Avoiding Dangerous Distractions such as Net-zero emissions goals

Dangerous Distractions: Canada’s carbon emissions and the pathway to net zero  is a newly published report by Marc Lee, of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives – B.C.  The report argues that “Net zero has the potential to be a dangerous distraction that reduces the political pressure to achieve actual emission reductions in favour of wishful thinking about future technologies and “nature-based solutions…. This permits business-as-usual to continue for longer than it should, perpetuating the era of fossil fuels including other adverse health and environmental impacts.”  Instead, the Canadian government should invest in  proven climate change solutions such as renewal energy.

A working definition of “net zero” might be similar to that offered by the  Institute for Climate Choices: “Achieving net zero emissions requires shifting to technologies and energy systems that do not produce greenhouse gas emissions, while removing any remaining emissions from the atmosphere and storing them permanently.”  “Net zero” targets have been increasingly adopted by governments – including Canada – and by businesses – whose use has been challenged by many – notably by Friends of the Earth International in Chasing Carbon Unicorns: The Deception of Carbon Markets and Net Zero (Feb. 2021).

 Dangerous Distractions  concerns the Canadian government policy approach to a net zero goal, particularly focusing on  carbon removal technologies such as carbon capture and storage, forestry management, and the use of carbon offsets, especially the international trade in carbon offsets (such as proposed by the international Taskforce on Scaling Voluntary Carbon Markets , founded by Mark Carney).  Lee concludes: “It’s impossible to know what carbon removal technologies of the future could achieve. For now, they are a dangerous distraction that diverts resources away from bona fide solutions. Scaling these ideas is very expensive and impractical, while perpetuating the era of fossil fuels prolongs other costly adverse impacts on human health, such as those due to air pollution.”

What follows are several recommendations, the first of which  is: “ Plan to reduce domestic emissions to “real zero” and to phase out the extraction and production of fossil fuels for export.”  He continues, “Don’t subsidize carbon capture and storage (CCS) with public funds. Require CCS for any proposed fossil fuel projects and phase in requirements for CCS in current projects”, and “Fund conservation of intact forests and nature-based solutions recognizing their important carbon, biodiversity and other co-benefits but treat this as a global public service. They should not be counted towards the 2050 target”; “Reject international carbon markets and do not plan on meeting domestic GHG targets by buying credits from outside Canada.”

The government of Canada legislated its net-zero emissions goal in Bill C-12, The  Canadian Net-Zero Emissions Accountability Act, introduced in November 2020 and currently before Committee.  In February 2021, Canada’s federal Minister of the Environment and Climate Change established a permanent  Net-Zero Advisory Body, consisting of fourteen experts, and also in February, the Institute for Climate Choices published a lengthly report, Canada’s Net Zero Future: Finding our way in the global transition. That report contrasts to  Dangerous Distractions by advocating for two pathways forward: “safe bets” in the short term, and in the long term, “wild cards” which include negative emission technologies that are not yet commercially available.

Corporate net zero goals: solution or deception?

Climate change superstar Mark Carney set off a media flurry in a video interview with Bloomberg Live on February 10, in which he claimed that Brookfield Asset Management is a “net zero” company because its renewables investments offset emissions from its other holdings. Carney reflects a new trend of corporate aspirational statements, for example: Jeff Bezos’ corporate network The Climate Pledge claimed in February that 53 companies across 18 industries have committed to working toward net-zero carbon in their worldwide businesses, most by 2050.  Recent  high profile examples include Royal Dutch Shell , Canada’s TD Bank  and Bank of Montreal, and  FedEx , which on March 5 announced its goal to be carbon-neutral by 2040 as well as an initial investment of $2 billion to start electrifying its delivery fleet and $100 million to fund a new research centre for carbon capture at  Yale University.

Will these corporate goals help to reach the Paris Agreement target?  Many recent articles are skeptical,  labelling them “sham”, “greenwash”, and “deception” which seeks to protect the status quo.  Some examples:

The climate crisis can’t be solved by carbon accounting tricks” (The Guardian, March 3) which offers a concise explanation of why “Disaster looms if big finance is allowed to game the carbon offsetting markets to achieve ‘net zero’ emissions.”

Global oil companies have committed to ‘net zero’ emissions. It’s a sham” by Tzeporah Berman and Nathan Taft (The Guardian, March 3) – which instead advocates for an international Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty.

Call the Fossil Fuel Industry’s Net-Zero Bluff” by Kate Aronoff  in New Republic. She writes: “This isn’t the old denialism oil companies funded decades ago. … Instead of casting doubt on whether the climate is changing, this new messaging strategy casts doubt on the obvious answer to what should be done about it: i.e., rapidly scaling down production….. For now, it’s one part creative accounting and many parts a P.R. strategy of waving around shiny objects like biofuels, hydrogen, and carbon capture and storage.”

Can the market save the planet?  FedEx is the latest brand-name firm to say it’s trying” in the Washington Post , which quotes Yale Professor Paul Sabin, warning that “carbon capture research also should not become an excuse for doubling down on fossil fuel consumption, or delaying urgently needed policies to move away from fossil fuel consumption, including the electrification of transportation.”

Chasing Carbon Unicorns: The Deception of Carbon Markets and Net Zero  – a hard-hitting report by Friends of the Earth International which argues that net zero pledges are “a new addition to the strategy basket of these actors who are fighting hard to maintain the status quo.”   The report names these actors, led by the  financial community’s new Taskforce on Scaling Voluntary Carbon Markets (TSVCM) – established by Mark Carney and the led by the CEO of the Standard Chartered Bank, with a goal to develop standards for “credible offsets” . FOE International also names a
group of Oxford academics which is supporting the TSVCM work by developing the Oxford Principles for Net Zero Aligned Carbon Offsetting , and  conservation agencies which have endorsed the work: Conservation International (CI), Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), The Nature Conservancy (TNC), and World Wildlife Fund (WWF).

Chasing Carbon Unicorns concludes:

“Net zero” is a smokescreen, a conveniently invented concept that is both dangerous and problematic because of how effectively it hides inaction. We have to unpack “net zero” strategies and pledges to see which are real and which are fake. Fake zero strategies rely on offsets, rather than real emission reductions. Real zero strategies require emissions to really go to zero, or as close to zero as possible.”

Ontario’s GHG emissions at lowest level since 1990 – Environmental Commissioner commends the first year of cap and trade but recommends changes for freight sector, green procurement

Ontario logoOn January 30, 2018  the Environmental Commissioner of Ontario (ECO) submitted her annual Greenhouse Gas Progress Report to the Legislative Assembly of Ontario –  an independent, non-partisan review of the government’s progress in reducing emissions for 2016-2017.  The report, Ontario’s Climate Act: From Plan to Progress  covers the period since the  Climate Change Action Plan was introduced in June 2016, and the  cap and trade market became effective January 2017.  The report provides detailed emissions  statistics by sector and sub-sector, catalogues and critiques climate-related policies, and places Ontario’s initiatives in a national and international context – especially the cap and trade market and its relationship with the Pan-Canadian Framework on Clean Growth and Climate Change.  Top-level findings:  overall, GHG emissions were at the lowest level since reporting began in 1990 and “the first year of cap and trade went remarkably well”. Because  Ontario’s market is part of the Western Climate Initiative (WCI) which  includes California and Quebec, the report warns that prices make weaken because of political  uncertainty in the U.S., and also calls for more “bang for the bucks” in the Greenhouse Gas Reduction Account, which manages the proceeds of the carbon auctions.  Chapter 4 includes an explanation and critique of Ontario’s proposed carbon offsets, which are also tied to the WCI, and states that some sectors at some risk of being little more than greenwashing.  The Commissioner singles out the emissions of Ontario’s transportation industry and  states that it will be impossible to meet Ontario’s emissions reduction targets unless urgent action is taken to rein in emissions from the freight sector, with recommendations to “encourage the freight sector to avoid trucking where possible (e.g., through logistics and road pricing), improve diesel truck efficiency (e.g., through incenting the scrapping of older diesel trucks), and shift freight away from fossil fuels (e.g., providing more targeted support for zero-emission trucks).” UPS electric truck The report also calls for improved green procurement policies in government’s own spending and a stronger climate lens for regulation, taxation and fiscal policies.  The  Ministry of Energy is singled out in this regard:   “For example, the Ministry of Energy by itself governs 70% of Ontario’s emissions, yet its 2017 Long-Term Energy Plan does little to achieve Ontario’s climate targets.”  An 8-page summary of the report is here ; the full report, (all 284 pages) is here ;  eight Technical Appendices are available from this link.

 

Carbon Neutral Government Operations pay off in Jobs in B.C.

Since 2010, public service organizations in British Columbia (hospitals, schools, universities) have been required to achieve carbon neutral operations, documented each year in annual Carbon Neutral Action Reports , which provide statistics, case studies of initiatives, and details of their purchases of carbon offsets. A new report, Leading by Example: The First Five Years of Carbon Neutral Government in British Columbia cumulates and analyses five years’ experience; one highlight is that 77% of public sector carbon emissions are facility- related, suggesting great potential for reduction through retrofitting and energy technologies.  A companion report, The Economic Analysis of British Columbia’s Carbon Offset Projects analyses the capital and operating expenditures of the 23 emission offset projects purchased by the public sector in 2013 and 2014.  It estimates that the $24 million expenditure in offsets contributed $28.9 million to provincial GDP, and created 221 jobs in 2013 and 2014. The report also builds on the findings of a Price Waterhouse Coopers analysis done in 2012, and concludes that carbon offset capital expenditures have resulted in 2,903 jobs, and operating expenditures resulted in an additional 1,535 jobs for the period 2008 to the end of 2014.

B.C. LNG Setor: New Legislation and a New Report

In the week of October 20, British Columbia introduced the Greenhouse Gas Industrial Reporting and Control Act and the Liquefied Natural Gas Income Tax Act. The former requires liquefied natural gas plants to purchase carbon offsets and punishes those who fail to limit their carbon emissions to 0.16 tonnes per tonne of LNG – the strictest standards in the world, according to B.C. Environment Minister Mary Polak.

However, Merran Smith of Clean Energy Canada criticized the Act for focussing exclusively on port facilities, at the end of the supply chain. Matt Horne of the Pembina Institute asserted that 70% of the industry’s emissions would be released before reaching the ports. See “B.C.’s New LNG Emissions Regulations A Good Start, But Not Enough” from Desmog Canada at: http://www.desmog.ca/2014/10/22/bc-new-lng-emissions-regulations-good-start-but-not-enough, and Pembina’s comments at: http://www.pembina.org/media-release/pembina-reacts-to-tabling-of-bc-lng-carbon-pollution-legislation.

The new tax legislation imposes a 3.5% rate on operating income, half the amount B.C. had initially planned. Read the government press release at: http://www.newsroom.gov.bc.ca/2014/10/bc-to-have-worlds-cleanest-lng-facilities.html, and for details on the Act, see the government’s website at: http://www2.gov.bc.ca/gov/topic.page?id=75BD4BF2B6B5493FB8A36DB05EBA764D. Jack Mintz, from the University of Calgary, states: “the B.C. shale gas royalty is one of the most distortionary systems developed in industrialized countries”.

For his financial and policy critique, see “Jack M. Mintz: Why B.C.’s LNG tax policy sets a bad precedent” in the Financial Post at: http://business.financialpost.com/2014/10/22/jack-m-mintz-why-b-c-s-lng-tax-policy-helps-neither-the-province-nor-the-industry/. For a broader view, see Marc Lee’s reaction in “A B.C. Framework for LNG, part 2: The LNG income tax” at Rabble.ca at: http://rabble.ca/blogs/bloggers/policynote/2014/10/bc-framework-lng-part-2-lng-income-tax.

And the last word: Pembina will release a new report on October 27th, LNG and Climate Change: The Global Context.