How ‘serious’ is a climate plan that relies on pipelines?

File photo of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in Ottawa by Alex Tétreault

Sandy Garossino’s recent column, “The Serious $70 Billion Climate Plan You’ve Heard Nothing About,” purports to summarize the “extraordinarily compelling case” in favour of the federal government’s recent approval of the Trans Mountain expansion project, based on the pipeline’s contribution to climate action.

I’m not buying it. Let’s take Garossino’s main arguments one at a time:

Trans Mountain is ‘a wash’ in terms of greenhouse gases.

Garossino claims that in the pipeline’s absence, “the global supply chain would simply reshuffle and move ahead as if nothing happened.” There are both domestic and international aspects to this claim.

Garossino simply ignores the domestic emissions associated with production of the oil that will flow through the pipeline, The federal government’s own estimate is that the pipeline’s annual upstream emissions — i.e., emissions resulting from extraction, processing and transportation of crude within Canada — will be 13 to 15 million tonnes, equivalent to two million cars.

That’s a big deal because Canada’s current climate plan is not sufficient to get us to our 2030 Paris Agreement target. Indeed, the gap has been growing rather than shrinking. Adding another 15 million tonnes of emissions makes it a lot harder to meet our international obligation.

The tarsands have accounted for three quarters of Canada’s emissions growth since 1990. It’s also the sector that accounts for almost all projected growth going forward. Even the celebrated 100-megatonne cap on emissions from the tarsands — which was never legally binding and from which Alberta has withdrawn support — would allow a tripling of tarsands emissions from 2005 to 2030, thus demanding deeper compensatory cuts from other sectors and other provinces.

The longer-term challenge looms even larger. A pipeline is an investment in long-lasting infrastructure. Yet Canada’s 2030 target is just the first step. It will be ever-harder to make the deeper cuts needed after 2030 (if not before!) if we chain ourselves to new pipeline infrastructure and associated heavy oil production expected to operate for decades to come.

Now let’s consider the global context. Garossino’s assertion about the global supply chain recalls Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s statement — notably made in Alberta, not Paris — that “no country would find 173 billions barrels of oil in the ground and leave them there.”

But that is exactly what we must do.

As with fossil-fuel consumption, we face a collective-action problem in fossil-fuel production. Oil-exporting countries say they support the Paris Agreement, but hold out hope that their oil will be the last drop consumers buy. This is especially unrealistic for Canada: our oil is relatively costly to produce and carbon-intensive to refine, and thus likely to be the first to go.

Oil exporters, including Canada, may just be making a financial bet against the success of the Paris Agreement. Whether oil producers are unduly optimistic or hedging their bets, they have collectively created a growing glut of supply relative to the demand trajectory needed to mitigate climate change.

At best, Canadians will be saddled with stranded assets and economically ill-prepared when global customers shun our exports. At worst, excess supply will continue to depress global fossil-fuel prices, undermining the transition to cleaner energy, to the detriment of future generations.

Parliament recently voted to declare climate change a “real and urgent crisis.” Surely, that crisis calls for leadership, rather than the excuse that everyone else is doing it, too. MORE


Climate pollution from US military and Alberta’s oilsands industry: reports

The Alberta Tar Sands ecocide is by any measure a criminal assault on Earth. This devastation is actively promoted by Conservative and Liberal governments and by the previous Alberta NDP government. 

Photo credit: US  Navy (left) and Pembina Institute (right)

The United States military is one of the world’s largest climate polluters — emitting more than entire European countries like Sweden or Norway. That’s according to a new report that estimates the U.S. Department of Defence’s worldwide emissions at nearly 60 million tonnes (MtCO2).

Here in Canada, Alberta’s oilsands industry emits even more climate pollution than that.

I’ve put together a few charts to illustrate both the scale and emissions trends from these two enormous climate polluters.

Current climate pollution

U.S. military

A new report out of Brown University, “Pentagon Fuel Use, Climate Change, and the Costs of War”, digs into the climate pollution from the U.S. Department of Defence (DOD). This includes the U.S. Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines and other defence agencies.

The report highlights just how massive and globe-spanning the U.S. military is: “The United States spends more on the military than any other country in the world, certainly much more than the combined military spending of its major rivals, Russia and China. Authorized at over $700 billion [per year].”

The report calculates that the worldwide emissions from the sprawling U.S. military were 59 MtCO2 in 2017. That’s the black bar in my chart below. It includes emissions from fighting wars and other “overseas contingency operations.”

Climate pollution from US military and Alberta oilsands


Around a third of its emissions come from roughly 500 military installations, which include more than half a million buildings around the globe.

The lion’s share of its emissions, however, come from the energy used to carry out its operations. As the report notes: “With an armed force of more than two million people … and the most advanced military aircraft the DOD is the world’s largest institutional user of petroleum.”

All told, the U.S. military currently burns 100 million barrels a year. That’s roughly two million litres every hour.

Around 70 per cent is jet fuel for bombers, jet fighters, cargo planes and other support aircraft. These aircraft burn gallons of this fossil fuel per mile.

Much of the rest is diesel for vehicles. In just one example, the report notes that the U.S. Army alone has around 60,000 HUMVEEs that burn one gallon every four to eight miles.

Alberta oilsands industry

Now let’s look at the climate pollution from Alberta’s oilsands industry. That’s the orange bar on the chart. This one part of this one province’s oil and gas sector emitted 78 MtCO2.

There are more than 160 countries that emit less climate pollution than Alberta’s oilsands industry.

As you can see, that is one third more than the emissions from the entire U.S. military. In fact, there are more than 160 countries that emit less climate pollution than Alberta’s oilsands industry.

The oilsands emissions data comes from Canada’s most recent National Inventory Report (NIR). The NIR shows that roughly half of these emissions came from burning fossil methane (aka “natural”) gas to generate the heat needed to extract bitumen via the “in situ” process. The other half of emissions was split between mining bitumen and upgrading it.

So far, we’ve looked at current emissions. The long-term trends that got each to this point are just as eye-opening.

My next chart tells that tale.

Climate pollution from US military and Alberta oilsands 1990 to 2017



Catherine McKenna/Twitter

The federal government is leaning toward supporting tougher fuel economy standards against Trump administration rollbacks, and is about to announce incremental progress on curbing fossil fuel subsidies, The Energy Mix learned Thursday evening, during a town hall hosted by Environment and Climate Minister Catherine McKenna.

Ottawa is planning two releases next week, McKenna told the public session in her home riding of Ottawa Centre: a call for input on some of the detailed issues arising in the discussion of a subsidy phaseout, and a major science report on climate impacts in Canada.

The report will show that “we need to adapt right now,” she said, citing flooding as the biggest short-term climate risk the country faces. “City planners need to think about these things. What happens if we have more power outages because it’s so hot? What are the impacts on vulnerable populations? What is the impact of flooding? What are the impacts of Zika (virus)?” Canadians face a “huge number of impacts of climate change, and we need to be more resilient and build in a more resilient way.” MORE