By Natalie Bruckner. Originally published in the summer 2020 issue of Business Class magazine.

A book can change your life; it’s not just a cliche. Ask Chris Koski, MBA ’96 and director of Clean Government at the Province of BC Ministry of Environment and Climate Change Strategy.

After reading The Weather Makers by scientist Tim Flannery—a book that provides scientific evidence of global warming and outlines the perils of complacency—Koski’s interest in climate change was ignited. “I always had an interest in environmental issues, really enjoyed environmental economics at UVic, but I had not connected the dots on climate change. However, after reading that book, I must have gone on to read 40 more, because I found the issue of climate change fascinating and absolutely terrifying.”

Koski had entered the climate change rabbit hole, and there was no turning back. It might seem like a shift for someone who, after completing his MBA, worked in finance in the telecommunications sector for almost a decade. However, when Koski acted on his new interest and joined the BC government in 2008 to help launch the offsets program for BC, the work was familiar: he found he was essentially switching financial analyses and forecasts for those in the climate realm.

Our understanding of climate change has evolved over the past 12 years, as has Koski’s role.

“When I first joined the government, we were launching an offsets program for BC that was intended to form the basis for an offsets program that would be part of the Western Climate Initiative’s emissions trading program. As it turned out, a number of provinces and US states didn’t implement cap and trade [a regulatory program designed to limit, or cap, the total level of emissions as a result of industrial activity], and neither did BC. However, much of what was put in place back then has remained in place, like the Carbon Neutral Government program.”

In many ways, this very program put BC on the map as a leader in fighting climate change in North America. In 2010, BC became the first government at the provincial, territorial or state level in North America to take 100 per cent responsibility for the greenhouse gas (GHG) pollution from all 128 of its public-sector organizations by measuring their emissions, reducing them where possible and purchasing offsets to cover the remainder. This year, Koski says, the retirement of the offsets portfolio will mark the 10th year of BC public sector carbon neutrality. The next chapter will dial in on climate change accountability.

BC was recognized for its efforts in 2016 when the Carbon Neutral Government program received the UN Framework Convention for Climate Change Momentum for Change award, which showcases some of the most innovative, scalable and replicable examples of what people and jurisdictions are doing to address climate change.

This isn’t the only area that Koski and his team of 12 are working on. “Our branch of the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change Strategy focuses on three areas of work: carbon measurement and reporting, which includes emissions across all public sector organizations and managing and supporting those organizations in understanding their carbon footprint; the purchasing of carbon offsets to ensure we have them in inventory and that we have the appropriate number of offsets at the end of the year, so we can demonstrate carbon neutrality; and developing policy and support measures to help drive us towards our public sector climate goals.”

While this may sound rather complex, Koski and his team have very clear goals, as set out in the CleanBC plan that was released in December 2018. The plan was developed as a pathway to achieve the province’s legislated climate targets of reducing GHG emissions by 40 per cent by the year 2030, based on 2007 levels.

“2020 is an interesting midpoint for us, as we have 10 years of carbon neutrality behind us and a 10-year out-goal to reduce the emissions of our public sector buildings by 50 per cent and our public sector fleet by 40 per cent. Both are ambitious goals, especially considering a large component of our fleet (e.g. medium- and heavy-duty vehicles) don’t have many zero-emission options commercially available at this time,” Koski says.

For Koski and his team, this means identifying pathways to reduce emissions from the buildings and fleet that span provincial ministries, Crown corporations, health authorities, advanced education institutions and schools across the province. No small task, especially considering this impacts more than 120 organizations.

However, Koski is both optimistic and realistic: “Achieving these reductions is going to be a challenge, especially doing it at an affordable price point for the province, but the team is doing an exceptional job of providing well researched options and clear advice to decision makers on difficult issues that involve making trade offs.”

Working in this realm has its many challenges, one of which is continuing the education to create a shift in thinking.

“While addressing carbon emissions is now a common part of the conversation around tables (or, more recently, in virtual meeting spaces), we need to consider the risks posed by a changing climate when planning our investments. Our decisions today need to be consistent with both our low-carbon goals for buildings and transport and climate conditions that have already shifted and will continue to shift over the coming decades.”

Koski adds that to enact real change, accountability and transparency are key. “BC has taken an interesting approach in the Climate Change Accountability Act [Bill C-224]. Each year, the Minister of Environment and Climate Change Strategy is going to have to share a report on the progress that’s been made and how program dollars are allocated and have been spent, where the gaps are and where we are going.”

For those who might want to do their part but aren’t involved in the government’s building and fleet portfolio, there’s always the option to lead by example. Koski enjoys the environmental, health and financial benefits that result from commuting to work by bike, adopting a largely plant-based diet and driving electric.

Koski offers anyone interested in entering the climate change field this advice: “I recall the dean at Gustavson spoke with us about increasing our tolerance for ambiguity. At the time it didn’t make much sense, but what I now understand it to mean is: you won’t have perfect information all of the time, and it is hard to be successful if you expect clear answers before acting. You have to move forward using the information you have, and this applies to the critically important decisions we as a society need to make in climate policy. I believe having a grounding in environmental economics truly helped me, but above all, focus on your writing skills. So much of what we do—email, reports, briefing notes—requires clear communication in writing and the ability to self edit. I would actually apply that advice to almost any career.”