Soft rules for the oil sands means harder targets for others

2009-05-23

in Canada, Economics, Law, Politics, The environment

Canadian Goose (Branta canadensis), near the Ottawa River

Environmental Defence has put out a new report on the oil sands that speaks well to both a general and a specific issue. Climate change policy is often about deciding on a total permissible quantity, then haggling over how it gets divided, with everyone asserting that their special circumstances justify lenient treatment. For instance, Canada argues that it should be able to cut its emissions by less than other states because it is large, cold, an energy exporter, etc. By contrast, other states argue for more generous targets on the basis of past action, ongoing extreme poverty, and many other reasons.

Of course, for everyone who gets lenient treatment, someone else needs to pick up the slack, if you are going to meet your targets. What the Environmental Defence report highlights is how giving an easy ride to the oil sands will mean higher costs for everyone else, if Canada is to hit its 2020 and 2050 mitigation targets.* The report – entitled Divided We Fall: The Tar Sands vs. The Rest of Canada – highlights how placing a disproportionate reduction burden on Ontario and Quebec could be harmful for their economic prospects, especially given how greater opportunities for mitigation exist in the fossil-fuel intensive western industries. Also, given the degree to which resource windfalls (in terms of both tax revenues and jobs) tend to accrue provincially, Ontario and Quebec have an even stronger case against allowing a weaker carbon pricing system for hydrocarbon production in Alberta and Saskatchewan.

Domestically, this is just one of the innumerable issues of Canadian federalism. Regional interests generate tensions that can sap the ability of Canada as a whole to achieve good outcomes. Certainly, some provinces will find it much easier than others to recognize and accept the fact that the fossil fuel industry has no long-term future. It’s a one-off bonanza that our legal and moral obligations on climate change will not permit us to fully realize. Instead of continuing to invest in a dead end, Canada needs to get serious about building an economy that can thrive in a low- and ultimately zero-carbon future.

The report is also available in French (PDF).

* It is worth remembering that, while the 2020 and 2050 targets have received much more media attention recently, the original announcement of the current government’s Turning the Corner climate change plan promised that total Canadian emissions would peak no later than 2012. Most people seem to have forgotten about the third promise.

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{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

. July 24, 2009 at 1:58 pm

Jul 23, 2009
Pembina Reacts: AERI Reports on Oil Sands Emissions

Media Contact: Dan Woynillowicz

Dan Woynillowicz, spokesperson for the Pembina Institute, made the following statement in response to the release by the Alberta Energy Research Institute of two new analyses comparing the life cycle greenhouse gas emissions from oil sands and other sources of crude oil:

“These reports reaffirm that producing and burning oil from the oil sands results in up to 45 per cent more greenhouse gas emissions relative to some sources of conventional crude oil.

Despite looking at oil producing regions like Nigeria that have few if any environmental standards and poor operating practices like gas flaring, the studies still found that on average, oil sands production has higher greenhouse gas emissions. Rather than lowering the bar by comparing oil sands to other pollution-intensive sources of oil, we should be assessing how the oil sands compare with technologies like advanced biofuels and electric vehicles.

For Canadians, how oil sands’ emissions stack up against oil from Nigeria or Venezuela offers little consolation. The fact remains that the oil sands sector is the fastest-growing source of greenhouse gas pollution in the country.

North America is moving towards cleaner fuels and new technologies to address climate change, and it’s clear that because of their high greenhouse gas pollution the oil sands will find it increasingly challenging to compete.”

. September 9, 2009 at 9:51 am

Planes ‘threaten climate targets’
By Roger Harrabin
BBC Environment Analyst

The UK may have to cut emissions of greenhouse gases by 90% by 2050 so the aviation sector can continue to grow.

That is the warning from the government’s official climate advisers, the Climate Change Committee (CCC).

It would mean even bigger cuts than the 80% drop on 1990 levels already planned for households and industry in Britain.

. October 16, 2009 at 10:19 am

Allow higher oil sands emissions: CEO

Move would impose greater burden on others, but strict limits on producers would stifle the industry’s growth, says head of Canadian Oil Sands Trust

Alberta’s oil sands producers should be allowed to significantly increase their greenhouse gas emissions, even if that means forcing other sectors to take on additional expensive obligations to meet Canada’s climate change targets, an industry executive says.

Marcel Coutu, chief executive officer of Canadian Oil Sands Trust, COS.UN-T travelled to Toronto Thursday to spread the industry’s message about climate change. The oil industry stance highlights the dilemma facing the federal government as it prepares regulations to meet its commitment to reduce emissions by 20 per cent by 2020 from 2006 levels.

If the oil sands were allowed to expand production with only marginal improvements in their per-barrel emissions, the rest of the country faces a much harder and more expensive challenge in meeting Canadian targets.

The Alberta government and the oil industry argue for “intensity-based” targets that would require lower per-barrel emissions, but allow growing industries to increase their overall output of carbon dioxide.

. December 10, 2009 at 8:51 am

National unity at stake in climate strategy, think tank says

Making Alberta, Sask., meet same greenhouse-gas emissions targets as eastern provinces is recipe for conflict, group contends

Shawn McCarthy

Ottawa — Published on Thursday, Dec. 10, 2009 8:00AM EST Last updated on Thursday, Dec. 10, 2009 8:13AM EST

Ottawa’s plan to impose national greenhouse-gas emissions targets will spark a fierce political battle among the provinces if it puts too much of the burden on oil-producing provinces, a Calgary-based think tank is warning.

In a report to be released Thursday, the Calgary West Foundation slams proposals that would require Alberta and Saskatchewan to match emission reduction targets of provinces that are less dependent on fossil fuel production.

The two prairie provinces also say that any national climate-change plan must “acknowledge and accommodate regional differences.”

Failure to do so could be lead to national unity problems.

“If we don’t, the residents of Alberta and Saskatchewan will suffer unduly and the federation will be severely strained,” it concluded.

Foundation president Roger Gibbins said the federal Conservatives are planning to impose national caps on emissions that would pummel producers of energy and leave consumers largely off the hook.

. December 12, 2009 at 2:42 pm

National unity at stake in climate strategy, think tank says

Making Alberta, Sask., meet same greenhouse-gas emissions targets as eastern provinces is recipe for conflict, group contends

Shawn McCarthy

Ottawa — Globe and Mail Update Published on Thursday, Dec. 10, 2009 8:00AM EST Last updated on Friday, Dec. 11, 2009 2:39AM EST

Ottawa’s plan to impose national greenhouse-gas emissions targets will spark a fierce political battle among the provinces if it puts too much of the burden on oil-producing provinces, a Calgary-based think tank is warning.

In a report to be released Thursday, the Canada West Foundation slams proposals that would require Alberta and Saskatchewan to match emission reduction targets of provinces that are less dependent on fossil fuel production.

The two prairie provinces also say that any national climate-change plan must “acknowledge and accommodate regional differences.”

Failure to do so could be lead to national unity problems.

“If we don’t, the residents of Alberta and Saskatchewan will suffer unduly and the federation will be severely strained,” it concluded.

Foundation president Roger Gibbins said the federal Conservatives are planning to impose national caps on emissions that would pummel producers of energy and leave consumers largely off the hook.

. December 15, 2009 at 2:53 pm

14 December 09
Document shows Canada removing emission restrictions

As if Canada’s performance on climate were not already the second worst among all countries surveyed by GermanWatch for the Global Climate Change Performance Index (we were aced for last place by Saudi Arabia), new documents discovered by the CBC show the Conservative government actually looking to WEAKEN the pathetic greenhouse gas emission limits that barely restrain the Alberta oil and gas sector.

The government, which has presented no plan to meet its humiliating target of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by three per cent below 1990 levels by 2020, is now leaning toward giving the oil and gas sector even more room to pollute, leaving the responsibility for reducing emissions (should the country ever decide to do so) on individuals and businesses outside the industry that is primarily responsible.

As long as Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s oil patch buddies are making money, though, what can go wrong?

Milan July 24, 2017 at 1:34 pm

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