When Trans Mountain Corporation announced it had bought carbon credits from an untested seaweed-growing company, it assured investors the credits were "validated and verified." The promise was reiterated twice in its 2021 Environmental, Social and Governance report even though the company was not yet operating.
On Tuesday, local authorities recommended against subdividing the plot of land where the company, Synergraze Inc., plans to build a proposed seaweed-growing factory in East Sooke, B.C., leaving a question mark over the project's future. Synergraze has said it will make a feed additive for cows that could significantly reduce methane emissions from cattle. The nixed factory was key to the plan, meaning it is unclear whether the offset credits purchased by Trans Mountain will ever exist.
Trans Mountain bought the Synergraze credits on the so-called voluntary carbon market, where major industrial companies can buy credits to meet federal offset requirements, and is entirely unregulated by governments. Canada does have a federally regulated carbon market, but the only projects now eligible to sell there are systems that can capture methane from landfills.
Trans Mountain and Synergraze have refused to tell Canada's National Observer how much the corporation spent or how the future carbon offsets will be verified. Trans Mountain would not say why, as a government-owned company, it purchased carbon credits from this unregulated market.
"For a Crown corporation to go after these offsets is outrageous," said federal Green Party Leader Elizabeth May. "There's nothing … that would offset the abomination that the Trans Mountain expansion represents."
Trans Mountain's decision to buy voluntary offset credits from a startup like Synergraze is "super problematic," said Kate Ervine, a professor at Saint Mary's University who specializes in global development and carbon markets.
But even purchasing government-regulated carbon credits wouldn't outweigh the climate impact of Trans Mountain's push to expand oil pipeline infrastructure during the climate crisis. She believes the construction of new fossil fuel infrastructure is a climate "insult" and should be stopped cold.
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The International Energy Agency and the UN have repeatedly cautioned that we cannot build new fossil fuel infrastructure and stay within 1.5 C of global heating.
"One of the major flaws of offsetting (is) crystal-balling the future" by saying the offset project will prevent something in the future from happening, Ervine explained. "It's a massive amount of speculation and … magical thinking because we don't actually know what the future will look like. This case takes it to a new level."
Those predictions can be fairly accurate in Canada's regulated carbon-trading market, explained International Institute for Sustainable Development senior associate Aaron Cosbey. That's because the carbon offsetting projects are required to meet strict international standards that guarantee they will lead to long-term emissions reductions.
For now, the only eligible projects in Canada are methane-capture systems from landfills. The federal government is working on rules for other industries, like updates to refrigeration systems and long-term changes to more sustainable agricultural practices.
However, the predictions are far less consistent in the voluntary market, Cosbey said. With no rules or oversight, the industry is full of "total greenwash" offset projects with dubious climate benefits. Yet companies are eager to purchase these voluntary offsets to claim they are meeting public net-zero pledges.
Carbon offsetting is at the heart of net-zero pledges because it promises to balance the amount of carbon companies emit with the amount their offsets sequester. Use of the term has skyrocketed since the 2015 Paris Agreement, prompting a UN expert group to recently warn countries they need stricter rules to prevent net-zero greenwashing by companies.
"This is one of the stages of climate denialism," said BC Green Party Leader Sonia Furstenau. "The denialism is that we can continue to extract fossil fuels, build fossil fuel infrastructure and make it OK by … purchasing these carbon credits that solve the problem for us."
Editor's note: This photo caption for this article was corrected to accurately depict the image. An earlier inaccuracy was also corrected to note that Synergraze Inc.'s plans to build a seaweed-growing factory were not fully denied by local authorities. They instead recomended against the subdivision of the plot of land where it is slated to be built. Canada’s National Observer regrets any inconvenience arising from the errors.
Another scam from the
Another scam from the industry that knew in the 70's the long term effects of it continuing with 'business as usual'. We must not love our children, or have planned not to have any, to continue falling for promises like this.........Trans Mountain bought carbon offsets from a company that didn't exist, and still doesn't.....
Talk about selling out the future by buying futures that recede forever in front of us, like the horizon....
That this is a government owned company says a lot about the robustness of any Liberal plan to decarbonize.
Why are we even talking about
Why are we even talking about offsets at all? They do not help reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Capturing methane from landfills is good. It should be done, but it should not be done so that someone else can increase their emissions.
Offsets are often scams; this article provides a clear example. It is disgraceful that a government owned company is involved in it. Offsets should simply be banished.
Jumping ahead, it's clear
Jumping ahead, it's clear that industry and government will not stop this project any time soon. What will stop it is demand destruction. EVs -- better yet, public transit and efficacious urban zoning -- appearing en masse later this decade will no doubt cause TMX board members to buy shares in Pepcid and Prozac.
Land transportation is the primary customer for refined petroleum products. The internal combustion engine is now on the radar of politicos all over the world and their actions and regulations will have a great effect on the number of gas tanks in the world, including Canada. My hope is that the private car and old school traffic engineers will become a target too, one day.
Is it possible that the folks
Is it possible that the folks at TMX chose to buy credits from the seaweed guys in order to jump start what looks like a worthy production process, that is, low carbon cows milk based on sea-culture?