PEC Environmental Advisory Committee members should be able to sign this pledge

After the climate emergency declaration, what comes next?

Image result for climate emergency

Joining a growing number of communities across Canada that have made similar declarations, the PEC Council has declared a climate emergency.

However ’emergency’ means different things to different people.

Image result for oath taking pledgeAs a condition for appointment to the Environmental Advisory Committee (EAC), each member should sign a Climate Emergency Pledge:

1 I realize that time is of the essence and that the Committee should procede as quickly as possible
2 I will encourage and consider all citizen proposals in these areas:
a)housing b)energy c)transportation
3 I will consider each problem that arises as an opportunity to improve life for our residents
4. I will make every effort to contribute to the production of a report to Council within 3 months for a recorded vote on each proposal
5 I will make every effort to inform the public of the rational for each proposal and its final determination

A tiny tweak in California law is creating a strange thing: carbon-negative oil

Photo: Carbon Engineering

There is a set of technologies, scientists say, without which the world is unlikely to avert climate crisis. These so-called “negative-emissions technologies” have been discussed by climate scientists in academic journals for many years. But now, entrepreneurs at three startups—one each in the US, Canada, and Switzerland—are vying to bring the most promising of those technologies to market. They will potentially offer the world a new set of tools to stave off climate catastrophe—a reverse gear on a car headed for the cliff.

…Canadian startup Carbon Engineering is pairing with US oil giant Occidental Petroleum to build a plant by 2022 that will capture and bury 500,000 metric tons each year. The plant is expected to cost hundreds of millions of dollars.

Rarely have energy or climate technologies scaled up at that pace—many orders of magnitude in less than five years. Rarer still is the likelihood that this plant will make money. Most early energy technologies lose money. Pulling it off took the genius of a Harvard professor, the climate ambition of an oil CEO, and the long-term thinking of California lawmakers.

Sucking it up


David Keith is a professor at Harvard University working on geoengineering. SOURCE: Carbon Engineering

David Keith is a no-nonsense academic at Harvard University studying geoengineering, a set of ideas to manage the Earth’s climate on a planetary scale. In 2009, he co-founded Carbon Engineering with Geoff Holmes, a student from his research lab.

The idea that carbon dioxide can be captured from the air we breathe is decades old. Such systems have been used in submarines for a long time. The Harvard pair’s innovation was to make the technology cheap enough to deploy it at scale, and maybe help dial down the temperature of the planet.

Carbon Engineering first set up shop in Squamish, a small town north of Vancouver in Canada. Bill Gates became one of its earliest backers. By 2015, Keith, Holmes, and a handful of employees had built a working prototype that could capture up to one metric ton of carbon dioxide each day.

While six years is a long time in a software company’s life, it’s not very long for a chemical-engineering startup. To get there so fast, Carbon Engineering did two things. First, it used known technologies and combined them to handle different aspects of the capture process. Second, it designed its plant to use off-the-shelf equipment instead of custom-built parts.

Here’s how the plant works: A large fan sucks in huge volumes of air and passes it over corrugated sheets. A chemical solution, which reacts with carbon dioxide in the air, is poured onto the sheets. The carbon-rich solution is then transported to a container where it’s brought in contact with quicklime (or calcium oxide) that reacts with the mixture to form pellets of limestone (or calcium carbonate). In a third container, these limestone pellets are heated to about 1000°C to create quicklime that can be reused and release carbon dioxide as a pure stream of gas. The greenhouse gas can then be injected underground in depleted gas fields or converted into something useful.

CARBON ENGINEERING

(To heat the kiln to 1000°C, natural gas is burned in pure oxygen and the carbon dioxide produced in the process is also captured. There are also plans to use renewable electricity to heat the kiln, cutting out the use of any fossil fuels.) MORE

Reconciliation Pipeline: How to Shackle Native People

reconcilation

Winona LaDuke: You can’t make this stuff up.

At the end of the fossil fuel era, the plan is to transfer the liability to Native people.

And it’s not going to work.

Dressed up as “equity positions”, or “reconciliation”, across the continent, corporations and governments are trying to pawn off bad projects on Native people.

The most recent case was the attempt to stick the Navajo Nation with a 50 year old coal generating plant – Navajo Generating Station.

That’s after BHP Billiton, the largest mining corporation in the world dumped a 50 year old coal strip mine, with all sorts of environmental and health liabilities, on the tribe.

Always good to get rid of liabilities on some poor people you’ve taken advantage of for fifty years or so.

It didn’t work, the Navajo Nation rejected the offer.

Now here’s a new one – a really good one in Canada.

reconciliation

It turns out that no one really wants a tar sands pipeline.

Well, except some pipeline companies, the Koch brothers, Syncrude and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

Here’s the skinny: The Trans Mountain would “twin” another pipeline making this a 1,150 km pipeline with a 800,000 barrel a day capacity.

That existing pipeline is currently Canada’s only way to get oil to Chinese markets.

That pipeline was originally purchased for $4.5 billion in August of 2018 from Kinder Morgan, who faced stiff opposition in the courts and in the streets.

Trudeau purchased that pipeline, for the people of Canada, and the next day the Court of British Columbia ruled that all permits were null and void on the pipeline, as Indigenous people had not been consulted and had to give consent.

Risky Business

Fast forward to January of 2019, when the value of the pipeline, now dubbed ‘TMX’ (I call it Trudeau West) has dropped about $700 million in value.

A pipeline without approvals, is a risky thing, getting riskier by the day.

Interest payments on a pipeline project are also pretty hefty. Robyn Allan, an independent economist critical of  an expanded Trans Mountain pipeline, says financial statements show the existing pipeline suffered a C$58 million loss in the first four months that the government owned it.

Economists disagree on the interest payments on just pipeline debt- it’s somewhere between $149 and $249 million annually, and that’s a chunk of change.

That’s a lot of money. No time better to send that debt over to the First Nations.

After all, most of the Canadian First Nations have poverty rates four times the national average, a lack of potable water, and inadequate infrastructure.

It makes perfect sense that a First Nation, or coalition of First nations should assume Canada’s debt and liability on a mega project which will wreak environmental and economic havoc.

Enter Reconciliation Pipeline

Clever, for sure in the political spin.  “Let’s make it the Reconciliation pipeline. Through majority Indigenous ownership, it can improve Indigenous lives throughout the West. How? By returning profits made from shipping resources to market to the traditional owners of the land from which those resources came,” their website explains.

“Project Reconciliation wants Indigenous peoples to use capital markets to take a majority ownership stake in Trans Mountain. It also wants to create a Sovereign Wealth Fund to create intergenerational wealth to improve Indigenous lives across the West by investing in infrastructure and renewable energy projects.”

That’s one bid for the risky pipeline.

Two more “competing” First nations coalitions allegedly seek to buy the pipeline.

The ‘Iron Coalition’ from Alberta has invited 47 First Nations and about 60 Métis organizations in the province to sign up for the effort, which was endorsed by the Alberta-based Assembly of Treaty Chiefs last fall.

And then there’s a third- the Western Indigenous Pipeline Group, comprised of First Nations already along the infrastructure’s route, impacted by the present 300,000 barrel a day tarsands pipeline, to be “ twinned” should a miracle occur in financing.

That’s three coalitions all preparing a bidding war for a pipeline project which faces massive opposition.

The whole initiative, Rueben George, of the Tsleil-wauluth First Nation, and leader in the opposition to the pipeline calls this new development “ a new smallpox blanket.”

Economically, he’s probably right. MORE

Ontario’s carbon price experience is a cautionary tale

Selling carbon pricing to citizens is a challenge. Ontario’s experience shows the importance of effectively communicating the public benefits.

Image result for policy options: Ontario’s carbon price experience is a cautionary tale
Photo: Ontario Premier Doug Ford surveys flooded areas on April 26, 2019, in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

Ontario is unique in the politics of carbon pricing in Canada: a carbon pricing champion transformed into a leading opponent. Some write off this reversal as a political deus ex machina — an unpredictable (and almost unbelievable) series of political events culminating in the election of populist Doug Ford as the Progressive Conservative premier in June 2018. A more detailed look, however, shows that there are bigger lessons to be learned from the Ontario experience about conservative populism and carbon pricing politics.

Similar populist arguments about the consumer costs of carbon pricing are resonating in other provinces (including “yellow vest” protests in Alberta modelled on anti-gasoline-tax demonstrations in France). Understanding how the populist critique of carbon pricing was effective in Ontario and developing options to better prevent such an attack from succeeding elsewhere are important.

Prior research points to promising strategies for countering populist attacks on carbon pricing, attacks that have focused on the threat of rising household costs for “working families.” Just across the border, for example, a coalition of 10 Northeastern states managed to make utilities pay for their emissions for the first time ever by neutralizing this consumer pricing issue. Designers of the Northeast’s Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) succeeded politically by reframing emissions rights as part of the publicly owned “atmospheric commons,” and dedicating nearly all revenue from the auction of those rights to tangible public benefits that are widely distributed among residents. In particular, a majority of RGGI’s revenue went to consumer benefits: programs to improve energy efficiency or renewable energy options for residential buildings.

Other US carbon pricing programs, such as California’s, have stressed public health benefits: investing in programs to reduce co-pollutants associated with greenhouse gases and to provide better environmental quality in disadvantaged communities. In both cases, these tangible public benefits have been critical to the political durability of the policies in heading off or weakening attacks based on consumer prices that have defeated carbon pricing proposals at the federal level in the US. A similar dynamic has also played out in Canada with the now-popular British Columbia carbon tax, which returns most revenue directly to residents of the province.

One irony of the Ontario story is that the province stressed some of the same public benefits in its climate change policies before launching its carbon price. The province’s 2003 coal phase-out, which eliminated all coal-fired electricity production by 2014, had major climate change implications but was promoted primarily on the basis of public health gains from reducing other air pollutants associated with coal-fired power. A related and more controversial policy, the feed-in tariffs that provided higher fixed subsidies to new sources of renewable energy, were also promoted substantially on non-climate grounds, emphasizing job creation and economic development. Meanwhile, opponents blamed the feed-in tariffs in particular for increasing energy prices as well as for the placement of large wind farms in unwilling rural communities.

Although the province formally authorized participation in an emissions cap-and-trade program across the economy, in partnership with Quebec and California in 2009, implementation was delayed due to controversy over energy prices, leading to Liberal Party losses in the 2011 election. Only when the Liberals regained a clear majority in 2014 were they able to renew their commitment to a broad carbon pricing program, under the leadership of the new premier, Kathleen Wynne. With a new leadership team experienced in carbon pricing, the government announced its plans to implement carbon cap-and-trade and became a leader in promoting climate policy action at the provincial level across Canada.

The resulting cap-and-trade program was fairly ambitious, affecting more than 80 percent of emissions in the province and setting a 37 percent reduction goal by 2030. It also required emitters to buy a majority of emissions allowances from the government, creating a projected pool of more than $8 billion in revenue to spend on projects to reduce emissions over its first five years of existence. After enacting its own carbon price in 2016, Ontario was an important advocate for the 2016 Pan-Canadian Framework on Clean Growth and Climate Change to protect existing provincial policies. The federal framework included a backstop that would impose carbon pricing on provinces with inadequate climate policies — ironically, that category now includes Ontario.

The Ontario approach had two features that made it more vulnerable to the populist consumer pricing critique. First, the government talked primarily about economic development and reductions in greenhouse gases as the priorities for spending the cap-and-trade revenue. It said much less about consumer or public health benefits. In this vein, the initial five-year spending plan for carbon revenue dedicated only about one-third of its funds to programs to reduce consumer energy costs. These consumer programs also started relatively late and were criticized for subsidizing expensive, luxury electric vehicles (think Tesla) rather than lower-cost options.

Second, the government also chose to emphasize how many programs the carbon price would fund, without really explaining how carbon pricing was supposed to work. This lack of transparency about the policy design — including about the goal of increasing the relative cost of higher-carbon energy sources to discourage their use — may also have made the policy more vulnerable to misrepresentations by the opposition. MORE

 

Yes, climate change can be beaten by 2050. Here’s how.

This article is part of a special climate change issue of Macleans in advance of the federal election. This collection of stories offers a comprehensive look at where Canada currently stands, what could be done to address the issue and what the consequences might be if this country continues with half measures. Learn more about why we’re doing this.

A carbon-free world can be a reality. What would that mean for our jobs, homes and lives?


In the post-car

bon future, downtown Calgary could boast green tech like hyperloops, wind farms and sustainable architecture (Photo illustration by Lauren Cattermole and Drew Maynard)

The sun rises in Calgary in 2050. A wind-farm worker rolls out of bed, packs himself a tofurkey sandwich on rye, checks his condo building’s geothermal heating system and hops the electric tram to work.

Welcome to the post-carbon world. We’ve dodged the bullet. The global economy has ditched fossil fuels. Concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere have stopped rising. Temperatures are stable. We’ve started harnessing the power of the sun, the wind, the water and even the stray heat lurking in the air or underground.

What does it look like? What does it feel like? Maybe most importantly—is this just science fiction, or a possible reality? “Is it possible to turn things around by 2050? The answer is absolutely yes,” says Kai Chan, a professor at the Institute for Resources, Environment and Sustainability at the University of British Columbia.

There are plenty of scientists tracking what the world will look like if we fail to rein in the carbon beast. But others, like Chan, are also tracking what success might look like. They are not pie-in-the-sky dreamers. They are putting together road maps for how to safely get to the planet envisioned in the 2015 Paris Agreement, where temperatures hold at 1.5 degrees Celsius higher than before we started burning fossil fuels.

“Three decades is enough to do a lot of important things. In the next few years—if we get started on them—they will pay dividends in the coming decades,” says Chan, the lead author of the chapter on achieving a sustainable future in a recent UN report that predicted the possible extinction of a million species.

Accomplishing a positive outcome will meaning shifting the priorities of consumers, business and government, and rearranging the way economic incentives work. To begin with, according to the International Monetary Fund, it will require rejigging some of the US$5 billion spent by governments to prop up the fossil fuel industry. There will undeniably be upfront costs, but those aren’t as high as analysts calculated only a year or two ago. And long-term profits could flow from new technologies.


Listen to Alanna Mitchell talk about climate change on The Big Story podcast.

Learn more at The Big Story Podcast.


Making these changes won’t mean years of being poor, cold and hungry before things get comfortable again. These scientists don’t insist we need to build off-the-grid cabins in the woods or overhaul how society provides energy, food and jobs. Instead, these scientists say that if we start right now, we stand a decent chance of transforming society without huge disruption. “Rather than talking about what we may have to give up, it’s a focus on what we’ll actually gain,” says Neil Jennings, partnership development manager at the Grantham Institute—Climate Change and the Environment at Imperial College London, in England.

No question, it will require a massive switch in society’s systems of energy use. But quietly, that’s already happening with electricity generation as solar panels and offshore wind power plummet in price. Iceland and Paraguay have stripped the carbon from their grids, according to a new energy outlook report from Bloomberg (Paraguay thanks to hydro electricity; Iceland with hydro and geothermal and a dash of wine). Europe is on track to be 90 per cent carbon-free by 2040. And Ottawa says that Canada is already at 81 per cent, thanks to hydro, nuclear, wind and solar.

Decarbonizing the whole economy is within grasp. MORE

RELATED:

Let’s embrace this fighting chance to reach net zero

 

Fighting climate change may be cheaper and more beneficial than we think


People ride their bicycles in front of wind turbines that generate electricity in Gaomei Wetland in Taichung, Taiwan, in 2009. Switching to green energy can have valuable ‘co-benefits’ that governments may not calculate when making decisions on climate change action. (Nicky Loh/Reuters)

In a cartoon that went viral before the Copenhagen climate summit in 2009, a conference presentation lists some of the side benefits of reducing greenhouse gas emissions, from cleaner air to green jobs, as a man in the audience asks: “What if it’s a big hoax and we create a better world for nothing?”

Ten years after U.S. cartoonist Joel Pett penned that cartoon, there is stronger scientific consensus than ever that climate change is real, and more and more evidence that fighting climate change has positive side effects or “co-benefits.”

Environmental researchers and policy advisers now say it’s crucial to take those into account when making decisions about climate change mitigation and adaptation.


This cartoon by U.S. cartoonist Joel Pett was published in 2009, ahead of the Copenhagen climate summit. (Joel Pett)

Co-benefits such as reducing deaths from air pollution and boosting technological innovation may lower the net costs of climate action to zero or even lead to a net economic benefit rather than a cost, studies show.

And failing to take those into account — effectively miscalculating the costs of climate change action — may lead to bad decisions and inaction that are more costly in the long run, says Canadian environmental economist Kirk Hamilton.

“Essentially, we’re just leaving dollars on the table by ignoring co-benefits,” said Hamilton, an economic consultant and visiting professor at the London School of Economics who has studied the co-benefits of climate change mitigation in depth. “In some ways, we’ve been doing the modelling wrong.”

Positive side effects from cutting emissions will occur even if they’re not accounted for, he noted. “You’re just not feeding [them] into your decision making process, which means you’re making bad decisions.”

The UN acknowledged in a 2016 brief on sustainable development that the co-benefits of initiatives to reduce greenhouse gas emissions aren’t always well documented, “which underestimates their positive impact.”

Very valuable benefits

The value of that positive impact can be quite a lot — to the point that in some cases, climate mitigation measures can have a net economic benefit per tonne.

Air pollution may reduce the GDP by more than 10 per cent in some countries like China, and a 2016 UN report found that halving greenhouse gas emissions between 2005 and 2050 would reduce premature deaths related to air pollution by 20 to 40 per cent.

Hamilton’s research has found that the health co-benefits of reducing greenhouse gas emissions could be worth $100 US per tonne of CO2 in high-income countries like the U.S. and Canada and $50 US per tonne in middle-income countries like China. MORE