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 | 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 | 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 | November 23, 2015
The provincial government estimated the plan, including a pledge to phase out pollution from coal-fired electricity generation by 2030 and a limit on emissions from the province's oil sands industry, would generate C$3 billion ($2.25 billion) in annual revenue. Backed by prominent representatives from industry and the environmental movement, Premier Rachel Notley said the province was trying to do the right thing for the future. Notley's left-leaning New Democratic Party took power earlier this year, ending 44 years of Conservative rule. "It will help us access new markets for our energy products, and diversify our economy with renewable energy and energy efficiency technology," Notley said in Edmonton. "Alberta is showing leadership on one of the world's biggest problems." Alberta has the world's third largest crude reserves, but its oil sands industry is also Canada's fastest growing source of greenhouse gas emissions. That status has prompted fierce opposition from environmental groups to proposed pipelines that would allow the industry to access new markets, including the recently rejected Keystone XL pipeline, proposed by TransCanada Corp. U.S. President Barack Obama rejected that project on Nov. 6, explaining that "shipping dirtier crude oil" into the United States would not enhance the country's energy security. Alberta's energy sector has also been hammered with thousands of layoffs in recent months due to slumping global oil prices. The government said all oil sands operators would still be allowed to increase their combined annual carbon pollution from about 70 million tons to a maximum of 100 million tons per year under proposed legislation. It said this plan was endorsed by several major oil companies, including Suncor Energy , Cenovus, Canadian Natural Resources Ltd and the Canadian division of Royal Dutch Shell Plc. Environmental groups, including the Pembina Institute, Forest Ethics and Environmental Defence Canada, also endorsed the plan, the province said. The province estimated its new plan would cost the average household about C$320 per year in 2017 and C$470 per year in 2018. Notley will bring her plan into a meeting of Canadian premiers with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, to prepare Canada's national strategy at the upcoming Paris climate change summit.
News Article | March 8, 2016
Barack Obama and Justin Trudeau will commit to work together to fight climate change and protect an Arctic experiencing the mildest winter ever recorded, sources familiar with the initiatives said. The two leaders were expected to announce a number of common climate measures at a meeting at the White House this week, from a 45% cut in methane emissions from the oil and gas industry to protections for a rapidly warming Arctic. The state visit on Thursday is seen as an important moment for Trudeau to break with his Conservative predecessor, Stephen Harper, who was accused of muzzling government scientists and backtracking on climate promises. The visit – four months after Trudeau’s election and 11 months before Obama leaves the White House – offered a rare window of opportunity to advance the cause that is important to both leaders, the Canadian prime minister said. “There is a nice alignment between a Canadian prime minister who wants to get all sorts of things done right off the bat and an American president who is thinking about the legacy he is going to leave in his last year in office,” Trudeau told a Huffington Post town hall. “The issues that are important to him and to me are climate change … We’re talking about border issues, as well – making sure there is a smooth flow of goods and people across our shared border that isn’t putting our security at risk.” Taking prime position among those issues was the Arctic – where winter temperatures are 7C above normal this year and the sea ice cover is also dwindling towards a new record low. In Alaska, the winter was so unseasonably warm that the authorities were forced to import freight cars full of snow for the launch of the annual Iditarod dog sledding race. The US took over from Canada last year as leader of the Arctic Council, the group of polar regional countries. The US and Canadian leaders were expected to use the Washington visit to announce a number of measures to protect remote communities and ecologically sensitive marine areas in the Arctic, sources familiar with the initiatives said. Some of those initiatives involved efforts to reduce reliance on diesel fuel – which is transported by barge into remote native Alaskan villages. With the melting of the Arctic summer sea ice, the region faces sweeping changes in the years and decades ahead. Shipping traffic in the North-west Passage and the Bering Sea is projected to rise by a factor of seven over the next decade – which could disrupt hunting and fishing by native Alaskan communities. The two leaders are also expected to announce joint initiatives in Arctic science research. Scientists have blamed the warming of the Arctic for changes in global weather patterns. Obama and Trudeau are also expected to announce common positions on reducing methane emissions from the oil and gas industry. Both countries have been edging towards a common 45% target for cutting emissions from methane – which is more than 80 times as warming as carbon dioxide. On Tuesday, the US State Department’s climate envoy, Todd Stern, told reporters that methane emissions reductions would be an area the countries could work together on. In November last year, Alberta, Canada’s main energy-producing province, unveiled a new climate plan proposing to reduce methane emissions from oil wells by 45% from 2014 levels by 2025. Two months later, Obama proposed new rules cutting methane emissions 45% from 2012 levels by 2025. Campaigners saw the curbs on methane as a chance to cap one of the fastest growing sources of climate pollution in recent years – because of the boom in oil and gas drilling. “Methane is a very significant climate pollutant,” said Erin Flanagan, the federal policy director for the Pembina Institute, a Canadian environmental thinktank.
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”.
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 | 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 | October 1, 2016
Conversations around climate change almost always involve carbon dioxide, with good reason. It’s essential to dramatically reduce this pollutant to drive down the total amount of climate warming our children and grandchildren will experience. But, what we’ve also learned over the last few years is that an effective climate strategy needs to do two things: Reduce cumulative warming and the speed at which this warming is happening. Next to CO2, methane is the most impactful greenhouse gas. While it breaks down faster in the atmosphere than carbon dioxide, methane packs 84 times more warming power for the first 20 years after it’s emitted. About one-quarter of the warming we are experiencing today is attributable to human emissions of methane, with the oil and gas industry its largest industrial source. Fortunately, there are cost-effective strategies to reduce methane emissions across the oil and gas industry. There is nothing as quick, easy, or cost-effective at slowing the rate of climate change right now than reducing oil and gas methane pollution. To effectively combat climate change, it is necessary to cut both CO2 and methane. Alberta gets this, which is why reducing oil and gas methane emissions by 45% by 2025 is a major element of Alberta’s provincial Climate Plan. The federal government and British Columbia have followed Alberta’s lead, incorporating this goal into their respective climate plans. The federal government is set to announce draft regulations for new and existing sources early next year, which, if done right, will be a significant step forward to the global effort to reduce these emissions. And the neighbors are taking notice. In March, encouraged by Canadian action, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency launched an effort to regulate methane pollution from existing oil and gas facilities; and in June, at the North American Leaders’ Summit, Mexico committed to joining Canada and the United States in reducing Mexican oil and gas methane emissions by 45% by 2025. That the three nations of North America are taking significant action to reduce oil and gas methane emissions is no small thing. Together, Canada, the U.S. and Mexico account for nearly 20 percent of global oil and gas methane pollution. Getting it right in North America can have a big impact globally. A 45 percent reduction in global oil and gas methane emissions can have the same impact on the climate over 20 years as closing one-third of the world’s coal plants and have twice the impact of $1 trillion invested in renewable energy capacity between now and 2030. Closing coal plants and deploying renewable energy are critical to battling climate change, but so is reducing oil and gas methane pollution. And, with Canadian leadership, North America is setting the global bar. The good news is that reducing oil and gas methane emissions is one climate challenge that is easy to meet. In many cases, fixes are as easy as tightening loose valves and repairing leaky equipment. In Canada, the Environmental Defense Fund and Pembina Institute jointly sponsored an analysis which shows that the oil and gas industry can nearly fully achieve a 45 percent reduction for less than one penny per thousand cubic feet of gas produced – cost that won’t break the bank even when oil and gas prices are low, as they are today. The fixes are proven, low-cost and readily available. This is not rocket science, it’s auto mechanics. Even better, Canada also has the opportunity to get a head start in positioning itself as a leading provider of methane solutions. One Edmonton-based company, for example, has deployed over 300 non-emitting solar-electric well control systems at off-grid well sites in Canada. With policy actions to reduce methane, companies working in this area are sure to benefit as demand for this equipment and these services is expected to rise, both in Canada and internationally. Now is the Time for Action At a time when voices are rising in opposition to oil and gas development because of concern over climate change, it’s hard to believe that oil and gas companies and countries wouldn’t take every available opportunity to reduce greenhouse gases when and where it could, particularly, as in the case of methane, when it is so comparatively easy to do. Jurisdictions, like Alberta and Canada, that move early to tackle oil and gas methane emissions as part of their integrated climate plans, are taking a strong leadership position on climate. By taking the next step to enact the federal and provincial regulations needed to make good on the commitments made, Canada as a whole can provide a roadmap for other oil and gas producing nations to follow.
News Article | September 27, 2016
Last week turned out to be a busy one on the climate calendar, with multiple events across Europe and North America. In the case of the latter, Climate Week in New York, coinciding with the UN General Assembly, was the largest. In Canada the Pembina Institute held their annual Alberta Climate Summit with over 500 people packing out a conference centre in Calgary. Back in the UK, a broadly attended conference in Oxford was held on the issue of meeting the stretch goal of the Paris Agreement, i.e. limiting warming of the climate system to 1.5°C. This conference is part of the process leading up to the special report by the IPCC on 1.5°C, requested as part of the Paris Agreement and due in 2018. In Canada and at Climate Week I was able to make good use of the new Net Zero Emissions publication from the Shell Scenarios team and there was considerable interest in the material. A colleague did the same in Oxford. In the run-up to the conferences, we put together a new look at the existing scenarios outcomes in the form of a potential timeline to net-zero emissions and this was well received (click on the image to expand). The timelines show a plausible course of events for each of the two New Lens Scenarios, with an end point in both cases of net-zero emissions. But the scale of deployment, both for physical energy related infrastructure and policy initiatives points to the urgent need for action at national level and through the Paris Agreement. For example, in the Oceans scenario, carbon pricing is being applied almost globally by 2036 at a level above $30 per tonne of CO2. This compares with about 20+ % of the world today at between $5-$15 and a couple of outliers at $30 (e.g. British Columbia). It has taken nearly 20 years to get this far (with the Kyoto Protocol as a notional starting point). The Mountains scenario features a very early start for CCS, such that by 2033 there is about 1 Gt CO2 storage per annum – this equates to some 1,000 Quest projects, the large scale Shell project in Alberta. But such a deployment rate is still feasible, although it requires CCS deployment to quickly scale to the rate at which LNG is currently under construction. I looked at the numbers behind this back in 2014. Oceans sees a very rapid rate for solar deployment, to the extent that by 2044 there is 10,000 GW capacity globally. Solar deployment stands at about 250 GW capacity today. Nevertheless, the power sector isn’t completely decarbonised until 2089. By contrast, the more natural gas / CCS world of Mountains has power sector decarbonisation by 2061. An interesting feature of both scenarios is that it takes until at least mid-century before global CO2 emissions fall below 30 Gt per annum. While some commentators and energy system observers are calling for net-zero emissions by 2050, an analysis based on real potential deployment rates of major new energy systems does not support such an outcome. A further important milestone is the near doubling of the size of the energy system to 1000 EJ (from 500 EJ today), reaching such a level in both scenarios in the 2070s. Today we have about 7+ billion people with an average per capita energy demand of about 70 GJ per annum, although the range extends from some 20 GJ in parts of Africa through to 300+ GJ in North America. A global average of 100+ GJ is likely to be necessary for widespread access to clean water, good sanitation and a range of energy services (e.g. refrigeration), but with a more narrow range across countries. A complete description of the net zero emissions world can be found on the Shell Scenarios website.