British Columbia sets new GHG reduction targets, reviews environmental assessment process

Amidst the noise and fury of the B.C.-Alberta feud over the Kinder Morgan TransMountain pipeline,  the province of British Columbia is moving forward with reform of its climate change policies. On April 25, the  B.C. Climate Solutions and Clean Growth Advisory Council released a detailed letter to the Minister of Environment and Climate Change Strategy , describing the Council’s principles, supporting much of the government’s current direction, and making recommendations, based on the 2015 recommendations of the province’s Climate Leadership Team. Shortly thereafter, on May 7, a government press release  committed to  a new provincial climate action strategy to be released in autumn 2018, including plans for GHG emission reduction  for buildings and communities, industry and transportation sectors.

With that same press release, the government announced Bill 34, the Climate Change Accountability Act,  which amends the Greenhouse Gas Reduction Targets Act (2007), repealing the emissions reduction target for 2020 (generally deemed unachievable)  and sets new targets: reduction of GHG’s by 40% from 2007 levels by 2030, 60% by 2040, and 80% by 2050.  Accountability looms large in the responses to Bill 34.  The Pembina Institute  notes the failure of recent GHG emissions reductions, and calls for “a robust accountability mechanism to ensure history doesn’t repeat itself ”. In addition, Pembina notes that any development of emissions-intensive industries, such as liquefied natural gas, would jeopardize the province’s climate progress.

In “Looking for accountability in BC’s Climate Change Accountability Act”,  West Coast Environment Law reviews B.C.’s emissions reduction progress , summarizes responses by other environmental groups to Bill 34, and recommends how the government can incorporate principles of accountability and transparency in its new policies.  Similar concerns are discussed in “A Carbon Budget Framework for BC: Achieving accountability and oversight”  by Marc Lee, in CCPA’s Policy Notes (May 22).

Another policy issue under review in B.C. is environmental assessment, with a 12-member advisory committee appointed in March 2018, a public discussion paper promised for May, and reforms to come in Fall.  The government portal to the “Revitalization” process is here ;  “B.C. Moves Ahead With Review of Controversial Environmental Assessment Process”  (Mar 8) summarizes the situation.   On May 9,  twenty-three environmental, legal, social justice and community organizations released  Achieving Sustainability: A Vision for Next-Generation Environmental Assessment in British Columbia , which calls for an independent environmental assessment body which will involve the public, and require decision-makers to demonstrate that their decisions are based on science and Indigenous knowledge. A summary, with links to more detailed discussion  is provided by West Coast Environmental Law.  Analysis and practical examples are provided by Sarah Cox in  “Time For a Fix: B.C. Looks at Overhaul of Reviews for Mines, Dams and Pipelines”, which  appeared in April in the newly-named newsletter from DeSmog Canada, The Narwhal.

Low-carbon technologies to the rescue: Solar PV, Electric Vehicles, CCS, and a replacement for cement

cover-expect-the-unexpected-300x225Expect the Unexpected: The Disruptive Power of Low-carbon Technology  is a new report by the Grantham Institute at Imperial College London and the Carbon Tracker Initiative. The report models energy demand by combining up-to-date solar PV and electric vehicle cost projections with climate policies based on the UNFCC Nationally Determined Contributions statements. The results are contrasted with the current “Business as Usual” scenarios of the major fossil fuel companies, and demonstrate how Big Oil underestimates the impact of solar and EV technologies. Expect the Unexpected forecasts peak oil and gas by 2020, with electric vehicles accounting for over two-thirds of the road transport market by 2050, and states that  Solar PV  “could supply 23% of global power generation in 2040 and 29% by 2050, entirely phasing out coal and leaving natural gas with just a 1% market share.”

The report and addresses the question, “What contribution can accelerated solar PV and EV penetration make to achieving a 2°C target?”   It  provides various scenarios, but concludes that decarbonisation of heavy industry (specifically iron and steel, cement, chemcials)  will  also be required and essential.  On this front, the report states that Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) is unlikely to be financially viable in power generation, but “ In non-power sectors such as heavy industry, however, CCS is likely to have a much more important role because there are currently few viable low-carbon alternatives for achieving deep decarbonisation. Furthermore, if CO2 can be utilised in other industrial processes, this added value will serve to improve the viability of CCS.”

One such low-carbon alternative for cement production – albeit one which is still in development – is reported in a  recent article by University of Victoria’s Pacific Institute for Climate Solutions .  Based on the premise that most of the CO2 produced in cement manufacture is not in the kiln-heating process, but rather by the chemical reaction of turning limestone into quicklime, researchers at McGill University in Montreal  have developed a building product called Carbicrete, which  replaces Portland cement with steel slag (a waste product) as its main binding agent.   Read details in “Solving the Thorny problem of Cement Emissions”   (Feb. 1).

Use this link to view The Expect the Unexpected main report, a technical report, and an interactive dashboard allowing readers to manipulate elements of climate policy, technology price, and energy demand are available here.

 

Trudeau welcomes Trump’s Keystone pipeline decision – can we really have it both ways?

The House of Commons Standing Committee on Natural Resources delivered its report on The Future of Canada’s Oil and Gas Industry  in September 2016; see the WCR coverage from September here.   On January 19, the Government released its Official Response to the Committee Report, with this introductory statement: “It is clear to our Government that in order for the energy sector to continue to be a driver of prosperity and play a part in meeting global demand for energy, resource development must go hand in hand with the environmental and social demands of Canadians.”  Not surprising then, that when Donald Trump opened the door for construction of the Keystone Pipeline on January 24, Justin Trudeau and his cabinet members welcomed the news .

ccpa_extractedcarbon_shareYet author Marc Lee reinforces what others have stated in his January 25 article in CCPA Policy Notes.   “Canada can’t have it both ways on environment”  demonstrates that “the amount of fossil fuel removed from Canadian soil that ends up in the atmosphere as carbon dioxide—has grown dramatically. ”  Although not technically “counted” in our own emissions reporting under the Paris Agreement, the emissions from Canada’s fossil fuel exports, counted in the countries where they are burned, is greater than Canada’s total GHG emissions within the country.  Lee goes on: “Based on our share of global fossil fuel reserves, Canada could continue to extract carbon at current levels for between 11 and 24 years at most (the smaller the carbon budget, the less the damages from climate change). This means a planned, gradual wind-down of these industries needs to begin immediately.”

Marc Lee’s article summarizes  a more complete report he authored for the Corporate Mapping Project, jointly led by the University of Victoria, Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives and the Parkland Institute.  Extracted Carbon: Re-examining Canada’s contribution to climate change through fossil fuel exports  updates a 2011 CCPA report, Peddling GHGs: What is the Carbon Footprint of Canada’s Fossil Fuel Exports?  in the context of the Paris Agreement and Canada’s contribution to the global carbon budget.  It concludes that “Plans to further grow Canada’s exports of fossil fuels are thus contradictory to the spirit and intentions of the Paris Agreement. Growing our exports could only happen if some other producing countries agreed to keep their fossil fuel reserves in the ground.  The problem with new fossil fuel infrastructure projects, like Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) plants and bitumen pipelines, is that they lock us in to a high-emissions trajectory for several decades to come, giving up on the 1.5 to 2°C limits of Paris.”  It follows that “Canadian climate policy must consider supply-side measures such as rejecting new fossil fuel infrastructure and new leases for exploration and drilling, increasing royalties, and eliminating fossil fuel subsidies.”

Recommendations by House of Commons committee is at odds with GHG reduction

The House of Commons Standing Committee on Natural Resources  released its second report, The Future of Canada’s Oil and Gas Sector: Innovation, sustainable solutions and economic opportunities  on September 21. The report summarizes the comments from 33 witnesses who appeared before the committee in 7 meetings, and makes recommendations, including: “1. The Committee recommends that the Government of Canada continue to promote the benefits of investing in Canada’s Natural Resources sectors, including oil and gas, which shall include the continued encouragement of innovation, research and development.” And “2.The Committee recommends that the Government of Canada work in collaboration with industry and the indigenous, provincial, territorial, and municipal governments to develop the supporting infrastructure needed to create a favourable environment for natural resource development and transportation, and to deliver oil and gas products to strategic domestic and international markets.”    The Dissenting Report from the Conservative members goes even further to support the fossil fuel industry, making 5 recommendations which include:   “We strongly encourage the government not to impose any additional tax or regulation on the oil and gas sector or the Canadian consumer that our continental trading partners and competitors do not have. This includes measuring the upstream greenhouse gas emissions from pipelines…”  The Opinion statement by the New Democratic Party members of the Committee calls for speedy, permanent changes to the National Energy Board assessment process, and for the Government to honour its obligation for a Nation to Nation relationship with Indigenous peoples, including proper consultation and accommodation on all energy projects and the protection of Indigenous rights.   The NDP also states its support for the testimony of Gil McGowan, President of the Alberta Federation of Labour, calling for support for  value-added development of the oil and gas industry, “because these kinds of investments not only create jobs directly in upgrading, refining, and petrochemicals but also create other jobs”.

Contrast these recommendations with the message released on the next day, September 22,  by Oil Change International in its report,  The Sky’s Limit  .  The report states that developed reserves of oil and gas alone would take the world beyond 1.5°C, even if coal were phased out immediately, and lists examples of some of the biggest projects around the world that cannot go ahead – in the U.S., Canada, Australia, India, Russia, Qatar and Iran .   It concludes that “To stay within our carbon budgets, we must go further than stopping new construction: some fossil fuel extraction assets must be closed before they are exploited fully. These early shut-downs should occur predominantly in rich countries.”   (This urgency is in the spirit of a recent Dutch parliamentary vote in favour of closing down all remaining coal-generation power plants, even though 3 of them were just opened in 2015: see the article in The Guardian ).

The Sky’s the Limit states further, “extraction should not continue where it violates the rights of local people – including indigenous peoples – nor should it continue where resulting pollution would cause intolerable health impacts or seriously damage biodiversity.”  Finally, in a discussion of Just Transition, “ The most critical questions lie in how industry and policymakers will conduct an orderly and managed decline of fossil fuel extraction, with robust planning for economic and energy diversification.”

Will the IPCC 5th Assessment Report Inspire Change?

The 5th Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change was released on September 27. Dealing with the physical sciences, the report projects future weather, ocean levels, global warming and carbon dioxide levels.  According to U.K.’s Guardian newspaper, the report provided the first “carbon budget” – how much carbon dioxide we can emit before global temperature increase exceeds 2ºC and the planet overheats. The bad news? We’d already used half of it by 2011, and could now be approaching two-thirds. Thomas Stocker, co-chair of the IPCC working group, points out that more fossil fuels exist than can be burned if we are to remain within the budget. In other words, some valuable reserves will need to remain untapped.

The Globe and Mail summarized early Canadian reactions to the IPCC report, and cited the absence of comment from Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s office. Provincial premiers have been similarly silent. The David Suzuki Foundation is one of the few Canadian organizations to have commented, highlighting provincial successes and calling for the federal government “to prioritize clean energy and eliminate the billions of dollars in fossil fuel subsidies.” The Climate Justice Project at the Canadian Centre for Policy Analysis analyzed the IPCC report in relation to British Columbia, and asks, “will LNG development blow B.C.’s carbon budget?”. The Pembina Institute released a brief statement. A call to arms can be found in the Opinion piece by Andrew Weaver in the Globe and Mail, which states, “While the U.S., the E.U. and even China are making a profound shift to address the root causes of climate change, the Canadian government continues to focus our economy predominantly around the extraction, transportation and combustion of fossil fuels. Even British Columbia, which used to be considered a leader in the development of climate policies, is now moving in the opposite direction with its focus on the development of a Liquefied Natural Gas industry. The IPCC report could and should inspire us to take a different approach.”

LINKS

IPCC 5th Assessment Report documentation is available at: http://www.ipcc.ch/

“IPCC: 30 Years to Climate Calamity If We Carry on Blowing the Carbon Budget” in

“Around the World: Strong Reactions To Climate Change Report” (Sept. 27) in the Globe and Mail at: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/world/around-the-world-strong-reactions-to-climate-change-report/article14566793/

David Suzuki Foundation media backgrounder on the IPCC 5th Report is at:http://www.davidsuzuki.org/media/news/downloads/DSF_IPCC_WG1_Backgrounder.pdf

“Will LNG Development Blow BC’s Carbon Budget?” is at the Climate Justice Project at:http://www.policyalternatives.ca/publications/commentary/will-lng-development-blow-bcs-carbon-budget

Pembina Institute response is at: http://www.pembina.org/media-release/2483

“Now That Climate Change is Beyond Doubt, Focus on Fixing It” (September 28) at the Globe and Mail at: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/commentary/now-that-climate-change-is-beyond-doubt-lets-focus-on-solving-it/article14588647/