I received numerous requests from readers to expand my last article on emissions in Sweden and BC to also include the other provinces where Greta led climate strikes -- Quebec and Alberta. Here it is.
"My name is Greta Thunberg. I am sixteen years old. I come from Sweden. And I speak on behalf of future generations." – speech to U.K. House of Parliament, London, 23 April 2019
Swedish climate striker, Greta Thunberg, travelled a long, slow, low-carbon way across Canada to bring her message of urgency to climate strikes in Montreal, Edmonton and Vancouver.
In the spirit of cultural exchange, I decided to learn what I could about Sweden's own climate emissions and efforts. So, if you, too, are interested in how our northern jurisdictions compare on climate pollution, you're in luck. I waded through a fat pile of reports and spreadsheets to put together five charts, and the stories behind them, to compare the climate pollution from Sweden with that from Quebec, Alberta and B.C..
Pollution Down. Pollution Up
Let's start with annual emissions.
For decades, both Sweden and Canada have been promising to reduce emissions. My first chart lets you see what's happened.
The Swedes have slashed their emissions by a quarter.
Quebec has also lowered theirs, about one third as much.
B.C., meanwhile, has pumped up climate pollution by 20 per cent.
And Alberta? Their pollution is rising at a dizzying pace – up 58 per cent.
Canada, as a nation, pledged to reduce emissions back to our 1990 levels by 2020. As of 2017, we were polluting nearly 20 per cent above that target. That means Canada as a whole is roughly where B.C. is on the chart.
Sweden's efforts show that it is clearly possible for wealthy northerners to achieve the kinds of pollution reductions we promised – and a whole lot more. Heck, the U.K. has managed to pull off a 41 per cent reduction since 1990.
Greta: "A lot of people say that Sweden is a small country, that it doesn’t matter what we do. But I think that if a few girls can get headlines all over the world just by not going to school for a few weeks, imagine what we could do together if we wanted to. Every single person counts. Just like every single emission counts. Every single kilo. Everything counts. So please, treat the climate crisis like the acute crisis it is and give us a future. Our lives are in your hands." – speech at Stockholm Climate March on 8 September 2018
Person by person
Greta: "The bigger your carbon footprint, the bigger your moral duty." – speech to the World Economic Forum, Davos, 25 January 2019
Next, let's look at the amount of climate pollution emitted per person.
As my second chart shows, the average Swede emits a little over five tonnes of climate pollution (tCO2) each year.
That's one tonne less than the global average.
The average Québécois, emits nearly twice as much – 9.4 tCO2 each.
British Columbians pollute even more. They emit 12.9 tCO2 each. That's more than double the global average.
And Albertans emit ten times the global average – 64 tCO2 each.
Why are the Swedes so much less polluting? To look for clues I dug deeper to find the emissions that each sector of the economy causes.
Two things jump out for me.
First, is the climate pollution from transportation. It is, by far, the largest part of the carbon footprint in Sweden, Quebec and B.C.
And, as you can see on the chart, transportation pollution alone per person in both B.C. and Alberta exceeds the entire Swedes carbon footprint for everything.
We'll take a look two of the biggest transportation problems – driving and flying – below.
The second thing that jumps out at me is the huge emissions from the oil and gas industry in both B.C. and Alberta. In B.C., this one industry emits 2.6 tCO2 per person. That's half Sweden’s entire total. And in Alberta, the oil and gas industry emits 32 tCO2 per person.
And now, the oil and gas industry is poised to double its climate pollution in B.C. if they build just two of their currently planned LNG projects – LNG Canada and Kitimat LNG. While in Alberta, the oil and gas industry plans to continue its relentless expansion of bitumen extraction.
Those two examples, just scratch the surface of what we could learn from studying the emissions of Sweden and most other European nations. If you want to explore more, the official greenhouse gas (GHG) inventory for Sweden, and for most other major nations, are here. And like Greta's speeches, Sweden's report is, very helpfully, in English.
Each kilometer driven
As we saw above, transportation is one of the biggest climate pollution differentiators between our regions. So, I decided to look into the biggest component of the sector: cars.
My third chart shows the amount of climate pollution emitted per kilometre for the average passenger vehicle. This data comes from a recent report by the International Energy Agency.
The blue bar shows that Swedish cars average 139 grams of CO2. This is similar to cars in the U.K. and many other European countries.
At this rate, a car travels 7,200 kilometers for each tonne of CO2 it emits.
I couldn't find data specific to cars in each province, so I've used the Canadian average from that same IEA study. What it shows is that Canadians currently drive the world's dirtiest passenger vehicles.
On average, our cars emit 206 grams of CO2 per kilometer. That's 50 per cent more pollution for every kilometer than in Sweden. Our cars take us only 4,850 kilometers for each tonne of CO2 that gets dumped out the tailpipe.
What can Canadians do who want to clean up this mess? Stop buying new vehicles that burn fossil fuels. The average new fossil-fuelled car in Canada will emit 66 tCO2 from burning gasoline. If you really need a new vehicle, buy an electric one. They are the only option that align with future climate targets. As a climate bonus, 80 per cent of Canadians have nearly zero-carbon electricity to power them with.
There is one area in which Swedes pollute far more than the global average -- burning jet fuel. As my next chart shows, Sweden's per capita CO2 from flying is roughly three times the global average.
This level is so high that the Swedish have a word for how many of them are starting to feel about it: "flyskam."
This translates roughly to "ashamed of flying." There is a growing movement in Sweden, and elsewhere, of people who feel conscience-stricken and are cutting back or giving up fossil-fuelled flying completely.
The industry and many media stories I have read are incorrectly presenting this concept as an effort to "shame others for flying."
Greta may be the world's most famous airplane refusenik.
Before she started her public climate strikes, she started at home asking her family to lower their carbon footprint by giving up flying and eating meat. Over two years they did both, even though her mother, an opera singer, had to give up her international career as a result. Greta says her parents' agreement to work for a low-carbon life gave her hope that she could make a difference in the fight for a safe climate future.
Greta: “I’ve decided to stop flying because I want to practice as I preach, to create opinion and to lower my own emissions. One person who stops flying will not make a difference. But if a large number of people do then it will. It sends a message that we are in a crisis and have to change our behaviour.” – interview with HuffPost
Sidenote: If you want to learn more about the climate impacts from different transportation options, here's an infographic and article I put together on the topic.
‘Our new currency’: GDP vs GHGs
My final climate chart covers a subject that I think is critical to our economic future, but that gets little attention in Canada. It's the carbon-intensity of the economy. And it is usually measured in climate pollution per dollar of GDP.
I couldn't find a direct comparison between Sweden and individual provinces on this, so I did my own rough calculations.
In 2017, Sweden's GDP was around $670 billion in Canadian dollars. For comparison, provincial GDPs in that year were:
- $258 billion in B.C.
- $351 billion in Alberta
- $382 billion in Quebec
Dividing each region's climate pollution by their GDP results in the chart on the right. It shows the grams of CO2 (gCO2) emitted per Canadian dollar of GDP.
As you can see, the Swedish economy is much cleaner. It emits just 80 gCO2 for each dollar of GDP.
Quebec and B.C. have to emit roughly three times more climate pollution to produce each dollar. And Alberta currently emits ten times more climate pollution than Sweden does per dollar of GDP.
As CO2 becomes more expensive to emit, economies that create the most value from each tonne will have an economic advantage.
Greta: "We should no longer measure our wealth and success in the graph that shows economic growth, but in the curve that shows the emissions of greenhouse gases. We should no longer only ask: ‘Have we got enough money to go through with this?’ but also: ‘Have we got enough of the carbon budget to spare to go through with this?’ That should and must become the centre of our new currency." – speech to U.K. House of Parliament, London, 23 April 2019