News Article | May 9, 2017
This story was originally published by Fusion and is reproduced here as part of the Climate Desk collaboration. Environmentalists rejoiced last summer when Barack Obama and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, fresh at the start of their very public bromance, announced their cooperation on climate change. After nine years of Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who cut research funding and pulled Canada out of the Kyoto Protocol, it seemed Canada was finally getting back on track when it came to environmental policymaking, while Obama was continuing his second-term push to address climate change. Now, nearly a year later, it’s clear that Donald Trump will not be carrying on Obama’s environmental legacy. But where do Trump’s policies — which include dismantling the Clean Power Plan, broadly cutting the EPA, and potentially pulling the U.S. out of the Paris Climate Agreement — leave Canada? “The timing is so terrible because we finally have a prime minister who wants to do something about the environment matched with a president who doesn’t,” said Andrea Olive, an assistant professor in geography and political science at the University of Toronto. “It’s like we switched sides. And now the environment is not going to improve — one team can’t pull all the weight.” For Canada, the biggest environmental policy concern surrounding the Trump presidency is his action — or inaction — on climate change, Olive said. Specifically, Trump backing out of the Paris Agreement would be “devastating” — a sentiment echoed by Erin Flanagan, director of the federal policy program at the Calgary-based Pembina Institute. “I hope it’s not true, because the Paris Agreement is just so important to the world, and is just a groundbreaking agreement,” she said. “I think it’s really quite bad from a symbolic perspective to have the U.S. remove itself from those conversations.” But rest assured: No matter what Trump does, Canada will maintain its position in the Paris Agreement. “The government has been quite clear on that,” Flanagan said. Whether or not the Canadian government will succeed in meeting its goals under the Paris Agreement, which aim to cut emissions 30 percent by 2030 compared to 2005 levels, while still approving tar sands pipelines, is another question. In some ways, Trudeau is an about-face environmentally from Prime Minister Harper: He’s repeatedly stated that climate change is happening, and his government is working to implement climate policies, including a price on carbon. But environmentalists like Bill McKibben point out that because Trudeau is still set on developing Canada’s tar sands and building pipelines to get that high-carbon resources to market, his climate policies will do little to actually address climate change. But there is at least little worry that Trudeau will back out of the Paris Agreement — an action that would echo Prime Minister Harper’s choice to back out of the Kyoto Protocol, citing the United States’ and China’s non-involvement in the treaty. Trump’s inaction on climate may make Canada’s implementation of the agreement tricky, however. “Our economies are so integrated that it’s impossible to think that we could implement the Paris protocol if the United States is not doing it,” Olive said. In terms of vehicles, for instance, Canada might be less likely to implement more stringent emissions standards as a step toward meeting Paris targets if America isn’t increasing its emission standards. In fact, emission standards are among the issues that are most worrisome about a Trump presidency, said Flanagan. Canada and the U.S. have highly integrated vehicle economies, with vehicle parts being made on both sides of the border. Because of this integration, the two countries have cooperated since 2010 on increasing fuel efficiency standards, with a goal of 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025. Trump, however, announced in March his EPA would be reviewing Obama-era standards. “Anything that the Trump administration does to go backward on those makes it harder for the U.S. to hit its climate targets,” Flanagan said. “And then it causes a question mark for Canada, so that Canada has to decide: Do we follow that direction of essentially allowing cars to pollute more than they otherwise would, or do we go in another direction?” Though Trump’s move has created some uncertainty in Canada, Flanagan said the Trudeau government “would be hard pressed” to roll back emissions standards, considering his stated commitment to addressing climate change. Another climate-related concern, Flanagan said, is methane. The potent greenhouse gas is emitted largely by oil and gas operations, and last year, the U.S. and Canada committed to cut methane production by 45 percent from their oil and gas sectors. This was a win for environmentalists, but also made things simpler for the oil and gas industry, she said. The U.S. rule aimed at reducing methane at new oil and gas wells is another one that Trump has ordered the EPA to review, while Canada’s new rules on methane emissions from the oil and gas sector, which will continue on the reduction path, should be coming out in the next few months, Flanagan said. Now, however, it’s likely that oil and gas companies will have to adhere to different standards depending on which side of the border they’re on. The Canadian government is also considering a request from British Columbia Premier Christy Clark to halt shipments of U.S. coal from Canada’s West Coast. This request came as a response to Trump imposing duties on imports of Canadian softwood lumber, and delivers a setback to Trump’s promises of ending the “war on coal.” Earlier this month, the U.S. Congress passed a budget deal to keep the government open through the end of September. That deal did not include proposed cuts to the EPA. However, the agency isn’t out of the woods yet: Trump’s proposed 2018 budget, which came out in March and will be voted on later this year, eliminates funding for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative. That $300 million program works to restore wetlands, clean up pollutants, combat invasive species and reduce runoff into the lakes, which hold 84 percent of the surface freshwater in North America and are home to more than 170 species of fish. Since 1972, the U.S. and Canada have cooperated to keep the Great Lakes clean under the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement. The relationship between Canada and the U.S. is a “very meaningful one,” Olive said. It’s got roots stretching back to 1909, when the U.S. and Canada, then under British rule, signed the Boundary Waters Treaty. “It’s almost like a slap in the face to Canada to defund that,” she said. “The rockbed of our bilateral environmental relationship is this concern for the Great Lakes.” The Great Lakes aren’t just a source of water or recreation for the people who live around them, she said; they’re hugely important culturally. “For people who live in the Great Lakes, the Great Lakes are very much a part of their identity,” she said. “For the United States to defund that … it’s almost offensive.” If the program is defunded, Olive hopes some slack will be picked up by the states. “I do think it’s going to affect the physical environment — I am worried about water quality issues, things around algae blooms, things around endangered species,” she said. “But there’s still the potential that the U.S. states are going to get more involved.” The proposal to eliminate funding for the Great Lakes has drawn the ire of U.S. lawmakers — both Democrat and Republican. “The idea that the administration would eliminate a program that protects drinking water for more than 30 million people is hard to comprehend,” Republican Ohio representative Dave Joyce said in March. Canadian Environment Minister Catherine McKenna said in March that Canada “invests significant resources in restoring and protecting the Great Lakes” and that it would continue with its “commitment to keep protecting this precious resource.” What might be most troubling about Trump for Canadians — especially Canadian environmentalists — isn’t one particular action, however; it’s his overall disdain for the environment. “He’s just looking to destroy everything,” said Inger Weibust, assistant professor of international affairs at Ottawa’s Carleton University. “It’s almost like a cultural war, an all-out war on the kinds of things that certainly environmentalists hold dear.” “He’s made it OK to be pro-coal; he’s made it OK to be anti-climate; he appointed somebody to head the EPA who thinks climate change is a hoax — he’s made this attitude OK. I think that’s deeply troubling,” she said. But in terms of Canadian action on climate and the environment, Canada’s priorities aren’t likely to change much because of a Trump presidency. The provinces that are interested in tackling environmental issues and climate change will carry on that path, Olive said, and the provinces that don’t want to do anything will use America’s inaction as another excuse not to. And it doesn’t appear much has changed in terms of federal action either. “When Trump was elected, and Canada was in the process of developing their climate plans, there were a lot of questions — was this a good time to bring in federal climate policies?” Flanagan said. “At the end of the day, the federal government but also many of the provinces decided yes, despite the uncertainty in the U.S., Canada needs to do this.” Canada, she said “is catching up on climate change in many ways.” The country hasn’t historically been a leader in climate action, but now, under the Trudeau government, it’s slowly starting to move forward in environmental policy — in spite of its continued support of the tar sands — and will likely continue to do so regardless of what Trump does.
News Article | May 10, 2017
The final outcome of British Columbia’s election will not be known until absentee ballots are counted. Premier Christy Clark currently leads, with 43 seats as opposed to the NDP’s 41 and the Green party’s 3. Unless these results change, BC’s LNG dreams may be over. It has been four years since Clark promised the province a potentially trillion dollar LNG industry. According to a recent estimate from the Pembina Institute, if the largest of her proposed LNG terminals had been built it might have doubled the province’s greenhouse gas emissions. None of these projects went forward. Andrew Weaver, whose Green party holds the balance of power, told reporters, “British Columbians were sold a bill of goods on LNG. It wasn’t going to happen then, it’s not going to happen now. … LNG is not happening, so let’s move on to the new economy.” This could also mean the end of the province’s controversial Site C Dam project. Both the NDP and Green participants voiced their opposition during the province’s recent Clean Energy and Climate debate. “Site C is being constructed for an industry that does not exist, the LNG industry, and so desperate are the BC Liberals to actually land LNG that they sign contracts to subsidize LNG … to the tune of 6 cents a kilowatt hour,” said Weaver. The Liberals are not ready to admit defeat. “We won the popular vote, and we have also won the most seats and with absentee ballots still to be counted, I am confident that they will strengthen our margin of victory. So it is my intention to continue to lead British Columbia,” Clark told supporters in Vancouver. To which NDP leader John Horgan responded, “A majority of British Columbians voted for a new government.” Both leaders are in communication with Weaver. The NDP already endorse Weaver’s two preconditions for a coalition with the Green Party. They previously brought forward legislation banning union and corporate political campaign donations on seven occasions, only to see it squashed by the Liberal majority. If elected, the NDP promises to hold a provincial referendum on adopting a system of proportional representation. As one of the CBC commentators noted, 12 Green MLAs would have been elected if the province had a proportional system last night. Clark could still win a majority. There is very little difference between the tallies in three ridings. If there are sufficient absentee votes to change the outcome in either Courtenay/Comox or Maple Ridge/Mission, the Liberals could obtain the 44 seats necessary for a majority. Alternately, if the NDP hold on to both those seats and take Coquitlam/ Burke, the result is a 42-42 seat tie. We will have to wait for two weeks before the final result is known. Illustration Credits: The Green Party Bus on Board A BC Ferry – Roy L Hales photo; Current Party standings, with the most likely probabilities after absentee ballots are counted – Roy L Hales; British Columbia’s three most vulnerable ridings – Roy L Hales Check out our new 93-page EV report. Join us for an upcoming Cleantech Revolution Tour conference! Keep up to date with all the hottest cleantech news by subscribing to our (free) cleantech daily newsletter or weekly newsletter, or keep an eye on sector-specific news by getting our (also free) solar energy newsletter, electric vehicle newsletter, or wind energy newsletter.
News Article | April 17, 2017
There are lots of benefits that come from energy efficiency, but it's a hard sell sometimes, particularly when energy is so cheap. That's why this little infographic is a good reminder that it's not just about energy bills. It's from the Pembina Institute, a Canadian think tank "working to solve today’s greatest energy challenges — reducing the harmful impacts of fossil fuels while supporting the transition to an energy system that is clean, safe and sustains a high quality of life." They note that we really have to act now to build better buildings: Buildings have long lifespans — longer than those of power plants, cars and appliances. The consequences of inefficient buildings can last generations, so we have some important choices to make today about how we build and maintain them. A bold, long-term commitment to well-built, nearly-zero-energy buildings — which create almost as much energy as they consume —will generate economic, health and environmental benefits for Canadians for years to come. So here is their infographic pitch about job creation, comfort, resilience, and a healthier you.
News Article | May 4, 2017
Leveraging subnational climate action in an age of populism: What the world can learn from Canada Those working to step up climate action in countries where governments are hostile to their message should take note of the Canadian example, explains the author of this post. They should feel optimistic about the progress seen in job creation and economic affordability in the renewables sector and understand that a future federal climate plan will work best when it is built upon a foundation of subnational support structures. "Canada is back, my friends," Prime Minister Justin Trudeau boldly declared at the Paris Climate Summit back in November 2015. The quote went viral on social media, as progressive Canadians collectively exhaled after nine years of conservative leadership and inaction on climate change under Stephen Harper. As a Canadian and a regular at UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) negotiation meetings, the shift was remarkable. For years, I endured questions from colleagues and friends from other countries: “We’re making progress here this week, why is Canada blocking? I thought you were the good guys!” Then, quite suddenly, we were seeing re-engagement with the climate negotiation process, funding for renewable energy initiatives, and rebranding the federal environment department from “Environment Canada” to “Environment and Climate Change Canada.” Naturally, some were dubious and wanted to know if this was just good public relations or a real commitment to take action. While things generally do look good in Canada, with the current tide of populism washing across much of the world, it may be interesting to look at where Canada went for those nine years. While firmly right of centre by Canadian standards, Stephen Harper was not of the ilk of the populist demagogues we’ve seen embraced in many countries of late. But modern conservative doctrine tends to be overwhelmingly coupled to the idea that climate action is something to be sceptical of. This partisan polarisation when it comes to climate change is something many in the climate community are trying to bring an end to — and we’re seeing progress in some circles. In fact, it’s becoming increasingly clear that climate change does not hold as much sway among angry populist voters as once believed. Early in the 2016 US presidential race, it was thought that Donald Trump was going to make his presidential bid at least partly a referendum on climate change. From his threats to withdraw the US from the Paris Agreement to his infamous tweet claiming that climate change was a concept “created by and for the Chinese in order to make US manufacturing non-competitive,” climate action was framed as an obstacle to economic progress. At some point, however, Republican strategists must have calculated that climate change was not an issue that was going to win them the election. In fact, it was hardly brought up as an issue in the later stages of the campaign trail. As most observers expected, climate change has not been ignored as an issue in the first 100 days of the Trump administration. The appointment of Scott Pruitt, a vocal climate denier, as head of the Environmental Protection Agency leaves nothing to the imagination as to what Trump thinks about climate specifically and the environment more broadly. But Trump appears to be softening his stance on the Paris Agreement, with a final decision tentatively expected in time for this month’s G7 summit in Taormina, Italy. Whether this is the result of recommendations from advisors, a recognition of the economic potential of the green jobs sector, or fear of China cementing itself as the global leader on climate action remains to be seen. Canada wrestled with similar issues under the Harper Government and still managed to maintain strong grassroots support for tackling climate change — even if this was not expressed officially at the global level. Early in his tenure, Harper spoke the language of diplomacy on climate change, once calling it “perhaps the biggest threat to confront the future of humanity today” and even calling for less talk and more action. Such strong words slowly disappeared during his time in office and were replaced by noticeable silence at the highest level, strategic political manoeuvring to silence government-employed scientists and researchers, and the appointment of key people with an agenda to block progress on climate change. The most memorable appointment, perhaps, was Joe Oliver as Natural Resources Minister, who claimed in an interview that “scientists have recently told us that our fears (on climate change) are exaggerated” and that groups who oppose Canada’s often criticised oilsands industry were foreign funded radicals. With virtually no opportunities to influence federal policy on climate change and few sources of funding to undertake research, several NGOs closed up shop in Ottawa. “These are dark days,” one Ottawa-based climate researcher whispered to me at COP17 in Durban in 2011. But the fight for climate action in Canada didn’t end with a hostile government. It simply changed venues. Think tanks and NGOs intensified their efforts on influencing provincial and municipal governments to adopt strong policies that would ensure that greenhouse gas emissions would be reined in – despite federal policies. Action by Canadian provinces through those “dark days” was remarkable. Hard work from NGOs, aboriginal groups, and other civil society organisations managed to even lay the groundwork for a remarkably ambitious Climate Leadership Plan in Alberta, home to Canada’s oilsands. All of this set the stage for the Trudeau government’s historic Pan-Canadian Framework on Clean Growth and Climate Change — a bold agenda with a range of ambitious climate change policies, including a requirement that all Canadian provinces implement a carbon pricing mechanism. Canada, of course, was not the first to wade in to leveraging subnational governments for climate action. Perhaps the best-known example came when the states of Arizona, California, New Mexico, Oregon, and Washington — looking to make progress under the climate hostile George W. Bush Administration — banded together to create the Western Climate Initiative. While all states but California have since dropped out of the initiative (and several Canadian provinces have joined), recent years have seen a fundamental shift in the way the economics of climate change is understood. And that shift could be a game changer. Renewable energy is generating jobs and becoming more and more affordable. And the shift in this direction is gaining momentum by the week, it seems. Renewable energy sectors are expanding quickly in jurisdictions previously known for their oil and gas production, including the Canadian province of Alberta as well as the US state of Texas, which has added more wind-based capacity than any other state. Meanwhile, Trump’s bluster on re-invigorating the coal sector — a major contributor to climate change and air pollution — may have resonated with out-of-work coal workers who are increasingly worried over lost income, healthcare, and pensions. However, industry is finding it increasingly difficult to turn a profit, which may prompt a closer look at transitioning to more sustainable energy sources, while finding ways to boost employment in coal mining communities. Those working to step up climate action in countries where governments are hostile to their message should take note of the Canadian example, feel optimistic about the progress we’ve seen in job creation and economic affordability in the renewables sector, and understand that a future federal climate plan will work best when it is built upon a foundation of subnational support structures. Cross-regional and cross-national collaboration will be crucial to moving the planet to the next level on climate action. Alliances such as those seen between Canadian provinces and California on carbon pricing are ideal as they can drive ambition and encourage jurisdictions to lock in progress. This may be particularly important in Europe, where possible exits from the European Union may leave the Emissions Trading System on questionable ground. On the wider international stage, the upcoming G20 summit in Hamburg, Germany, this July could send a powerful signal that the world’s major economies remain committed to tackling the climate challenge. Representing some 80 percent of energy-related carbon emissions and around 75 percent of international trade, a collaboration among this group would go a long way in helping to secure a clean energy future for the world. Andrew Aziz is Communications Director at the Pembina Institute, a clean energy think tank based in Calgary, Canada.
News Article | March 25, 2016
The environmental community has been watching Justin Trudeau’s Liberals closely, to see how they live up to their promise to give Canada a low carbon, climate resistant economy. The new government’s performance at COP 21 was nothing less than stellar. While the Federal government’s meeting with the provinces in Vancouver failed to achieve much beyond an agreement that carbon will be priced, the herd is now moving. News from the environmental assessment front is less encouraging: the National energy Board’s flawed Trans Mountain Pipline Expansion hearings are continuing and Catherine McKenna appears to have just rubber stamped the Woodfibre LNG project. So what does Canada’s budget say about the environment? Erin Flanagan, of the Pembina Institute, described the allocations to the National Energy Board and Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency (CEAA) “something to be optimistic about.” “That’s really important because we need our regulators to have the financial means to be able to interact directly with Canadians who have an opinion on projects and make sure they are tracking these project proponents and living up to the environmental assessment standards and environmental laws of the country.” “I think this government has heard the message that the existing regulatory structures are not serving the public interest and so they have injected some money into both of those structures so they can do their jobs,” she said. Elizabeth May pointed out that this is not enough. The CEAA’s $14.2 million allotment is to carry out the directives that former Prime Minister Harper brought in when he gutted Canada’s Environmental Assessment Act: Ms May described the new government’s environmental approach as a vast improvement over Harper’s, but does not match up to the standards former Liberal Finance Minister Ralph Goodale set in 2005: “The 2005 budget offered a fully formed climate action plan, including eco-energy rebates for homeowners, substantial funding for provinces to act to address the climate challenge, rebates for the purchase of energy efficient vehicles, and a carbon pricing scheme through a complicated carbon credit approach. The 2016 budget contains none of these measures. “Disturbingly, the budget cites the target of the Paris Agreement as avoiding 2 degrees Celsius global average temperature increase, when it was Canadian leadership that helped drive the world to the more ambitious goal of striving to hold temperature to no more than 1.5 degrees C,” Ms. May said. “The Liberal platform promised carbon pricing, which we did not expect to see today given the negotiations with the premiers. It also promised to reduce subsidies to fossil fuels by $125 million in 2017-18. No changes have yet been made to fossil fuel subsidies and subsidies to LNG are specifically continued until the end of 2024,” said Ms. May.” Kai Chan, an associate professor at University of British Columbia and one of the 130 scientists who recently condemned the flawed review process for Pacifc Northwest’s proposed LNG terminal on Lelu Island, said Elizabeth May raised some important points. “I don’t know if CEAA ever had the capacity to do their own analysis. I think they have relied on their own proponents the whole time, but their ability to critique and ensure the rigor of the analysis handed to them by the proponent has been curtailed. It has been getting worse and worse because of the cuts. They are very understaffed,” he said. “My biggest concern, and I can’t find and details on this yet, is all the major science-based guidance within the Federal agencies (CEAA, the DFO, Canada Parks) have all been hit quite hard because of budget restrictions. They have been short staffed for years (and have suffered from) reduced research funding; slashed travel budgets; travel restrictions. I don’t know where to see if those have been restored. I think that’s really important.” Chan described the funding for parks as “important initiatives, it’s not huge but more than we saw with the previous government.” Clare Demerse, of Clean Energy Canada, [5. Roy L Hales Interview with Clare Demerse, of Clean Energy Canada] found it encouraging to see that the Government was providing funding to write environmental regulations and update building codes etc. “We have a lot of catching up to do because this was not a priority under the previous Government. So it is a really important signal to say okay the budget is there, people can get down to work in Environment Canada and Natural Resources Canada, and other parts of the government, and really focus on climate action and clean energy as a priority,” she said. One of the brightest sections of this budget is the attention given to the clean tech sector, which is a key component of building a more environmentally friendly future. “We were quite pleased with the way the budget treats clean energy more broadly. We thought that it makes some smart investments, and the government made it clear it sees it as an economic opportunity for Canada,” said Demerse. “You can see that in a couple of ways, one being the Finance Ministers speech to the House. He talked about it as ‘the future the World is tending to and we want Canada to lead in that future.’ And then also the fact clean energy is really sprinkled throughout the budget. It wasn’t just a few pages in an environmental section. You can read about it in all kinds of parts of the budget. whether you were talking about infrastructure, government procurement, or space for people in overseas missions for people trying to promote exports of clean technology.” Kai Chan agreed, “Clean energy is a major component of the budget and certainly a major component of how they are representing it.” Some of the specifics include: Chan pointed to the breakdown of investments in public transit on page 92 of the budget, and noted it was based on the province’s existing share of public ridership. “Basically, where public transit is already helping many people, they will help it help more people,” he said. “Overall, we were thinking of this as a downpayment,” said Demerse. “We know that if all goes well, next year the Prime Minster and Premiers will have an agreement on a National Climate Plan, and in Vancouver they agreed it will be ready to implement in 2017. So next year’s budget is probably going to be one where the federal government is probably going to have to play a very important role. So in next year’s budget we will be looking for things like a national carbon pricing, or support for low carbon infrastructure.” Based on the comments above, I would give this budget an “A” for effort but a barely passing overall grade because of its failure to address the damages the previous administration made to Canada’s environmental protections (specifically, Bill C-38). That said, this budget shows a marked improvement over those we have seen in the past decade. If the “interim measures” are replaced by more socially and environmentally sensitive legislation, there is good reason to be optimistic about the future. Photo Credits: Parliament, Ottawa by mark.watmough via Flickr (CC BY SA, 2.0 License); Erin Flanagan – Courtesy Pembina Institute; Elizabeth May, MP Saanich-Gulf Islands – Courtesy B.C. Green Party; Kai Chan, Associate Professor in the Institute for Resources, Environment and Sustainability, UBC; graph from Budget; Clare Demerse of Clean Tech Canada; Two graphs from the Budget Get CleanTechnica’s 1st (completely free) electric car report → “Electric Cars: What Early Adopters & First Followers Want.” Come attend CleanTechnica’s 1st “Cleantech Revolution Tour” event → in Berlin, Germany, April 9–10. Keep up to date with all the hottest cleantech news by subscribing to our (free) cleantech newsletter, or keep an eye on sector-specific news by getting our (also free) solar energy newsletter, electric vehicle newsletter, or wind energy newsletter.
News Article | February 15, 2017
As reported recently by Vancouver, BC-based Pembina Institute, North America is experiencing exponential growth in the design and construction of Passive House projects: buildings that meet the world’s most stringent energy efficiency standard. With this growth in Passive House design and construction has come an acceleration in Passive House training among architecture firms focused on sustainable design, sparking a friendly rivalry between companies. Seattle and Pittsburgh-based NK Architects just claimed pole position in this high performance design training race. On Monday, NK received results from Germany’s Passive House Institute for the recent Certified Passive House Consultant and Designer examination. NK now has 21 CPHCs and CPHDs, the highest number of any firm in North America. “I’ve been in architecture for over 25 years, and to me the Passive House method of designing is really the top of the game,” said NK’s CEO Tim Weyand. “It’s taking off, and I’m excited that our corps of certified designers will be at the center of it all.” NK Architects has a history at the leading edge of Passive House design. The firm designed Seattle’s first certified Passive House, Park Passive, a custom home that won the national 2014 Housing Award from American Institute of Architects and the 2016 Passive Projects Design Award from Passive House Institute US (PHIUS). The firm now has several major multifamily Passive House projects–and one Passive House library–underway between its two offices. In Pittsburgh, the firm’s Passive House projects, designed in collaboration with Thoughtful Balance, include: “The built environment can accelerate the clean energy transition and help curb carbon emissions,” said Weyand. “The key is to create zero carbon buildings at scale, and Passive House design allows us to do that. Add some renewable energy and you’re there.” ABOUT NK ARCHITECTS NK Architects is a full service architecture firm with offices in Seattle and Pittsburgh. The firm uses a science-proven approach to design healthy, zero-carbon buildings that make economic sense. The goal is to transform the market through superior value. http://www.nkarch.com
News Article | November 21, 2016
Last December, Canada thrilled the world’s environmental community by announcing its return to the fight against climate change. After its dazzling performance at Paris, the newly elected Trudeau government promptly returned to energy policies of the preceding administration. More than 130 scientists condemned the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency’s report on the proposed Pacific Northwest LNG terminal as “a symbol of what is wrong with environmental decision-making in Canada.” The proposed Trans Mountain pipeline expansion, in British Columbia’s most populated area, will undoubtedly be approved on December 19. This would result in a threefold increase in the number of oil tankers sailing through Vancouver, which aspires to be the world’s greenest city. Then there is the ongoing melodrama connected to the proposed Energy East pipeline in eastern Canada. Disenchantment is spreading through the environmental community. Despite this, a new report from Environment and Climate Change Canada shows the Canadian government “gets it.” The question is whether it will do anything about it. One of the key statements, for those of us mystified by the Trudeau administration’s recent actions, is “Canada, and North America’s, electricity future will be shaped by interprovincial and intercontinental cooperation.” This means working with provinces like Alberta, British Columbia, and Saskatchewan, which have strong fossil fuel industries and aspirations. In fact, the Canadian economy has become dependent on the gas and oil sector. “It is the world’s fourth largest exporter of crude oil and fifth largest exporter of natural gas.” The Canadian dollar has become a petrocurrency whose value fluctuates according to the price of oil. Can Canada tackle climate change without damaging its economy? CANADA’S MID-CENTURY LONG-TERM LOW-GREENHOUSE GAS DEVELOPMENT STRATEGY examines ways to reduce the nation’s emissions to 80% of their 2005 levels by 2050. “This is consistent with the Paris Agreement’s 2°C to 1.5°C temperature goal.” As might be expected, part of this strategy consists of reducing emissions from the gas and oil sectors. This was the source of 44% of Canada’s methane emissions and a significant portion of our carbon emissions in 2014. “In oil sands operations, the adoption of innovative low-carbon extraction processes offers potential GHG emission reductions. Advanced technologies, such as solvent and electrothermal-based extraction methods for in situ, or direct contact steam generation, are at a stage of development whereby they offer a substantial opportunity to reduce emissions. These innovations could offer up to 50% GHG emissions reductions per barrel produced …” However, cities are an even bigger culprit, responsible for 70% of the world’s energy-related carbon dioxide emissions. They also provide an opportunity. According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), 38% of the global emissions reductions needed to reach a 2°C pathway could be met through energy efficiency improvements and demand side management in our cities. Further inroads could be made through improvements to the transportation system, which currently produces more than a quarter of the nation’s emissions. An M.I.T. study found that electric vehicles can already satisfy most of the public’s needs. (Thus it seems likely that, as this technology advances, combustion driven vehicles will largely be relegated to museums in the not too distant future.) In addition, “Canada will continue to encourage cities to improve public transit and bike lanes, and design urban spaces that reduce the need for vehicle transportation.” Those of us watching the rapid eradication of Canada’s remaining old growth forests can take some comfort in the fact the Canadian government knows it plays an “important role in sequestering substantial amounts of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.” “This sequestration can be augmented through policies and measures that better manage our forests and forest products. Without consideration of the global land sector, the 1.5 to 2°C temperature goal will be very hard to achieve. This government report may sound like gibberish to many residents of British Columbia’s Lower Fraser Valley, who are watching their communities’ interests being overridden so that Kinder Morgan can build a pipeline that gives Albertan bitumen increased access to the ocean. (What happened to the idea of needing social license in affected communities ?) Yet there is no denying that the government knows there is a problem and is taking steps to rectify it. Does its plan make it possible to achieve the emissions reductions we need to hold the rise of global temperatures in check? “Modelling of this nature illustrates the scale of ambition required to decarbonize Canada’s economy. The development of a long-term pathway to reduce emissions beyond Canada’s 2030 target is an essential step for the country, and will be an important input to federal, provincial and territorial planning processes,” writes Erin Flanagan, federal policy director at the Pembina Institute. “This strategy is crystal clear that we need a transition from fossil fuels to clean energy across Canada’s economy,” says Dan Woynillowicz, policy director at Clean Energy Canada. “With an electricity grid powered by clean, renewable electricity Canada can take steps to electrify our economy — from transportation, to industry to buildings — delivering faster and deeper cuts to greenhouse gas pollution,” adds Jacob Irving, of the Canadian Hydropower Association. The Environment and Climate Change Canada report cites a recent study, from the United Nations Environment Programme, which indicates there is a 50% chance we can hold the average global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees C by 2050. Illustration Credits: Canadian Environment Minister Catherine McKenna, Co-Chair of the Climate and Clean Air Coalition at COP 22 from the Ministry of Natural Resources – Rwanda via flickr (CC BYSA, 2.0 License); Table A3: Trottier Energy Futures Project (Current Technology Scenario), CANADA’S MID-CENTURY LONG-TERM LOW-GREENHOUSE GAS DEVELOPMENT STRATEGY, Environment and Climate Change Canada, p 85; Table A5: Deep Decarbonization Pathways Project, ibid, p 87. Buy a cool T-shirt or mug in the CleanTechnica store! Keep up to date with all the hottest cleantech news by subscribing to our (free) cleantech daily newsletter or weekly newsletter, or keep an eye on sector-specific news by getting our (also free) solar energy newsletter, electric vehicle newsletter, or wind energy newsletter.
News Article | February 5, 2016
The company that lost a bid to build the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline (and has filed a lawsuit against the U.S. government for $15 billion for lost profits) is eyeing to get its tar sands oil to the Gulf Coast another way: by sea. TransCanada is proposing a scheme that would start as a pipeline in Alberta terminating at Canada’s Bay of Fundy and then continue by supertanker moving tar sands through the Gulf of Maine, to Louisiana and Texas, with stops at major ports along the East coast and by the tip of Florida. So far, Canadian federal decision-makers are ignoring the risk that this proposal presents to U.S. coasts and fisheries even as the National Academy of Sciences has found that tar sands spills are more devastating than conventional oil to water sources and spill responders are unequipped for cleanups. But Canadian public opposition to the project is fierce as demonstrated by another major announcement that the City of Montreal and the Montreal Metropolitan Community representing 82 municipalities and nearly 4 million people are now officially opposed to the project. TransCanada hopes Americans won’t notice. They’re calling it “Energy East,” but let’s call it what it is: Keystone East. Energy East would carry 1.1 million barrels of tar sands oil a day (bpd) from Alberta to New Brunswick; this is 35 percent larger than Keystone XL. The pipeline portion of the project would traverse Canada2,850 miles (4,600 kilometers). It would convert an aging natural gas pipeline in Saskatchewan, Manitoba, and Ontario (1,860 miles in length), and build new pipe in Alberta, Quebec, and New Brunswick (930 miles in length). Based on an application submitted to Canadian regulators last month, most of the oil transported by Energy East would be loaded onto more than 280 oil supertankers carrying between 1 million and 2 million barrels that will travel down the U.S. east coast. Over the course of a year, this virtual pipeline by water would move up to 328 million barrels of tar sands oil down the east coast. This project would result in an increase five times more oil tanker traffic from current oil tanker traffic along the Atlantic seaboard every year. Therefore, TransCanada’s reincarnated Keystone plan–Energy East–is not just a new pipeline project. It is a pipeline-tanker scheme that would bring millions more barrels of tar sands oil to the United States. TransCanada first announced Energy East in 2013, but project changes have delayed the completion of the project’s application. Going forward, Canada’s National Energy Board must review the application to determine whether it is complete, a process expected to be complete in Spring 2016. To be clear, Canadian regulators have so far determined not to consider the risk of tar sands spills to the U.S. Atlantic and Gulf Coasts. The NEB will have 15 months to complete its review of the project. TransCanada hopes to finish building Energy East in 2020. With Energy East adding hundreds of tar sands oil tankers to annual commercial vessel traffic on east coast waters, collisions would become more likely. Further south, tankers from Energy East are expected to navigate dangerously close to major population centers, entering the New York harbor en route to New Jersey refineries, and the Chesapeake Bay and Delaware River en route to Delaware refineries. As the majority of tankers round the tip of Florida, they must travel close to the Florida Keys before entering the Gulf of Mexico, a pathway that could place the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary at risk, not to mention southern Florida’s significant tourism economy. Canada’s Bay of Fundy, where the tar sands supertankers would be loaded and launched, is famous for its hazardous conditions, including the world’s highest tides, dense fogs, and treacherous weather. A spill here could affect U.S. waters off Maine. Here’s what happens to tar sands oil spills in water: it sinks and causes long term toxic contamination. It is nearly impossible to clean up. This is according to the National Academy of Sciences whose December 2015 report confirms that tar sands oil (in its most common form–diluted bitumen) poses greater risks than other types of oil, leading to difficult spill response situations. The NAS concluded that first responders, governments, and industry lack the technology or expertise to effectively deal with tar sands spills. At the Canadian port of Saint John, just north of the border with Maine, Energy East would yield a near 75% increase in current outbound tanker traffic–from 380 tankers per year to 661. And the nature of the products transported would change significantly–from refined petroleum products to unrefined crude oil. This would place in harm’s way the critical feeding habitat for the 450 remaining North Atlantic right whales, as well as humpback, fin, Sei, and Minke whales, white-sided dolphins and harbor porpoises. These species are extremely vulnerable to noise pollution, ship strikes, and the threat of a severe oil spill from increased marine traffic. As Energy East’s tankers travel down the East Coast, they would move near other important habitat areas off the coasts of Cape Cod and Florida. The traffic created by the proposed pipeline places numerous ecosystems at risk, including the critical Bay of Fundy, the Gulf of Maine, the Acadia National Park, Cape Cod, and the Florida Keys. These areas host incredibly diverse wildlife that supports vibrant commercial fishing and tourism economies. Indeed, off the coast of Maine, lobstering is a multi-million dollar industry and a cultural icon for the region. But lobster are bottom-feeding organisms, and the threat posed by sinking tar sands oil to their health and the industries they support could not be more stark. Adding the equivalent of 7 million new cars to the road In addition to its effect on ocean habitat and coastal communities, Energy East stands to have significant climate consequences. In a report assessing the climate implications of the proposed pipeline, the Canadian-based Pembina Institute estimated that producing the crude needed to fill Energy East could generate up to 32 million metric tons of additional greenhouse gas emissions each year. On a lifecycle basis–from production to consumption–the oil moved by Energy East is expected to generate a staggering 220 million metric tons of greenhouse gases every year (equivalent to the annual emissions of 58 coal-fired power plants). Following the Paris climate negotiations and Canada’s support of a 1.5° Celsius warming target, Energy East’s construction would make it largely impossible for Canada to honor the emission reduction commitments this target will require. But the political landscape has changed since TransCanada publicly announced the project in 2013. Opposition to Energy East is growing in Canada, especially among First Nations, due to the pipeline’s negative environmental impacts and the risks it poses to local communities. In Quebec, where most of the new pipeline would need to be built, opposition is strong and growing. With the addition of the Montreal Greater community regional government, there are now 144 municipalities across the province in formal opposition. In neighboring Ontario, the government found the pipeline would pose significant environmental harm and bring no economic benefit to the province. Given the overwhelming opposition to the Keystone XL proposal, Americans along the East Coast–and around the country–need to better understand the ramifications of this project-including its potential impact to marine life and local industries such as commercial fishing and tourism. A tar sands spill in ocean waters from one of these massive crude carriers could devastate a local tourism economy, or a regional fishery or lobster population. It’s essential that we size up the potential risks this pipeline-tanker scheme could bring and weigh in, before it is too late.
News Article | December 6, 2016
On December 5th, the Pacific Institute for Climate Solutions, Pembina Institute, and Clean Energy Canada released the first independent assessment of British Columbia's Climate Leadership Plan in combination with the federal government's recently announced carbon price schedule. The analysis , prepared by Navius Research, projects that the combined carbon pollution from LNG and natural gas, industry and utilities, transport, and buildings will increase until 2030 and remain above current levels until at least 2050.
News Article | November 21, 2016
The Canadian government has set a target of eliminating traditional coal-fired generation from the country’s electricity mix by 2030, with much of the gap expected to be filled by renewables. Hitting the target would mean Canada would be generating 90% of its power from non-carbon-emitting sources by 2030, up from 80% today. The remaining emissions would come from gas-fired plants. The 2030 target “sends a clear signal to the world that Canada is a great place to invest in clean energy”, says Catherine McKenna, minister of environment and climate change. The government of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will support the transition away from coal by using the Canada Infrastructure Bank to finance “commercially viable clean energy and modern electricity systems between provinces and territories”. No specific projects or investments were disclosed. While symbolically important, Canada’s target of ditching coal is not a huge stretch for the hydro-rich country, given that coal currently accounts for less than 10% of total power generation. The largest remaining coal-consuming province – Alberta – has already committed to eliminating its use by 2030, with the intention of building 5GW of new renewables capacity by then. Six of Canada’s 10 provinces already get by without coal, including Ontario, the country’s most populous province, which switched off its last remaining coal station in 2014. Ontario, like neighbouring Quebec, currently generates more electricity than it can consume, resulting in dim near-term prospects for new generation capacity of any kind, renewables included. Roughly 60% of Canada's electricity generation came from hydro in 2014, followed by coal (9.5%) and gas (8.5%), according to government figures. Non-hydro renewables, particularly wind, are growing swiftly. Coal-fired units with carbon capture and storage technology will still be allowed in the future electricity mix, and the government says it will work with provinces and labour organisations to ensure the country’s remaining coal workforce finds jobs in the new “low-carbon economy”. “We’re pleased to see the government thinking holistically about Canada’s electricity sector – including the need to reduce reliance on coal and gas-fired generation – while sending strong investment signals for new clean energy,” says Ed Whittingham, executive director of the Pembina Institute. “We are also pleased to see that the government will finance the transition to a cleaner and more modern electricity grid through the Canada Infrastructure Bank,” Whittingham says. Robert Hornung, president of the Canadian Wind Energy Association, called the target a “necessary step on the path towards fully capitalising on Canada’s tremendous renewable energy potential and achieving close to 100% zero-carbon electricity by 2050”.