UNEP report: Reduce methane emissions to meet climate goals and save lives

An urgent message about the dangers of methane comes in The Global Methane Assessment – a new report from the United Nations Environment Program and the Climate and Clean Air Coalition. Methane as ground-level ozone (smog) is a key culprit in air pollution, and is also 84 times more potent than carbon dioxide as a climate-changing greenhouse gas. In Canada, methane constituted 13% of GHG emissions in 2019, mainly from the oil and gas sector. The Global Methane Assessment documents the extent of the problem, but offers the prospect and a path for human-caused methane emissions to be reduced by up to 45 per cent this decade with known technologies. The result of the sectoral strategies recommended would be to avoid nearly 0.3°C of global warming by 2045,making it possible to limit global heating to 1.5 degrees Celsius. Those reductions would also prevent 260,000 premature deaths, 775,000 asthma-related hospital visits, 25 million tonnes of crop losses annually, and 73 billion hours of lost labour from extreme heat. For the oil and gas, the top strategies are: 1. Upstream and downstream leak detection and repair 2.Recovery and utilization of vented gas 3. Improved control of unintended fugitive emissions (including regular inspections and repair of sites); replacement of gas-powered devices or diesel engines with electric motors); capping unused wells. For coal, the report highlights: pre-mining degasification and recovery and oxidation of ventilation air methane; flooding abandoned coal mines.

The message is not new to Canadians. In 2017, Environmental Defence published Canada’s Methane Gas Problem: Why strong regulations can reduce pollution, protect health and save money. On January 1, 2020, new Canadian regulations came into force “in order to fulfill Canada’s commitment to reduce emissions of methane from the oil and gas sector by 40% to 45% below 2012 levels by 2025”. The December 2020 climate plan, Healthy Environment and a Healthy Economy states that Canada is a member of the Climate and Clean Air Coalition, and “Together with the International Energy Agency, the Coalition is targeting a 45% reduction in methane emissions by 2025 and 60-75% by 2030.” and promises “The Government will publicly report on the efficacy of the suite of federal actions to achieve the 2025 methane target in late 2021.” (page 38). In October 2020, the Minister of Natural Resources announced a $750-million Emissions Reduction Fund, providing loans to the oil and gas industry to promote investment in greener technologies to reduce methane and other GHG emissions.  But how to measure progress?  The problem of under-reported methane emissions is widely recognized, and was documented in 2020 in Canada by two reports summarized by the CBC here .

The Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP) presents the industry side of the story on its webpages relating to innovation and technology. It states: “Industry is serious about meeting Canada’s commitment to reduce methane emissions from oil and natural gas operations by 45% from 2012 levels by 2025. An array of technologies and approaches are being developed and implemented, such as using solar panels to power pumps …. installing systems to capture vented gases, including methane, which can then be used as fuel, providing a supplemental power source for the facility. Within the industry, the Petroleum Technology Alliance of Canada (PTAC)  is “a neutral non-profit facilitator of collaborative research and development and technology development”, with current projects including the Advanced Methane DetectionAnalytics and Mitigation Project and the C-DER Centre for the Demonstration of Emissions Reductions.

Related reading: Bill McKibben’s column, “It’s Time to kick Gas”, comments on the UNEP report and reminds us that natural gas was once seen as a “bridge” fuel, but: “Now we understand that natural gas—which is primarily made of methane—leaks unburned at every stage from fracking to combustion, whether in a power plant or on top of your stove, in sufficient quantities to make it an enormous climate danger.”  He also cites the new Australian report, Kicking the Gas Habit: How Gas is Harming Our Health, which estimates that children living in houses with gas stoves is were 32 per cent more likely to develop asthma than those who didn’t – comparable to living with a smoker.  

UK researchers call for absolute zero reduction policy, greening of the steel industry

absolute zeroAbsolute Zero , released by the University of Cambridge in November 2019,  warns that the U.K. will not reach zero emissions by 2050 without significant changes to policies, industrial processes and individual lifestyle choices – including closing all airports in the UK by mid-century.  (Perhaps the impact of this report can be seen in  the U.K. court ruling on February 27 that Heathrow airport’s third runway is a legal violation of the country’s climate change commitment under the Paris Agreement.)  Although Absolute Zero  was released in November 2019,  it was debated in the British House of Lords on February 6 , and was the subject of a Research Briefing by the House of Lords Library in support of that debate.

The prestige of the authors also may have contributed to the impact of its ideas. They are members of UK Fires (UK Future Industrial Resource Efficiency Strategy), a research  collaboration between the universities of Cambridge, Oxford, Nottingham, Bath and Imperial College London, and funded by the UK’s Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council.  They contend that the UK should aim to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to absolute zero, rather than the “net zero” target specified in the Climate Change Act 2008 , and by the U.K. Committee on Climate Change in its report, Net Zero – The UK’s contribution to stopping global warming (May 2019) and its 2019 Report to Parliament of the  U.K. Committee on Climate Change (July 2019) .

Absolute Zero  also parts company with the Committee on Climate Change in its view that emerging technologies will not be scalable in time to meet emissions targets by 2050.  It builds its analysis on “today’s technologies”,  striking an optimistic tone while calling for fundamental changes in individual behaviour, government policy, and industrial processes. Some excerpts ….

“We need to switch to using electricity as our only form of energy and if we continue today’s impressive rates of growth in non-emitting generation, we’ll only have to cut our use of energy to 60% of today’s levels….

“The two big challenges we face with an all electric future are flying and shipping. Although there are lots of new ideas about electric planes, they won’t be operating at commercial scales within 30 years, so zero emissions means that for some period, we’ll all stop using aeroplanes. Shipping is more challenging: although there are a few military ships run by nuclear reactors, we currently don’t have any large electric merchant ships, but we depend strongly on shipping for imported food and goods….

“Absolute Zero creates a driver for tremendous growth in industries related to electrification, from material supply, through generation and storage to end-use. The fossil fuel, cement, shipping and aviation industries face rapid contraction, while construction and many manufacturing sectors can continue at today’s scales, with appropriate transformations……

“Committing to zero emissions creates tremendous opportunities: there will be huge growth in the use and conversion of electricity for travel, warmth and in industry; growth in new zero emissions diets; growth in materials production, manufacturing and construction compatible with zero emissions; growth in leisure and domestic travel; growth in businesses that help us to use energy efficiently and to conserve the value in materials…..

“Protest is no longer enough – we must together discuss the way we want the solution to develop; the government needs to treat this as a delivery challenge – just like we did with the London Olympics, ontime and on-budget; the emitting businesses that must close cannot be allowed to delay action, but meanwhile the authors of this report are funded by the government to work across industry to support the transition to growth compatible with zero emissions.”

steel-arising-cover-01_1-1The UK Fires collaboration officially launched in October 2019. It is building on previous  related research,  including the April 2019 report  Steel Arising  which it highlights on the UK Fires website.  Steel Arising   envisions greening of the UK steelmaking industry  by “moving away from primary production towards recycled steel made with sustainable power.”  It states: “Not only will this create long-term green jobs, it will lead to world-leading exportable skills and technologies and allow us to transform the highly valuable scrap that we currently export at low value, but should be nurturing as a strategic asset. With today’s grid we can do this with less than half the emissions of making steel with iron ore and with more renewable power in future this could drop much further.”

Final report from Canada’s Ecofiscal Commission recommends stringent carbon pricing to reach 2030 GHG goals

bridging the gapOn November 27, the Ecofiscal Commission announced that their latest research report, Bridging the Gap: Real Options for Meeting Canada’s 2030 GHG Target  will be their last.  This final report brings to an end five years of research and publication which has centred largely on the cost effectiveness and optimal design of carbon pricing for Canada.   Bridging the Gap  recommends that “If governments wish to meet their climate goals at least cost, they should rely on increasingly stringent carbon pricing” – steadily increasing the carbon price by around $20/tonne every year from 2023 until 2030. The next best option is increasingly stringent, well-designed, flexible regulations, including for example, the Clean Fuel Standard. The report argues that “It’s tempting to think that alternatives to carbon pricing will cost us less. But their costs are hidden and actually cost us more. …. Our modelling shows that carbon pricing will grow Canadian incomes on average by $3,300 more in 2030 relative to a policy approach that relies on a mix of subsidies and industry-only regulations…No matter what policy tool—or combination of tools—we use to achieve Canada’s 2030 target, policies will have to be significantly more stringent than they are today. The regulatory approaches we model, for example, require halving the emissions intensity of industrial production by 2030.”

The report provides new forecast results using Navius Research’s GTECH General Equilibrium economic model, to cost and evaluate three options for climate policy which would allow Canada to meet its 2030 GHG target: #1: Carbon pricing with revenues recycled toward percapita dividends and output-based pricing for EITE sectors; #2: A range of regulations and subsidies applied across the entire economy; #3: A range of regulations and subsidies, excluding those that would result in direct costs for households.  Although the authors acknowledge that impacts will be felt on jobs, especially in emissions intensive industries, employment impacts are not estimated or discussed.

Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung releases studies of “radical realism” for climate justice

Radical realismIn September, the Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung of Berlin  released a  compilation of eight reports, titled Radical Realism for Climate Justice   – “ a civil society response to the challenge of limiting global warming to 1.5°C while also paving the way for climate justice. Because it’s is neither ‘naïve’ nor ‘politically unfeasible’, it is radically realistic.”  Individual chapters, each available from this link , are written by a variety of international organizations and individuals.  Of particular interest are the two from Canadian authors:  System Change on a Deadline. Organizing Lessons from Canada’s Leap Manifesto and  Modelling 1.5°C-Compliant Mitigation Scenarios without Carbon Dioxide Removal,  by Christian Holz of Carleton University in  Ottawa.  Also of especial relevance for Canadians:  A Managed Decline of Fossil Fuel Production : The Paris Goals Require No New Expansion and a Managed Decline of Fossil Fuel Production   by Oil Change International,  and Another Energy is Possible by Sean Sweeney.

In Chapter 5,  System Change on a Deadline. Organizing Lessons from Canada’s Leap Manifesto  authors Avi Lewis, Katie McKenna and Rajiv Sicora provide a broad-brush summary of the history and growth of The Leap movement, beginning with its launch in Toronto in 2015, tracing the need for coalition building, and concluding with a statement of its international potential, and its application in Los Angeles.

Chapter 8 , Modelling 1.5°C-Compliant Mitigation Scenarios without Carbon Dioxide Removal,  is by Christian Holz, a post-doctoral fellow in Geography and Environmental Studies at Carleton University. His chapter  reviews the recent technical studies about Carbon Dioxide Removal (CDR) and Bioenergy combined with Carbon Capture and Storage (BECCS) technologies, which some see as the route to  achieving the  1.5°C global warming target. Holz’ assessment is that 1.5°C  can be achieved without relying on on these technologies, “if national climate pledges are increased substantially in all countries immediately, international support for climate action in developing countries is scaled up, and mitigation options not commonly included in mainstream climate models are pursued.”

Chapter 1, A Managed Decline of Fossil Fuel Production : The Paris Goals Require No New Expansion and a Managed Decline of Fossil Fuel Production   by Oil Change International is an update of its 2016 publication, The Sky’s the Limit , which makes the “keep it in the ground” case. For Canadians still reeling from the federal government’s purchase of the Trans Mountain pipeline, this new report is a timely reminder of the dangers of continued investment in exploration and expansion of oil, coal and gas and the need for Just Transition policies.

Another Energy is Possible by Sean Sweeney of Trade Unions for Energy Democracy is a tight summary of his assessment that current energy policies are allowing energy consumption to continue to grow. Sweeney calls for  a two-pronged solution: “ a shift in policy towards a «public-goods» approach that can liberate climate and energy policy from the chains of the current investor-focused neoliberal dogma, where the private sector must lead….  and … a shift towards social ownership and management so that energy systems can be restructured and reconfigured to serve social and ecological needs.”  Sweeney states: ” The next energy system must operate within an economic paradigm that is truly needs-based and sustainable.”

The other worthy chapters of Radical Realism for Climate Justice  are:  Zero Waste Circular Economy: A Systemic Game-Changer to Climate Change by Mariel Vilella of Zero Waste Europe;  Degrowth – A Sober Vision of Limiting Warming to 1.5°C by Mladen Domazet of the Institute for Political Ecology in Zagreb, Croatia; La Via Campesina in Action for Climate Justice by the international peasants movement La Via Campesina, and Re-Greening the Earth: Protecting the Climate through Ecosystem Restoration by Christoph Thies of Greenpeace Germany.

Recommendations to change the U.S. Social Cost of Carbon, and possible impact for Canada

The U.S. National Academies of Science Press released an important report in January 2017, suggesting changes to the methodology of the Social Cost of Carbon (SCC), an economic metric used to measure the net costs and benefits associated with the effects of climate change- including changes in agricultural productivity, risks to human health, and damage from extreme weather events.  U.S. government  agencies such as the Environmental Protection Agency  are required by law  to estimate SCC when  proposing regulations such for vehicle emission standards or energy efficiency standards for appliances.  One of the most recent, thorough, and important applications of the U.S. Social Cost of Carbon appears in the 2015  Regulatory Impact Analysis Report for the Clean Power Plan Final Rule.    The U.S. updated the SCC to $37 U.S. per tonne of carbon dioxide in September 2015, a value often criticized as too  low, and economists continue to differ about the methodology.  A study by researchers at Stanford University, published in Nature Climate Change  (2015) estimated a more accurate  SCC of $220 per tonne – six times higher.

The January  report from the National Academy of Science, Valuing Climate Damages: Updating Estimation of the Social Cost of Carbon Dioxide  , suggests restructuring the Integrated Assessment Models framework used to ensure greater transparency, and  recognizes new research  which should be incorporated into the  models (e.g. the effect of heat waves on mortality) . It also recommends a regular 5-year updating schedule,  “to ensure that the SC- CO2 estimates reflect the best available science.”  For a summary of proposed changes and the political context, see “Scientists have a new way to calculate what global warming costs. Trump’s team isn’t going to like it” in the Washington Post  . Noting that the new report has no legal force, The Post article quotes expert reviewer Richard Revesz, Dean emeritus of the New York University School of Law: “If the metric is revised, then the incoming administration would have an obligation to explain why it’s departing from the current approach… Any changes made without adequate scientific justification would likely be struck down in court.”   But see also “How Climate Rules might Fade away”     in Bloomberg Business Week.

What are the implications for Canada?  Canada, like the U.K., Germany, France, and other countries, already uses its own Social Cost of Carbon, pegged at a $28 per tonne in 2012, according to  Canada’s  Regulatory Impact Analysis Statement issued with the vehicle emissions regulations for passenger cars and light trucks.  The Leaders Statement from the North American Leadership Summit in Summer 2016 ,  ties Canada more closely to U.S. and Mexico, when it pledges to “ … align analytical methods for assessing and communicating the impact of direct and indirect greenhouse gas emission of major projects. Building on existing efforts, align approaches, reflecting the best available science for accounting for the broad costs to society of greenhouse gas emissions, including using similar methodologies to estimate the social cost of carbon and other greenhouse gases for assessing the benefits of policy measures that reduce those emissions.”

Energy Efficiency: measures of job creation and carbon reduction

The American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE), a long-time advocate and researcher about the value of energy efficiency , published a blog  on January 10, 2017, arguing that energy efficiency creates at least 1.9 million full- and part-time jobs across the United States, almost 10 times as many as oil and gas extraction. The blog is largely spent in summarizing a December 2016 report, Energy Efficiency Jobs in America: A comprehensive analysis of energy efficiency employment across all 50 states  , which sees an optimistic future in 2017.  Based on surveys of employers from approximately 165,000 U.S. companies, the report states that energy efficiency employers are expecting employment growth of approximately 245,000 jobs (a 13% growth rate) in 2017.   Energy Efficiency Jobs in America also calls for state and federal policies to support or enhance this growth, including:   Advancing energy efficiency standards set by the U.S. Department of Energy for appliances and equipment. • Strengthening building codes at the state and local levels to capture all cost-effective energy efficiency opportunities at the time of design and construction • Accelerating energy efficiency improvements in devices and buildings that use electricity or natural gas through utility programs, state policies such as energy efficiency resource standards, or by investing in all cost-effective energy efficiency resources, and  • prioritizing the role of energy efficiency in developing and/or strengthening clean energy standards at the state level.  Energy Efficiency Jobs in America was released by two U.S. advocacy associations: Environmental Entrepreneurs (E2), and E4TheFuture.

The ACEEE, perhaps best known for its annual Energy Efficiency Scorecards , released a   White Paper in December, advocating energy efficiency initiatives to  reduce carbon emissions. In  Pathway to Cutting Energy Use and Carbon Emissions in Half , the ACEEE analyzed 13 “packages” of energy efficiency measures which, when combined, could reduce energy use by 34% and carbon emissions by 35% by 2040.  Improvement in industrial energy efficiency –  factories, commercial buildings, transmission and distribution systems, and power plants – was seen to have the largest potential impact at 20.8%.

Ontario releases Climate Change Strategy and Cap and Trade Discussion Paper

On November 24, 2015 the government of Ontario released its Climate Change Strategy , a broad document that sets out Ontario’s vision for achieving the GHG reduction target of 80 per cent below 1990 levels by 2050. A separate five-year action plan is promised for 2016, which will include specific commitments for meeting the 2020 emissions reduction target, as well as establish the necessary framework for the  2030 and 2050 targets.   The government has also released a discussion paper: Cap and Trade Program Design Options , (summarized in the Globe and Mail  ). Comments about the cap and trade design can be submitted until December 15.  A draft regulatory proposal will be tabled early in 2016, triggering another public comment period. The Clean Economy Alliance released Getting it Right: Design Recommendations for Ontario’s Cap and Trade System , which recommends policies to make polluters pay for the pollution they generate, while being “ fair to workers, families and industries that are disproportionately affected”. The Climate Action Network Canada surveyed 857 Ontarians in September 2015 regarding carbon pricing and cap and trade systems. Results are here .

U.S. Job creation benefits of Clean Energy Policies

On November 9, 2015,  NextGen Climate America released Economic Analysis of U.S. Decarbonization Pathways. Written by ICF International and using data from Pathways to Deep Decarbonization in the United States (2014)  , the report concludes that by investing in clean energy and reducing GHG emissions, the United States could add more than 1 million jobs by 2030 and nearly 2 million by 2050. Nationally, employment gains in manufacturing, construction and other sectors outweigh losses in the fossil fuel sector. Modelling is provided for a Reference case, High renewables, and Mixed case scenarios; results are provided by sector and by region, as well as nationally.

The Clean Energy Future: Protecting the Climate, Creating Jobs and Saving Money  by Synapse Energy Economics, Labor Network for Sustainability, and 350.org, aims to refute the jobs vs. environment argument. It recommends policies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 85 percent below 1990 levels by 2050, including transforming the electric system by cutting coal-fired power in half by 2030 and eliminating it by 2050; building no new nuclear plants; and reducing the use of natural gas far below business-as-usual levels. Under these policies, the cost of electricity, heating, and transportation would be $78 billion less than current projections to 2050, and new job creation would be 500,000 more per year over business as usual projections through 2050. The report is based on a Technical Appendix by Synapse Energy Economics  explains and documents the calculations; it models employment impacts for direct, indirect and induced jobs, and finds the greatest job activity in energy efficiency (over 500,000 average jobs per year), followed by automobile production, wind and solar.

A Clean Energy and Jobs Plan for B.C., based on more stringent Regulations

The government of British Columbia is scheduled to release its updated Climate Leadership Plan in December 2015. In November, Clean Energy Canada released  A Clean Economy and Jobs Plan for British Columbia   to contribute to those discussions. It characterizes the future as “not a revolution, but an evolution”, and summarizes its policy recommendations as having two core fundamentals: “Introduce and expand clean standards for vehicles, buildings and industry, and “Create a clean economy investment and tax rebate program.” The Jobs Plan document is based on commissioned research by Navius Research, A Plan for Climate Leadership in British Columbia: Forecasting the Benefits and Costs of Strengthening British Columbia’s Greenhouse Gas Policies . The Navius report provides the details of both the economic modelling, and the policy prescriptions. Those deep decarbonization policies include a carbon tax of at least $80 per tonne and stronger sector-specific regulations on buildings, transportation, energy supply, and industry – especially LNG production. Under such policies, Navius forecasts that BC will miss its 2020 emission target, (33% reduction in GHG emissions relative to 2007 levels), but can achieve its 2050 target ( 80% reduction in emissions relative to 2007).   The resource sectors are forecast to grow at 2% annually and remain important to BC’s economy, but more than 70% of future growth will occur in the service sector, (including healthcare, education, and technical and professional services). Because of the diversity of the economy, approximately 250,000 new jobs are predicted in the next ten years, with total jobs growing by 900,000 between 2015 and 2050.

RGGI Carbon Market in the Northeast : An Example of Decoupled Growth

A July 2015 report from the Acadia Center states that the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI)  has allowed the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic States to achieve significant reductions in CO2 emissions while providing economic benefits through the reinvestment of the proceeds from the auctions of carbon allowances.   Since 2009, when RGGI began, the emissions in RGGI states dropped by 35% , compared to 12% in non-RGGI states. At the same time, the rate of economic growth in RGGI states was 21.2%,   compared to 18.2% in non-RGGI states. Read RGGI: A Model Program for the Power Sector -2015 Update