Mark Jaccard is arguably Canada’s foremost climate policy researcher. He was a key architect of British Columbia premier Gordon Campbell’s landmark climate change program, featuring North America’s first comprehensive escalating carbon tax. And he led a comprehensive 2007 modeling study, Climate Leadership, Economic Prosperity that detailed the path for Canada to meet, or even exceed, its GHG emissions target for 2020.
So when Jaccard has something to say, politicians and interested citizens on all sides of the climate policy debate generally listen. And Jaccard is speaking out against the Northern Gateway pipeline, stating in no uncertain times that ongoing expansion of the Alberta oil sands, including its proposed network of pipelines, can not be reconciled with Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s promises and commitments to mitigate climate change.
Writing in the Vancouver Sun, Jaccard laments that Northern Gateway opposition is largely focused on what he terms “local” environmental issues, such as pipeline and tanker spills. As compelling as those concerns may be, this risks missing the big picture. The Northern Gateway is only one element in a program of massive and rapid oil sands expansion that will undoubtedly upend Canada’s climate change initiatives.
Jaccard notes the Conservative government’s endorsement of U.N. and G8 initiatives and resolutions broadly commiting industrialized nations to cut GHG emissions by 80% by 2050. The Harper government’s own commitment, as embodied in the 2008 Turning the Corner Plan, calls for a somewhat less aggressive target of 65% below 2006 levels. As I explained in my previous post on the subject, Canada after Kyoto, this translates into a 2050 target level of 250 Mt a year. If the more aggressive U.S. Copenhagen target of 83% below 2005 levels were adopted by Canada, the 2050 target would be 125 Mt.
But as I noted back then, even Canada’s less aggressive 250 Mt target can not be reconciled with the ongoing unbridled expansion of the oil sands. For Alberta’s own emission targets, already off track, call for a rise to 2020, and a reduction of only 14% below 2005 level by 2050, namely 200 Mt. That irresolvable conflict is baldly summarized in the graph I presented three weeks ago.
The Alberta plan is based on a business-as-usual scenario of 400 Mt in 2050 (up from 230 Mt in 2005), and is heavily dependent on an unlikely mitigation from carbon-capture-and-storage of almost 140 Mt to arrive at the 200 Mt target. Yet even this far-fetched scenario is clearly impossible, as it leaves only 50 Mt for all of the rest of Canada. And the 83% target is actually a whole 75 Mt, or 37%, under Alberta’s target.
Nevertheless, even discussion of climate change issues tends to be focused on Canada’s 2020 target. As I showed previously, that target is clearly already blown, since there is a yawning 178 Mt gap with absolutely no measures in place, or even announced, to bridge it.
A target 38 years hence might seem safely distant. But this is incorrect. All leading independent climate policy institutes concur that only with immediate action will we achieve a 65-80 per cent reduction in less than four decades. In the case of vehicles, this means the rapid deployment of near-zero-emission technologies which, thankfully, are already commercially available. These include hybrid vehicles using biofuels (ethanol or biodiesel), plug-in hybrid vehicles, and battery-electric vehicles. In contrast, our demand, and soon the global demand, for oil must contract, especially the demand for high-cost, high-emission tarsands.
Thus, for his promise not to be a lie, Harper cannot allow expansion of tarsands and associated pipelines, and he must require a growing market share of near-zero-emission vehicles. He knows this because his analysts are privy to the work of the world’s leading researchers. Canadians on all sides of the issue should read a 20-page report from MIT’s Joint Program on the Science and Policy of Global Change entitled Canada’s Bitumen Industry Under CO2 Constraints (found at http://globalchange.mit. edu). The report shows how and why the Canadian tarsands must contract as part of a global effort to prevent a 4 degree increase in temperatures and catastrophic climate change.
Well, I’m going to read that 2010 MIT report. And I hope Canadian politicians – of all stripes – will read it as well, and that we all start discussing the real issues.
[Update: Here is part of the abstract of Canada’s Bitumen Industry Under CO2 Constraints (January 2010, MIT Joint Program Report 183):
We find: (1) without climate policy annual Canadian bitumen production increases over 6-fold from 2005 to 2050; (2) with CO2 emissions caps implemented in developed countries, Canadian bitumen production drops by nearly 65% from the reference 6-fold increase and bitumen upgrading capacity moves to the developing countries; (3) with CO2 emissions caps implemented worldwide, the Canadian bitumen production becomes essentially non-viable even with CCS technology, at least through our 2050 horizon. The main reason for the demise of the oil sands industry with global CO2 policy is that the demand for oil worldwide drops substantially.
This confirms what I've said previously; any plausible scenario to reduce global emissions and limit atmospheric CO2e to 450 ppm necessarily implies much more limited development than planned, with phaseout of the oil sands much sooner than currently contemplated. ]
In the mean time, I’ll give Jaccard the last words, with the emphasis they deserve.
The facts are simple. Our political leaders are lying to us if they aid and abet the expansion of tarsands while promising to take action to prevent the imminent climate catastrophe. If you love this planet and your children, and are humble and objective in considering the findings of science, you have no choice but to battle hard to stop Gateway and other tarsands pipelines. It is time to face up to this challenge with honesty and courage.