Some good news for a change: Real environmental progress in BC

On many days during this strange pandemic time, good news seems hard to find. That's why the headlines out of British Columbia have been such a tonic. The last few days have made it crystal clear: British Columbia is, hands down, the current environmental leader in Canada.This past Saturday, the Minister of Environment and Climate Change, George Heyman, announced support for municipal reduction of plastic pollution and committed to a more cohesive province-wide approach. Given the mountain of evidence of increasing harm from plastics, this is a big deal.Last Friday, the Horgan government made a bold announcement on old-growth forests promising enhanced protection for nine at-risk areas throughout the province. Given the rarity of these ecosystems, this is internationally significant news.Meanwhile, the government continues to roll out announcements from its CleanBC plan. Widely seen as the most comprehensive and aggressive blueprint introduced by any province to tackle our growing climate crisis, the CleanBC plan covers everything from funding for home retrofits to banning sales of internal combustion engines by 2040. This month's historic wildfires, which scientists are united in saying are linked to worsening climate change, are a grim reminder that there's no time to waste.The Horgan government has made some other innovative moves as well such as a new regime for the protection of wild salmon: an exciting example of the great public policy that becomes possible when the rights and economic needs of Indigenous peoples are taken seriously. In fact, BC's recent historic decision to become the first province in Canada to formally implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples will no doubt have profound environmental benefits. It turns out that if you treat First Nations as trusted partners as opposed to obstacles to be undermined you get better conservation outcomes.In just three and a half short years, a blink of an eye in public policy terms, the Horgan government has achieved some important new environmental milestones across a range of key issues. Has it been perfect? Of course not. But significantly, the government has established ongoing processes that seem certain to bear fruit if pursued in the longer term.In terms of the wide-ranging consultation on plastics, for instance, there are excellent models – close to home – to learn from. The province can look to its south where eight American states have already implemented bans on single-use plastic bags. California, BC's coastal counterpart in environmental leadership, has recently passed the California Circular Economy and Plastic Pollution Reduction Act, which requires manufacturers and retailers in the state to achieve a 75 percent reduction of the waste generated from single-use packaging and products offered for sale in the state by 2030 through source reduction, recycling or composting.  And on old-growth protection, it's refreshing, in this Trump-saturated time, that ongoing consultations are science-based, and rooted in intelligent discussion with key stakeholders.Certainly, some further important issues need action.  On biodiversity: the Horgan government came to power promising that the days of BC being the only major province without its own legislation to protect species at risk were about to end. The need is real: British Columbia, after all, has the highest level of biodiversity in Canada. With United Nation authorities pointing to the potential for a million species to go extinct in coming decades, BC needs a proper framework for responding to this crisis just as it has done for climate, and the sooner the better. UBC biologist Sally Otto used a medical analogy when discussing the province's looming extinction crises with The Narwhal: “The sooner we act the sooner the patient will recover and the more options we will have. We won't have to go to the hard-core medicines.” With species dealing with a rapidly changing climate on top of other impacts, the province desperately needs better tools to properly conserve its natural heritage.Another key priority to move on is getting rid of cosmetic pesticides.  Long after provinces like Ontario and Quebec banned the use of these chemicals and long after it became apparent that a plague of dandelions was not about to result, BC lags behind.  This leaves British Columbians in the unenviable position of being less protected from toxic chemicals than most other Canadians. This is truly no-brainer public policy and the model to look to is close at hand: the private member's bill to ban these cancer-linked chemicals that was introduced by Adrian Dix when he was in opposition.When it comes to the environment, BC is on the right track. Protecting the environment is a process, not an end point. And the Horgan government has demonstrated that it is up for the challenge.Rick Smith is the Executive Director of the Broadbent Institute and co-author of two bestselling books on the human health effects of pollution.