Golden age of gas. C’est fini
Montreal just took a stand against methane gas. The city is banning gas hookups for most new buildings (three storeys or less) starting next October and for larger buildings as of April 2025.
The ban means new building permits will not allow fossil gas for heating and hot water or for stoves and pools. No heating oil or propane, either (little barbecue tanks get a pass).
“When we see how much greenhouse gases come from buildings, then this is clearly the right thing to do,” said Mayor Valérie Plante.
There’s often an urge to pick holes in any government announcements. So let’s get that out of the way. The ban only applies to new building permits. It doesn’t solve the spew from the vast majority of homes and buildings that are already built and will be around for decades. But you’re probably familiar with the first rule of holes. When you’re in one, stop digging. Cities like Montreal are trying to stop the problem from getting worse.
“It’s an important milestone,” said Marie-Andrée Mauger, the city’s point person on ecological transition, “because we’re stopping the growth of greenhouse gas emissions in the building sector.”
Once you stop digging, you can focus on filling in the hole. And to be fair, Montreal’s gas ban is part of a broader plan to tackle climate pollution from buildings.
North of Montreal, the town of Prévost just passed a bylaw that bans fossil gas from new buildings starting at the end of this year and that ban also applies to existing furnaces when they get replaced.
The coalition Sortons le gaz! (“Let’s Take Out the Gas!”) applauded the City of Montreal, pivoting to precisely that issue: “We congratulate the City of Montreal for its leadership in the decarbonization of buildings,” declared the members of the coalition. “It is imperative that Montreal continues on this path by taking additional measures to gradually eliminate gas from all its buildings by 2040 as it has committed to.
“Let’s Take Out the Gas! considers that the City of Montreal is on the right track, and encourages it to follow through on its vision by prohibiting — as the [town] of Prévost has just done — the renewal of gas equipment in all existing buildings.”
And if we want to pick holes in Montreal’s gas ban, we might also note the opening it leaves for “renewable natural gas” (RNG) in new large buildings. Or the exceptions for commercial stoves in restaurants. To which one can only really say: Welcome to the world of sausage-making and industry lobbying. New York was also pummelled into making exceptions for restaurants. Maybe other local coalitions will win tighter restrictions.
Montreal councillors should brace themselves for an onslaught from the gas lobby and Alberta’s energy “war room”, which is already targeting other cities like Nanaimo, B.C.
The oil and gas industry has launched multi-pronged campaigns, bolstered by advertising from the Alberta government and its Canadian Energy Centre (the Alberta war room). The war room alone spent $22 million for a media campaign in its last fiscal year.
Meanwhile, gas utilities are flooding social media with their own ads, sponsoring online influencers to sing the praises of gas stoves and slipping advertorials into mainstream media.
Here’s just one of many examples — this one pulled from a filing by the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment in its complaint to Canada’s Competition Bureau:
And you may have heard that Enbridge and FortisBC were revealed to be part of a “Consortium to Combat Electrification,” organized by the Washington, D.C.-based Energy Solutions Center. Its mission? To “create effective, customizable marketing materials to fight the electrification/anti-natural gas movement.”
But the campaigns go back much further. “Operation Attack” dates to the late 1960s. And since the early 1970s, “the industry used a playbook echoing the one that tobacco companies employed for decades to fend off regulation. The gas utility industry relied on some of the same strategies, researchers and public relations firms.”
Evidence published by the Climate Investigations Center this month shows the gas industry knew its product was a health hazard as early as 1970, according to its own scientific studies. The industry used the same consultants, spokespeople, laboratories and statisticians as well as the same PR company (Hill+Knowlton) that the tobacco industry used to sow doubt and stave off regulation.
If you’d enjoy a gallows humour tour through the history, check out Rollie Williams’ Climate Town video. Williams didn’t have the latest investigations at the time, but it’s worth the watch just for some of the exhumed ads (including a whacky 1980s rap video).
The industry was wildly successful at hooking ever more of us to its products. But the newest generation of ads have a defensive undercurrent. Canadian oil and gas production is at an all-time high, so why can’t we even listen to Spotify without dark warnings about clean energy causing blackouts and leaving us to freeze in the dark?
There may be good reasons for that defensiveness. This week, the International Energy Agency released its annual World Energy Outlook.
“The ‘Golden Age of Gas’, a term coined by the IEA in 2011, is nearing an end,” say the authors.
"Gas demand growth has slowed dramatically and demand will either be stagnant or decline. That means some of the huge number of LNG export plants being built will end up facing a gas glut."
It’s not just gas. The IEA outlook finds that oil, gas and coal will peak and begin to decline this decade. And here’s the kicker — even with no new climate policies.
The existing climate policies are the blue lines below (the STEPS scenario). If countries actually meet their announced targets, we’d be on the yellow lines (APS). The green lines show what’s required to keep warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius.
Fossil fuels are still rebounding from the pandemic but will peak and begin declining this decade, under every scenario. This is partly because of climate policies already in place, partly because of the boom in renewables, partly because of EVs (already one-in-five passenger vehicle sales worldwide), partly because of other machines like heat pumps and, in large part, because of changes in China’s economy.
“The transition to clean energy is happening worldwide and it’s unstoppable,” says IEA chief Fatih Birol.
The energy world will look very different by 2030, even under today's policy settings— Fatih Birol (@fbirol) October 24, 2023
🚗 Nearly 10 times as many electric cars
☀️ Renewables = 80% of new power
⚡️ Electric heating outselling gas boilers
🏭 Fossil fuel demand has peaked
➡️ https://t.co/eTFoghWR2Z pic.twitter.com/XaEU86Jsop
But “as things stand, demand for fossil fuels is set to remain too high to keep the goal of limiting global warming to 1.5 C in reach,” says Birol. We’re on track for more like 2.4 C. So, “much stronger action is urgently needed.”
The IEA recommends five “key pillars”:
- Triple renewable energy capacity.
- Double energy efficiency progress.
- Cut methane emissions from fossil fuels by 75 per cent.
- Create mechanisms for clean energy investment in the emerging and developing world.
- Ensure an orderly decline in fossil fuel use.