GHG emissions rising as governments fail to “Build back better”

Analysis released by the International Energy Agency on July 20 warns that 2023 is now on track to see the highest levels of carbon dioxide output in human history, equalling or surpassing the record set in 2018. Why? According to analysis based on the new IEA Sustainable Recovery Tracker , more than US$16 trillion has been spent on the COVID-19 recovery, but only 2% is going to clean energy investments. The report calls for first world countries and agencies such as the IMF to provide more sustainable financing so that emerging economies can improve their clean energy investment performance.  The IEA Sustainable Recovery Tracker provides an exhaustive list of the green recovery programs for countries around the world, including Canada.  

Also in July, Vivid Economics also released the sixth and final Report of their Greenness of Stimulus Index (GSI), which analyses the G20 countries plus ten other countries. Covid economic stimulus spending had a negative environmental impact in 20 of the 30 countries surveyed, and of the  $17.2 trillion spent, only 10% had been spent on projects which could be considered green.  Denmark ranked first, Russia ranked last, and Canada outperformed the U.S. in terms of positive environmental impact of the economic stimulus.   The Vivid report is  summarized by The Guardian here .

Others tracking the “greenness” of economic recovery, include Carbon Brief, and the U.K. Trades Union Congress, which published Ranking G7 Green Recovery Plans and Jobs in June 2021. That report includes Canada and the other G7 countries as comparators to U.K. spending, with a focus on the job impacts.

An early study from researchers at Oxford University’s Smith School of Enterprise and the Environment, was the influential academic paper in May 2020 : “Will COVID-19 fiscal recovery packages accelerate or retard progress on climate change?”

Natural gas drives GHG emissions increase for Toronto region and Ontario

The Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area (GTHA) is home to 7.4 million people in six municipalities: the City of Toronto, City of Hamilton, Halton, Peel, York and Durham regions. According to a new report released by The Atmospheric Fund (TAF),  the region produces  44 per cent of  total carbon emissions in the province of Ontario.   Top level findings from the report, Reality Check: Carbon Emissions Inventory for the GTHA: “Total carbon emissions in the GTHA increased 5.2% in 2018, reaching 55.5 Mt. . …. showing that since the completion of the coal phase out, emissions are slowly increasing across all regions and nearly all sources.” The report zeroes in on each municipality, and also on sectors, showing that buildings (42.8%), transportation (34.3%), and industry (18.9%) are the most significant sources of emissions in the region.

The key take-away from the report:  “Natural gas is a fossil fuel (methane) and it is the most significant source of emissions in the GTHA and Ontario. In 2018 natural gas increased about 10.6%, or 2Mt CO2 eq. Achieving net zero by 2050 will require phasing out virtually all natural gas from both heating and power production.”  An associated blog , “Toronto has an embarrassing gas problem”  (Feb.18) states: “the City’s latest emissions inventory showed an increase of 68% from natural gas from 2017 to 2018, and plans are afoot to increase gas-fired electricity which will make emissions skyrocket by over 300%. …. Toronto cannot meet its 2030 climate goals or the council-approved TransformTO plan if Ontario’s electricity is increasingly generated with fossil gas.”

Based on this analysis, TAF makes policy recommendations for all three levels of government, calling for near zero emissions standards for new building, acceleration of deeper retrofits for existing buildings, and electrification of heating and transportation while decarbonizing electricity production.  Detailed recommendations regarding retrofitting measures are provided in TAF’s submission to the Federal Budget 2021, and summarized in “Four ways the government should boost the retrofit market” (Feb. 23).  At the municipal level,  TAF is supporting one City of Toronto Councillor’s motion which calls for the provincial government to phaseout all gas-fired electricity generation as soon as possible.  The City of Toronto deferred a vote on that motion, and voted in February on a budget which appears to downgrade the priority for climate initiatives.  “’We can’t afford to lose a year’: Worries abound over Toronto’s plan to reduce climate funding” (CBC, Feb. 18)  provides details.

One more time: can Canada meet its GHG emissions targets if oil and gas continues to expand?

The Canadian government pledged to  exceed 2030 emissions reduction targets and reach net zero carbon emissions by 2050 at COP25 in December 2019, and on January 13, the Minister of Finance announced  pre-Budget consultations  that will include climate change as a “central focus”.    Encouraging as all this sounds, it contrasts with the government’s  2018 purchase of the  Trans Mountain Pipeline (recently critiqued by B.C. economist Robyn Allan, and pictured with new “pipe in the ground” in December), and its mixed signals over whether Cabinet will approve the enormous Teck Frontier oil sands project in February – explained in a Narwhal Backgrounder: “Why the proposed Frontier oilsands mine is a political hot potato”.  (Hint: because it has the potential to produce 260,000 barrels of bitumen every day until 2060).

Recent forecasts for expansion of  oil and gas industry production are also at odds with  Morneau’s “focus on climate change” :

Oil, Gas and the Climate: An Analysis of Oil and Gas Industry Plans for Expansion and Compatibility with Global Emission Limits , published by the Global Gas and Oil Network ( December 2019)  describes how “new oil and gas development in Canada between now and 2050 could unlock an additional 25 GtCO2 , more than doubling cumulative emissions from the sector.”  The report is summarized in a separate WCR post  here .

Canada’s Energy Future 2019: Energy Supply and Demand Projections to 2040 , released in December by Canada Energy Regulator (CER) (formerly the National Energy Board) states “Canada is making progress in transitioning to a low-carbon future” but :

“From 2018 to 2040, crude oil production grows by nearly 50%, to around seven million barrels per day.

Natural gas production increases by about 30%, to over 20 billion cubic feet per day over the next 20 years.

In 2005, wind and solar made up 0.2% of Canada’s total generation. Combined they now make up 5%, and that share grows to nearly 10% by 2040. Over the outlook period, installed capacity of wind nearly doubles, while solar more than doubles. This depends on many factors, including costs of wind and solar power continuing to fall. EF2019 assumes that the cost of wind power falls by 20% and solar by 40% from 2018 to 2040.”

canadas energy future 2019

The  Pembina Institute responded with “Why Canada’s Energy Future report leads us astray”  on January 9th, which states: “How does the government’s long-term decarbonization plan square with its projections for energy production? The simple answer is that it doesn’t. The report’s implication is that Canada will blow past our climate targets as our oil and gas sector effectively continues on a business-as-usual trajectory….The report has real implications for federal planning and decision-making and, perhaps most significantly, the overall vision of the energy sector in this country.”  Canada’s Energy Future 2019: Energy Supply and Demand Projections to 2040 is available in PDF format and in an interactive version .

Amid the distraction of the Christmas season,  the government of Canada released Canada’s GHG Emissions Projections to 2030 , as required by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC) and as part of Canada’s 4th Biennial Report to the UNFCC.  The December 20 press release from the Minister of Environment and Climate Change claims that Canada will achieve an “historic level of emissions reductions” … projected to be 227 million tonnes (Mt) below what was projected in 2015 [italics by WCR]. ” The summary provides details of anticipated reductions by sector in 3 scenarios: 2019 Reference Case (policies currently in place); a 2019 Additional Measures Case, which considers the Reference Case and those that have been announced but not yet fully implemented as of September 2019 (for example, the Clean Fuel Standard); and a Technology Case, an “exploratory scenario that includes more optimistic assumptions about clean technology adoption in a number of sectors.” A summary of the Emissions Projections document is here ; the full details are in the 4th Biennial Report to the UNFCC, in English here   and here in French .

And for an example of how Industry is framing their emissions vs. growth dilemma:

Cenovus Energy issued a press release on January 9 announcing “Bold Sustainability Targets”  which “position us to thrive in the transition to a lower-carbon future”. The company states: ” Cenovus is targeting to reduce its per-barrel GHG emissions by 30% by the end of 2030, using a 2019 baseline, and hold its absolute emissions flat by the end of 2030″, with a “long-term ambition is to reach net zero emissions by 2050.”  This, despite a separate investor release which promises: “Total production increase of 7% compared with 2019 guidance, as Cenovus’s crude-by-rail program, coupled with the Government of Alberta’s Special Production Allowances, positions the company to move to unconstrained production levels.”

 

Just Transition Initiative among positive developments at U.N. Climate Action Summit 2019

UN summit climate action 2019The United Nations 2019 Climate Action Summit in New York at the end of September has been viewed as a disappointment by many because it failed to deliver new and dramatic commitments from the major polluting countries, as summarized by Inside Climate News in “Small Countries Step Up While Major Emitters Are Silent, and a Teen Takes World Leaders to Task” . But CBC provides a more optimistic view in its summary of the “Big Takeaways” from the meetings, including news that the Net Zero Asset Owner Alliance, composed of  pension fund managers and insurers (and including La Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec) committed to carbon-neutral investment portfolios by 2050  . A  compilation of UN Press releases reveals many new initiatives announced at the Summit.

Climate Action Jobs Initiative to promote Just Transition

One important such initiative:  the Climate Action Jobs Initiative, aimed at the creation of decent jobs and protecting livelihoods as part of climate action. The Initiative will be led by the International Labour Organization (ILO), along with  International Trade Union Confederation and the International Organisation of Employers, and will build on the ILO Guidelines for a Just Transition, released in 2016.   According to the press release of September 18, almost 50 countries have committed to forming Just Transition Plans, with suggested specific measures including skills development and upgrading, social protections, and mechanisms for inclusive social dialogue to achieve consensus for transformative change.

“The commitments represent a significant engagement by governments, employers organizations, trade unions, UN agencies and civil society to pursue a common agenda to advance a just transition to environmentally sustainable economies and societies for all.”

Other Reports announced before and during the U.N. Climate Summit included:

UN the heat is onThe Heat is On: Taking Stock of Global Climate Emissions,   released by the UNFCC and the U.N. Development Program in advance of the Summit meetings. It analyses trends in the international progress to “ratchet” the emissions reductions goals under the Paris Agreement and emphasizes the urgency for countries to put plans in place for the 5-year review of the Paris targets in 2020… “While climate action has accelerated since Paris, it still falls far short of an unprecedented transformation needed to limit impacts of climate change. …Many developed economies are mapping out long-term plans to eliminate GHGs by 2050, even as they have yet to clarify plans for shorter-term NDC revisions.” Regarding “Long Term Strategies”: “12 countries have submitted LTS to the UNFCCC since 2016 – Canada, Germany, Mexico, the United States, Benin, France, Czech Republic, United Kingdom, Ukraine, Marshall Islands, Fiji and Japan.”

The United in Science report, which is composed of a number of reports from such agencies as the World Meterological Organization, United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), Global Carbon Project, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). The reports state that the world is currently on track for a more than 10 per cent rise in emissions above 2016 levels by 2030, and concluded that governments must triple their 2015 pledges to keep global warming well below 2 C by 2100, or increase them fivefold to hold it to 1.5 C . The WMO’s greatest concern is with sea level rise, which has averaged 3.2 millimetres per year since 1993 but hit 5.0 millimetres per year between 2014 and 2019. It also found that the oceans had the highest heat content on record in 2018.

Special Report on the Ocean and Cryosphere in a Changing Climate (SROCC)  : this IPCC report presenting the work of 104 scientists from 36 countries, synthesizing 7,000 publications – the most comprehensive study to date of the current and future impacts of the climate crisis on Earth’s oceans and the cryosphere (the parts of the planet that are covered in ice). Rising ocean temperatures means more intense tropical cyclones, with more powerful storm surges and downpours, leading to more extreme weather along the coasts and potentially devastating loss of marine ecosystems. Summaries are provided by the National Observer  , Inside Climate News  and international NGO OneOcean

Even before the Kinder Morgan fight, Canada is falling short on its climate goals

As we have noted in previous posts in the WCR  , many voices have warned that Canada’s progress in reducing greenhouse gas emissions is falling short of its commitments under the Paris Agreement.  Three recent reports provide more evidence.

On March 27,  Perspectives on Climate Change Action in Canada—A Collaborative Report from Auditors General—March 2018  was released by the federal Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development and for the first time ever, compiles the findings of the federal and provincial Auditors –General, with the exception of Quebec, which did not participate.  The results are presented for each province, and summarized as: Seven out of 12 provincial and territorial governments did not have overall targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions; governments have different targets from each other, and of those that have targets, only two (New Brunswick and Nova Scotia) are on track to meet their targets. Most governments had not fully assessed climate change risks, and their plans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions consist of high-level goals, with little guidance on how to implement actions.  At the federal level, the report states: “ even though Environment and Climate Change Canada was the federal lead on climate change, the Department did not provide the leadership, guidance, and tools to other departments and agencies to help them assess their risks and adapt to climate change. Moreover, only 5 federal departments and agencies of the 19 examined undertook comprehensive assessments of the climate change risks to their mandates.”  There was limited coordination of climate change action within most governments. Some governments were not reporting on progress in a regular and timely manner.

The second analysis is from the Pembina Institute, which partnered with the Energy Innovation of San Francisco to develop the Energy Policy Simulator (EPS), an economic modelling tool to evaluate the effectiveness and costs of  energy and climate policies for Canada. Enhancing Canada’s Climate Commitments: Building on the Pan-Canadian Framework applies the Energy Policy Simulator to three different policy scenarios, including the Pan-Canadian Framework for Clean Growth and Climate Change   , and concludes “ that even if the PCF is fully implemented, 2030 emissions will exceed Canada’s goal by 161 million metric tons (MMT), a gap 3.7 times larger than the 44 MMT shortfall predicted by Canada’s government. Extending and strengthening PCF policies would allow Canada to come much closer to its target, save money, and save human lives.”  The Energy Policy Simulator is offered here  as a free, open-source app available for other researchers to use.

Finally, the devil is in the details when author Barry Saxifrage of the National Observer took a close look at the federal government’s report to the UNFCC in December 2017, the 7th National Communications report. In “Canada’s climate gap twice as big as claimed – 59 million tonne carbon snafu” (March 27)  , the author contends that “The Trudeau government says its proposed climate policies will get Canada to within 66 million tonnes of our 2030 climate target. That’s already a big gap, but the federal accounting also assumes we can subtract a huge chunk of Canada’s emissions.”  That “huge chunk” refers to a further 59 MtCO2 of carbon emissions which the government omits to tally as part of our Canadian emissions, presuming that offsets will be purchased by Ontario and Quebec through their participation in the cap and trade market of the Western Climate Initiative with California. So far, the U.S. has not agreed to such an arrangement.

On a more optimistic note, a new report states:  “Canada can reach its 2030 target if the federal, provincial and territorial governments implement climate policies in a timely and rigorous way. The Pan-Canadian Framework has the policy tools needed to achieve the target but measures will have to be ratcheted up to fill the 66 million tonne gap.” In  Canada’s Climate Change Commitments: Deep Enough?  ,authors Dave Sawyer and Chris Bataille use economic modelling to show that Canada could honour its Paris GHG reduction commitment (30 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030) and still achieve GDP growth of at least 38 per cent. They compare this to a GDP growth of 39% if Canada took no action to reduce greenhouse gases.   The report calls for transformation changes, specifically: Building exclusively net-zero energy homes, i.e. buildings that generate as much energy as they consume. • The electrification of transportation, so that cars, trucks and trains can be powered by renewable energy rather than oil, which contributes to climate change. • Wholesale shifts away from fossil fuels and towards renewable energy. • Driving down energy needs by making industry, buildings and vehicles more energy efficient. • Embracing the full potential of energy storage to maximize the use of renewable electricity and building infrastructure to trade  that electricity between jurisdictions.

Canada’s Climate Change Commitments: Deep Enough?  was released on April 12 jointly by four environmental advocacy organizations: Environmental Defence, Climate Action Network, The Pembina Institute, and the Conservation Council Of New Brunswick.