 million in revenue) as a “free rider,” because it is receiving substantial revenue for something it would have done anyway.

These offsets were sold to Pacific Carbon Trust, which has been under scrutiny lately as well. Provincial operations must buy their offsets from the crown corporation, PCT, and according to the Canadian Taxpayers’ Federation, B.C.’s school districts paid a total of $5.36 million to PCT in 2011, and the province’s six health authorities payed $5.79 million in the same year. Municipalities, however, have more flexibility. Golden intends to buy its carbon offsets for 2013 from the Columbia Shuswap Regional District, who have undertaken a composting project.

“British Columbia became the first carbon neutral government in North America in 2012 and is recognized as a world leader in climate action – I stand by our achievements,” said Environment Minister Terry Lake. “The audit was limited in scope – only covering B.C.’s first year as a carbon neutral government and the first two offsets purchased by Pacific Carbon Trust – and does not reflect the changes made to B.C.’s offset system as the market has evolved.”