Support journalism that lights the way through the climate crisis

Goal: $100k

Feb. 1 marked another landmark: sea ice reached its lowest level in history. The climate crisis is here. We must act accordingly.

The math to ensure the crisis stops worsening is simple: we need to emit fewer greenhouse gases. Since Canadians are among those who emit the most greenhouse gases per capita — four times the world average — we have the moral imperative to reduce our emissions.

The great news is that we already have a carbon tax, and clean electricity regulations and subsidies are coming shortly.

But all eyes are on the oil and gas emissions cap, which should be ready by the end of 2023. It is promoted as the critical mechanism to reduce the industry's greenhouse gas emissions by 42 per cent in 2030 relative to 2019.

However, with the current accounting method, there is no evidence the proposed emission ceiling will lead to a decrease in greenhouse gas emissions caused by this industry.

In fact, Canada's 2030 Reduction Plan confirms the opposite; it plans to increase oil production by 1,400,000 barrels per day between 2020 and 2030, representing an increase of 33 per cent.

This greenhouse gas emission increase is equivalent to seven Bay du Nords, a contentious offshore oil project for which the government is being brought to court by environmental groups that argue the project will prevent Canada from hitting its greenhouse gas emission reduction targets.

Hence, Canada has a plan to decrease greenhouse gas emissions from the oil and gas sector by 42 per cent, but this plan also includes a 33 per cent increase in crude oil production. Yes, you read that correctly — Canada claims we can have our cake and eat it, too.

How is this possible? Does the government have a magic bullet to make pollution go away?

The biggest flaw in Canada's expected emissions reduction plan is that it will likely omit the majority of the greenhouse gas pollution for which Canadians are responsible, writes Hugo @cordeau_. #cdnpoli

Not really. It is more of an intellectual gymnastics exercise to achieve the desired result.

The federal government excludes the majority of greenhouse gas emissions caused by a barrel of oil

Indeed, only production — scopes 1 and 2 — is calculated in Canada's greenhouse gas emissions, representing approximately 15 per cent of the emissions caused by a barrel of oil.

Scope 3 emissions — produced when the oil is burned abroad or in Canada — represent 85 per cent of the industry's greenhouse gas emissions and will likely be omitted from the cap.

It is often pointed out that 26 per cent of greenhouse gases emitted in Canada come from the oil and gas sector. However, this understates the real impact of this industry; the exported emissions from the burning of fossil fuels represent 1.3 times the greenhouse gases of the whole of Canada.

This is enormous! It is five times the emissions spewed from all the cars, trucks and planes circulating in Canada.

Application case

Numbers can be complex, so let us visualize the Scope 3 emissions of crude oil. To simplify the exercise, let's say that one unit of pollution is produced for every 1,000 barrels of oil produced daily. To do so, let’s use Canada's reduction plan data and clarify the hypothesis.

Assumption 1. All greenhouse gases exported are additional.

1.1: The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change clearly states that oil and gas must reduce significantly by 2050. Hence, this assumption is not binding since fossil fuels are not an energy of transition.

Assumption 2. The pollution issue of the combustion of a barrel of oil pollutes as much in 2020 as in 2030.

Based on this report, 4,185,000 barrels of oil per day were produced in 2020, leading to 4,185 units of pollution. Of this pollution, 15 per cent comes from the production process, which is what the government aims to reduce by 42 per cent.

This reduction is expected to be achieved through better technology, like carbon capture, or by switching tar sand production to offshore drilling. So, the production process will decrease its pollution by 42 per cent, from 628 to 364 units.

However, the federal plan also calls for a 33 per cent oil production hike, which will increase pollution. But because of the improvements in technology, this increase will be 27 per cent, instead of 33 per cent — still far from the claimed 42 per cent reduction.

This exercise has significant limitations, but reducing the pollution caused by the production process does not imply that there will be a decrease in the total amount of greenhouse gas emissions caused by the oil and gas industry.

Cap on oil and gas sector emissions

The biggest flaw in Canada's plan is that it will likely omit Scope 3 emissions, the majority of the greenhouse gas emissions for which Canadians are responsible. Regardless of the form of the next cap on emissions, if Scope 3 emissions are excluded, we will likely increase the pollution caused by our activities.

It is possible to include all greenhouse gas emissions caused by the oil and gas industry; all we have to do is to create a cap that includes all the emissions caused by this industry, Scope 3 included. It can be formalized as a cap and trade system — where firms trade their carbon credits — or as a carbon tax.

By doing so, Canada’s oil and gas industry would finance the research and development of the energy transition, not worsen the ongoing climate crisis. Not bad.

Hugo Cordeau is a PhD student in economics at the University of Toronto. His research focuses on climate policies. In the past, Cordeau researched the impact of climate change on wind power in Canada, as well the measures explaining the adoption of electric vehicles in Quebec.

Keep reading

To avoid double counting, emissions from Canadian oil exports are attributed to the country in which they occur (the U.S.). Attributing the emissions to both Canada and the U.S. would result in double-counting.
Likewise, the emissions embedded in goods we purchase from Chinese coal-powered factories are attributed to China, not to the Western consumers actually responsible for those emissions.

Fossil fuel expansion will blow Canada's climate targets out of the water, even if Scope 3 emissions are excluded. Canada's O&G industry grossly under-reports its emissions. Canada's emission stats are fictional. Expect lots of creative accounting (as in forestry sector) and heavy reliance on dubious offsets.

O&G industry net-zero targets are a pipe dream.
AB oilsands companies, governments, and the Big Banks declare net-zero targets without any intention of reaching them.
Canada's idea is to "green" (i.e., greenwash) its fossil fuels, not get off them.
The Liberals' climate plan rests on three white elephants that are neither fit for purpose nor ready to go. In the oilsands, "net-zero" by 2050 depends on an unholy triad of white elephants: SMRs, blue hydrogen, and carbon capture and storage. A delaying tactic. A lifeline for Canada's O&G industry.

The IPCC warns that the world must nearly halve GHG emissions by 2030 and eliminate them by 2050 to keep warming below the danger limit of 1.5 C.
IEA's Net-Zero by 2050 report says no new investment in fossil fuels after 2021 to limit global warming to 1.5 C.
The Liberals reject the IEA's conclusions and every IPCC report likewise. So does the O&G industry.
What does Trudeau know that the IEA and IPCC do not?
"Federal watchdog warns Canada's 2030 emissions target may not be achievable" (CBC, 2022)
A plan to fail.

"Unfortunately, in practice [net-zero via carbon dioxide removal] helps perpetuate a belief in technological salvation and diminishes the sense of urgency surrounding the need to curb emissions now.
"We have arrived at the painful realisation that the idea of net zero has licensed a recklessly cavalier 'burn now, pay later' approach which has seen carbon emissions continue to soar.
"...In the end, the mere prospect of carbon capture and storage gave policy makers a way out of making the much needed cuts to greenhouse gas emissions.
"...As the mirage of each magical technical solution disappears, another equally unworkable alternative pops up to take its place.
"...However, policymakers and businesses appear to be entirely serious about deploying highly speculative technologies as a way to land our civilisation at a sustainable destination. In fact, these are no more than fairy tales.
"...The only way to keep humanity safe is the immediate and sustained radical cuts to greenhouse gas emissions in a socially just way.
"...Current net zero policies will not keep warming to within 1.5°C because they were never intended to. They were and still are driven by a need to protect business as usual, not the climate. ... The time for wishful thinking is over."
"Climate scientists: concept of net zero is a dangerous trap" (The Conversation, April 22, 2021)

I would suggest that what Trudeau knows that the IEA and IPCC do not is how much campaign money the O&G sector contributes to his party.
If we want climate change action, and if we want democracy, we need to get private and corporate money out of politics.

Look, the oil lobby has so much influence in Alberta and on Ottawa, there will be a continuous fight about misinfo on our emissions. ENBRIDGE has tossed down the gauntlet by trying to convince the Ontario energy regulator to have consumers pay to increase their emissions by expanding gas services for residential heating. Not only would this blow Ontario emissions reduction up, it would tie consumers to fossil fuels well past 2050. Then we have the BC LNG Kitimat project, approved because electricity was to be used to liquefy the gas for export. BC Hydro can't afford the Transmission Line. So let's use natural gas! Must keep Poilievre smiling in his sleep as our targets go down the drain. And as Canadian oil and natural gas production and exports continue to grow, what are we to do. If we elect a federal Conservative government to Ottawa, it will be the Wild West across Canada as they remove any regulations. Just what we need? Then we have the interim natural gas promotion. Does this look positive to you? At least the Liberals are attempting regulations. But as my former Alberta MP,from Ft. MCMURRAY , Yurdiga used to spout, our oil is more ethical and therefore is less polluting! The unfortunate thing is Westerners believe this.

I might not be seeing the whole story, but it seems to me the Liberal government to date hasn't been attempting regulation: they've been attempting to fool the electorate into believing that's what they're doing. I've been following the money, and I am not fooled.
The real conundrum lies in what we, as citizens, can do. Clearly voting Conservative isn't a vote for the survival of the planet (or democracy). Clearly neither the NDP nor the Greens are likely to form government any time soon, absent a fast and radical change to getting rid of our First Past the Post elections. Which, btw, Trudeau promised back in 2015, and we all know what happened to that.
The best we can do in terms of electoral politics in the meantime, seems to be to get more NDP and Greens elected so they hold the balance of power ... and that doesn't stop the Conservatives and Liberals together from ganging up on us and the planet.

The "elephant in the room" is that the fossil industry must shut down it's primary job. The corporations can continue to exist for other reasons (geothermal drilling, get to it), but they have to stop doing what they do for a living.

Somebody has to be courageous enough to say "We will have stopped extracting carbon from the ground by some date in the future. We can't do that, without killing people, before we have alternatives for everything it does, but here's our plan for those alternatives, our date by which 90% of it can shut down, 95%, 99%."

Until somebody says it out loud, we're just fiddling around the edges of the problem.

Total agreement from here.

When it comes to the Alberta oil patch, it is possible that some in the Trudeau government are both more and less cynical than they appear. I mean, the APPEARANCE is that they're telling us rubes that they're cutting emissions, while corruptly bending to the oil lobby and doing no such thing, abandoning all hope of hitting climate targets. Everything they do is consistent with that basic approach.

But it is possible that in reality, they think it's OK because, no matter how much oil patch money they take, and how many favours they do for the bastards, international shifts towards electric transportation (and in the case of shipping, stuff like green hydrogen and such) will in the next few years start cutting demand and dropping prices, and the most costly and carbon-intensive oil will become unviable first. So they know the oil patch is basically done like dinner no matter how high it seems to be riding right now, and figure the Liberal party might as well grab some of their cash before they go down. The Libs know they will be disappearing soon, and their emissions with them, and the Liberals will say "Look, we met our targets! Our strategy of backing oil AND transition worked fine!" even though the country would have been better off if a bunch of money they spent on useless oil patch subsidies like pipelines and CCS had instead been spent on renewables, just transition, public transit, or indeed almost anything except white elephants for a dying industry.

I'm not going to bat for the idea that the Liberals are that smart, but that may be in the back of at least some of their minds.

One can always hope, but what cash are you referring to in "might as well grab some of their cash before they go down".

I'd be more inclined to believe they're smarter than appears if they weren't giving CCUS subsidies and hadn't bought a pipeline, for starters.

I mean bribes . . . ah, that is, campaign contributions. What I'm saying is they COULD be taking the payola, and making with the policies the oil patch tells them, partly out of a conviction that it won't matter--that it's the demand side that will be decisive so everything the oil patch wants on the supply side is irrelevant, and so taking their bribes for that is not a problem.

I take heart from the health care deal; Trudeau called out all those conservative premiers with their budget surpluses and their "provincial council" and pulled rank. It worked and looked masterful even.
Dividing and conquering is clearly the way to do governance in this country now, as with the child care deal.

Given that we can all agree that the Liberals are unfit for purpose and will not do what's needed, when will we collectively start doing what's needed?

Well, that's the question!

. . . when we can come up with a political vehicle that is both committed to doing what's needed, and capable of defeating the Libs and Cons in a general election.
Or I suppose when we can muster so much political will that a general strike could be a real thing.

Barry Saxifrage recently posted an article of graphs and numbers related to scope 3. So, I'm not sure of the value of making readers revisit similar stats so soon.

About 15 years ago I came up with my own reference level for what I thought was a lot to come out of the tar sands - 2 million bbl/day. That was a lot in 2008. 5 million in 2023 is a crazy lot.

This may seem slightly off topic, but the "elephant in the room" is a cow. The science is unambiguous, if animal-based agriculture and commercial fisheries, i.e. people killing animals, isn't addressed, beating the climate heating emergency becomes impossible. Source: "Global food systems emissions could preclude achieving the 1.5C and 2C climate change targets," Clark et al, Science 370, 705-708 (6 November 2020).

Cows are one of the elephants. O&G is another. Where our forests are at is another. I'd be willing to wager there are more.
It makes no sense to say, "No, there's a trunk and a tail over here, so this is *the* elephant." And someone else farther away than an elephant can reach says, "But there are tusks and legs like a tree trunk over here, so *this* is the elephant."
There is a lot individuals can do, but they won't unless and until the choice is made for them. Air travel is a good example of that. Las Vegas for the weekend. The Bahamas in the winter. Etc.