Tag Archives: greenhouse gas emissions

Canada gets gassier and gassier


It’s hard to decide wether Prime Minister Stephen Harper deserves applause for his candor or jeers for his revelation.

In either case, for the first time in 20 years, Canada, he says, will not match the United States in greenhouse gas reduction targets. “It’s unlikely our targets will be exactly the same as the United States, but they will be targets of similar levels of ambition to other major industrialized countries,” he declared publicly last week.

That, of course, worries environmentalists who note that several developed countries – the ones, presumably, the prime minister now wants to emulate – are relaxing their standards and setting lower goals in the wake of tough economic times.

“We believe three Rs should define Canada’s approach to climate protection: Respect, Responsibility and Restraint,” reads a recent note on the Climate Action Network Canada’s website. “Respect requires humility in accepting the scientific facts that tell us the atmosphere has a limit to the amount of carbon pollution it can take before shifting in ways that put people and the environment we rely on at risk. Responsibility requires accepting that we should care about the harm climate disruption will bring, especially to the most vulnerable at home and around the world, and to doing our fair share to stop it. Restraint requires that we accept that we must set ambitious, enforceable targets to manage carbon pollution at home and to invest around the world to help others reduce their carbon pollution and to adapt to climate change.”

None of which, it’s safe to say, the “federalistas” appear particularly interested in pursuing, despite their protestations to the contrary. “The Government of Canada is committed to addressing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions while keeping the Canadian economy strong. We are achieving success from 2005 to 2012, Canadian GHG emissions have decreased by 5.1 per cent while the economy has grown by 10.6 per cent. The 2014 Canada’s Emissions Trends report estimates that, as a result of collective action to reduce GHGs since 2005, Canada’s 2020 GHG emissions are projected to be 130 megatonnes (Mt) lower than if no action was taken, an amount roughly equivalent to one year’s worth of GHG emissions from all of Canada’s road transportation.”

And yet, according to Carl Meyer, writing in Embassy News earlier this month, “A new National Inventory Report from Environment Canada released April 17 shows the amounts of greenhouse gas emissions in the previous report have spiked upward by megatonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent in every comparable year now assessed.” 

In fact, “Canada’s GHG emissions, which contribute to climate change, stood at 726 megatonnes in 2013, up from 715 megatonnes in 2012. That increase is equivalent to the annual emissions from over two million extra cars on the road, according to a calculator provided by the United States Environmental Protection Agency.” 

Mr. Myers observes that, “in the prior report, the department reported the 2012 number was at 699 megatonnes. The result is that Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions increased by 18.43 per cent from 1990 to 2013. The previous report had an increase of 18.27 per cent from 1990 to 2012. Canada has redone its inventory submission to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change following revised reporting guidelines, the report says.”

In reality, the federal government now appears broadly enthusiastic about what it jauntily refers to as “adaptation”, which is the policy wonk’s version of “if you’re stuck with lemons, better make lemonade” (especially as the summers grow hotter). Apparently, this involves helping Canadians make “adjustments” in their “thinking” to “reduce harm” or even exploit “new opportunities” from global warming.

And why not? Such promise of new enterprise might actually argue for higher, not lower, emissions. Bravo (and boo), indeed.

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Canada’s climate chickens now come home to roost


For months, even years, Prime Minister Stephen Harper has insisted that he is as environmentally friendly as the next guy, and so is his government.

In fact, with the leader of Canada’s largest trading partner, he has played a high-stakes game of truth or dare. Just as soon as U.S. President Barack Obama announces a convincing program to dramatically reduce industrial greenhouse gas emissions, he has said, so will he.

Now that the former has done just, to the surprise of the developed and developing world, alike, it remains to the latter to answer the only question that matters on an inexorably warming planet: Now what, Captain Canada?

Indeed, the policy change south of the border, announced last week, is not merely surprising; it’s stunning. The new U.S.-China joint agreement would see the Yanks cut GHG output 26 per cent from 2005 quantities by 2025. The previous commitment had been a reduction of 17 per cent by 2020, a target the Americans are, in any case, quite likely to hit.

The Chinese, meanwhile, have thrown themselves into a multi-billon-dollar build-out of renewable energy technologies and production facilities (including, it should be noted, nuclear) – an initiative that should help them fulfill their new pledge to cap the production of GHGs to levels comparable with the United States by 2030.

Why this accord, and why now?

As different as are their respective political conventions, economic institutions and societies, the U.S. and China still share one embarrassing habit in the arena of energy production: their relatively heavy use of coal, a fossil fuel that makes oil and particularly natural gas seem, by comparison, pristine.

According to the Centre for Energy and Climate Solutions, “In the United States, coal is the third-largest primary energy source, accounting for 18 per cent of all energy consumed in 2012 with the electric power sector accounting for 91 per cent of U.S. coal consumption.

“With the highest carbon content of all the fossil fuels, carbon dioxide emissions from coal combustion represented 24.5 per cent of total U.S. greenhouse gas emissions in 2012. . .Globally, coal is one of the most widely distributed energy resources with recoverable reserves in nearly 70 countries. The U.S., China, and India are the top producers and consumers of coal. Worldwide, coal supplies 29.7 per cent of energy use and is responsible for 44 per cent of global CO2 emissions.”

Of course, given the most recent news from the front lines of the global-warming wars, some sort of U.S.-China compact on the issue was not entirely unexpected.

Earlier this month, the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change issued its fifth word on the subject in as many years. It makes for chilling reading.

Reported the Guardian: “The new overarching IPCC report builds on previous reports on the science, impacts and solutions for climate change. It concludes that global warming is ‘unequivocal’, that humanity’s role in causing it is ‘clear’ and that many effects will last for hundreds to thousands of years even if the planet’s rising temperature is halted.”

Added Bill McKibben, a climate crusader of the first and most popular order, in the piece: “For scientists, conservative by nature, to use ‘serious, pervasive, and irreversible’ to describe the effects of climate falls just short of announcing that climate change will produce a zombie apocalypse plus random beheadings plus Ebola. . .Thanks to the IPCC, no one will ever be able to say they weren’t warned.”

No, they won’t, Mr. Harper. So, again, what say you?

The federal government’s reduction target, even before the new agreement between its two biggest export markets, was doomed from the outset. Only the rosiest prognosticators suggested that a 17 per cent cut in GHGs from 2005 in this country had a hope in Hades of materializing by 2020. The reason is simple.

This government’s political and ideological capital is invested entirely in the success of the western tar sands. That’s where it wants derelict Canucks from the East and the Centre to work. That’s where it wants to find its tax revenues and corporate royalties.

It cares very little about anything else that might have been considered, at some point in the elegiac past, authentically Canadian.

The Tories’ current conundrum is that the world, through the U.S. and China, is beginning to turn a corner (late, perhaps) that might well leave their atavistic thinking behind, along with their government.

They just might be thinking about using the fuel in the ground to build the infrastructure necessary to, one day, abandon it forever, except as seed for renewable manufactures.

Then what, Captain Canada?

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Climate change is real. But do the feds care?



Senior federal Tories no longer deny, as more than a few once did, encroaching climate change. Their thinking on the issue has evolved. Now, they accept it, almost willingly, as a cost of doing business in the 21st Century.

With all the bellicosity that this proposition implies, Prime Minister Stephen Harper thumbed his nose at U.S. President Barack Obama this week, suggesting that the latter’s effort to enforce new emission standards for power plants was disingenuous.

“No matter what they say, no country is going to take actions that are going to deliberately destroy jobs and growth in their country,” he said during a joint press conference with Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott in Ottawa. “We are just a little more frank about that.”

Moreover, he added, “the measures outlined by President Obama, as important as they are, do not go nearly as far in the electricity sector as the actions Canada has already taken ahead of the United States in that particular sector.”

Finally, he said, “It’s not that we don’t seek to deal with climate change, but we seek to deal with it in a way that will protect and enhance our ability to create jobs and growth. . .Frankly, every single country in the world (feels the same way).”

Now, who’s being disingenuous?

Canada’s official government position on climate change is virtually non-existent. The feds do not maintain, let alone enforce, regulations governing greenhouse gas emissions from the oil and gas industry for a very good reason: They are terrified of angering their pals in Big Petrol. 

According to a report in the Globe and Mail last year, the World Resources Institute stated that in 2010 this country’s carbon footprint was the tenth-largest in the world. “On a per-capita basis, Canada is 17th; among the G20, Canada trails only Australia and the United States,” the item noted.

As for Canada’s putative lead over the United States in regulating the electricity sector, Simon Dyer of the Pembina Institute, an environmental think tank based in British Columbia, begs to differ. In a blog post on June 4, he wrote:

“While Canada did introduce federal coal regulations in 2012, the regulations have a long phase-in period that allows some of Canada’s coal plants to operate clear through the middle of the century, without any greenhouse gas controls whatsoever.”

Mr. Dyer observes that this “timid response” guarantees that meaningful drops in greenhouse gas emissions won’t appear until 2030. In this context, he writes, “The U.S. proposal is far more effective at reducing greenhouse gases from electricity generation in the short term, compared to business as usual. Analysis suggests the EPA rules would reduce power sector emissions by an estimated 23 per cent below business as usual by 2025, compared to five per cent from Canada’s federal regulations (according to Environment Canada’s own numbers).”

Apart from this, Pembina estimates that, between 2005 and 2020, tar sands expansion will have rendered preposterous Canada’s faint-hearted promise to the international community to cut its greenhouse gas production by 17 per cent.

“Environment Canada estimates that Canada will only be ‘halfway’ to meeting its 2020 target in 2020 – meaning that we’re on track to miss the 2020 target by 113 million tonnes, or double the current emissions of British Columbia,” wrote Clare Demerse, Pembina’s former director of federal policy, on the Institute’s website last year. “To date, the federal government has not published any plan or proposal to close that gap.”

Under the circumstances, how can any political leader in Ottawa claim with a straight face that the government has a plan for mitigating the effects of the nation’s increasingly rapacious fossil fuel industry?

Energy Minister Joe Oliver is practically apoplectic over the possibility that Alberta oil will forever languish where it does no one any good. In a recent speech, he described the black gold as “landlocked”, costing the national economy billions of dollars a year in lost revenue.

Meanwhile, Environment Minister Leona Aglukkaq is ritually fond of stating that the federal government’s emissions policy demonstrates how she and her Conservative confederates are “standing up for Canadian jobs,” as if no clean, sustainable alternative is even worth considering.

Fair enough. But if certain federal Tories no longer deny the existence of climate change, neither should they deny the other truth: They couldn’t care less.


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New Brunswick’s climate change talking points



Greenhouse gas emission targets, like New Year’s resolutions, are made to be broken. Still, as loyal supplicants of the state of denial otherwise known as New Brunswick, it behooves all of us to wish Premier Alward and company all the best with their new Climate Change Action Plan.

Luck? You’re going to need it. 

“To do its part under the Conference of New England Governors and Eastern Canadian Premiers (NEG-ECP) 2013 Climate Change Action Plan,” the strategy, released on Monday, declares. “New Brunswick has committed to achieving greenhouse gas reduction targets of: Ten per cent below 1990 levels by 2020; and 75-85 per cent below 2001 levels by 2050.”

Apparently, this is perfectly doable. After all, as the report notes, the province managed to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 17 per cent between 2005 and 2010, even as it grew its economy by 19 per cent over that period.

Forget that in 2011, New Brunswick belched 18.6 million tonnes of 

CO2 equivalent, which amounted to the third-highest per capita emissions in the country, behind Saskatchewan and Alberta.

Forget, too, that as the plan clearly states, “New Brunswick’s economy faces challenges due to its high ‘carbon intensity’. In other words, the province consumes a relatively large amount of energy per dollar of economic production, and despite recent 

progress, much of the energy New Brunswick uses still comes from refined petroleum products. With the transition to a lower carbon economy well on its way, people around the world are making significant changes to the way they do business. As a province that exports much of what it produces, New Brunswick’s reputation and real performance in climate change may affect its trade competitiveness in international markets.”

All of which is another way of saying what U.S. Ambassador to Canada Bruce Heyman warned this week: If we don’t soon get our climate-change act together up here, north of the 48th, there will be economic consequences to pay elsewhere on the world stage.

“We need to continue (the) work together moving toward a low-carbon future, with alternative energy choices, with greater energy choices, with greater energy efficiency, and sustainable extraction of our oil and gas reserves,” he said in a speech in Ottawa on Monday. “This is not a task we can take on individually. It can only be successfully challenged together.”

Mr. Heyman made his remarks as his boss U.S. President Barack Obama’s unveiled sweeping, new plans to cut carbon dioxide emissions from power plants by 30 per cent by 2030. 

Again, like New Brunswick’s targets, the number feels arbitrary. Who knows what can happen in five years, let alone 15 or 35? Almost no one foresaw the industrial output-killing Great Recession of 2008, which, incidentally, did more than all the earnest policy makers in the world to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Still, it’s a start, and that’s more than we can say for our own venerable leader Prime Minister Stephen Harper, whose only response to criticism this week that he’s not moving fast enough to match US. initiatives on climate change was downright surly: “(Obama is) acting two years after this government acted and taking actions that do not go nearly as far as this government went.”

The unvarnished truth is, however, that the Yanks are on course to cut all of their emissions by 15 per cent by 2020. In contrast, we Canucks are more or less happily sitting with our heads stuck in the Alberta oil sands, where production dooms any hope of meeting our oft-stated reduction target of 17 per cent a scant six years from now.

In New Brunswick, several factors militate against the new action plan’s chances of success. Oddly enough, none of these has anything to do with tight oil and gas development, an as yet unrealized sweet dream, or wretched nightmare, depending on who’s doing the talking.

Without dramatic, even temporarily traumatic, changes to the energy mix in this province – without a concerted effort to cut back usage, conserve electricity and, finally, migrate to renewable sources for in situ consumption – all of our greenhouse gas reduction targets will remain, like so many of our other promises in New Brunswick, made to be broken.


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Open Ottawa’s closed door to science


The Canadian government’s relationship with the scientific community is, at best, fractious – the inevitable result of frequent dueling over the meaning of the word ‘evidence’ and, more to the point, its value in the so-called real world.

Members of the Conservative caucus routinely poke academics and researchers, who they suspect harbour left-of-liberal sentiments, sometimes for nothing more than the sheer joy of getting a rise out of them. Careful, Dr. Egghead, your shell might crack.

This, at least, appears to the operating principle behind two recent decisions of the Tory regime – both of which are driving environmentalists and biologist bonkers.

Last year, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans announced that it would shutter more than half of its regional marine research libraries. The government justified its action – will save a total of $430,000 – on the grounds that taxpayers should not have to shoulder the annual cost of maintaining 11 facilities when six will do.

But, as Gloria Galloway reported in the Globe and Mail on Wednesday, “it was not until (scientists) saw the shelves being cleared, the books and journals being scooped up for free by private companies, and the scientific reports being hauled off to the dumpster that the magnitude of the purge hit home.”

Indeed, former DFO regional director Burton Ayles called it a “loss of historic material.” His peer, Peter Wells, a professor at Dalhousie University, went further.

“I see this situation as a national tragedy, done under the pretext of cost savings, which, when examined closely, will prove to be a false motive,” the Globe quoted him. “A modern democratic society should value its information resources, not reduce, or worse, trash them.”

One letter writer to the Globe carried the flag the following day: “This government says Canadians cannot afford the $430,000 per year required to maintain taxpayer-funded irreplaceable scientific research,” wrote Chris Marriott of Chelsea, Que.

“On the other hand, we find that it was quite willing to spend $20-million a year on the Prime Minister’s personal security (we’ve seen this week how that’s worked out), and tens of millions promoting itself through the Economic Action Plan and Canada Job Grant advertising campaigns. The public money spent on just a handful of Action Plan ads aired during last year’s Stanley Cup playoffs would have more than covered the $430,000 the government says it can’t find to preserve critical scientific research.”

Meanwhile, we learn from the Globe’s Shawn McCarthy that the federal government has told the United Nations that unless Big Oil in Canada curbs its emissions, there’s virtually no chance that this country will come close to meeting its 2009 commitments made at the Copenhagen climate summit.

Instead, according to the article, the report to the UN “talks vaguely about new regulations in its sector-by-sector approach, while adding provinces, businesses and consumers also have a responsibility to address climate change.”

Given that the U.S. government, under the leadership of President Barack Obama, has articulated a thorough plan for reducing emissions in that country – and that Prime Minister Stephen Harper has consistently tied this country’s progress on the issue to that of our neighbour to the south – the disingenuousness in Ottawa these days   fills the air so thickly, it’s hard to breath.

What this crew has against against science or, indeed, any sort of learned discipline is hard to divine. But, it is abundantly clear, from many public pronouncements of many Tory MPs over the years that healthy, vigorous debate in caucus or in the Commons is roundly anathematic to good, representative government – a supposition that is genuinely absurd.

Still, evidence and deliberation, a knowledge of history and an appreciation of nuance, are enemies of political agendas regardless of the ideological underpinnings. No party in this, or any other democratic nation, has a patent on open-mindedness. Sadly, a demonstrable ability to think critically on any given subject long ago dropped off the list of worthy qualifications for a life in public office.

We, the electorate, must either do without or reinvent it in the so-called real world of politics as usual.

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