Category Archives: Carbon Tax – Cap and Trade

Typhoon Haiyan tragedy shows urgency of Warsaw climate summit

Typhoon Haiyan tragedy shows urgency of Warsaw climate summit


Typhoon Haiyan tragedy shows urgency of Warsaw climate summit

As people in the Philippines struggle with the devastation and death from the worst storm to hit land in recorded history – Typhoon Haiyan – world leaders are meeting in Warsaw, Poland, to discuss the climate crisis. “What my country is going through as a result of this extreme climate event is madness. The climate crisis is madness,” Yeb Sano, lead negotiator for the Philippines, told the opening session of the UN climate summit, which runs until November 22. “We can stop this madness. Right here in Warsaw.”

[quote]The only hindrance to developing a fair, ambitious and legally binding climate plan for the world is lack of political will.[/quote]

Given the slow progress at the 18 meetings held since 1992 – when countries from around the world joined the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change – it’s hard not to be pessimistic. Canada, in particular, has been repeatedly singled out among the close to 200 member countries for obstructing progress and not doing enough to address climate change at home.

Lack of political will is main challenge to tackling climate change

But as scientific evidence continues to build, and impacts – from extreme weather to melting Arctic ice – continue to worsen, with costs mounting daily, the impetus to resolve the problem is growing. We’re exhausting Earth’s finite resources and pushing global ecosystems to tipping points, beyond which addressing pollution and climate issues will become increasingly difficult and costly. The only hindrance to developing a fair, ambitious and legally binding climate plan for the world is lack of political will.

Part of the problem is that much of the world is tied to the fossil fuel economy, and the rush is on to get as much oil, coal and gas out of the ground and to market while people are still willing to pay for it and burn it up. We’re wasting precious resources in the name of quick profits, instead of putting them to better use than propelling often solo occupants in large metal vehicles, and instead of making them last while we shift to cleaner energy sources.

Solutions to climate change are real and available

But there’s cause for hope. Solutions are available. Governments just have to demonstrate courage and leadership to put us on a path to a healthier future.

For example, a recent report by energy consulting firm ECOFYS, “Feasibility of GHG emissions phase-out by mid-century”, shows it’s technically and economically feasible to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions to zero from 90 per cent of current sources with readily available technology. It shows we could phase out almost all net emissions by 2050 by innovating further. In doing so, we could likely meet the agreed-upon goal of limiting global average temperature increases to below 2 C, and we’d stand a 50 per cent chance of staying below 1.5 C by the end of the century. All of this would have the added benefit of reducing “water, air and soil pollution associated with traditional energy generation.”

The report echoes the David Suzuki Foundation’s findings regarding Canada’s potential to meet its current and forecasted demand for fuel and electricity with existing supplies of solar, wind, hydroelectric and biomass energy.

Whether or not any of this is politically feasible is another question. But the longer we delay the more difficult and expensive it will get.

Poll: climate change a top political priority for Canadians

Polling research also shows Canadians expect our government to be a constructive global citizen on climate action. A recent Leger Marketing survey sponsored by Canada 2020 and the University of Montreal found the majority of Canadians understand that human activity is contributing to climate change and believe the federal government should make addressing the issue a high priority. Of those polled, 76 per cent said Canada should sign an international treaty to limit greenhouse gas emissions, with most supporting this even if China does not sign.

The poll also found majority support for a carbon tax as one way to combat climate change, especially if the money generated is used to support renewable energy development. Although B.C. has recently stepped back from previous leadership on climate change, its carbon tax is one example among many of local governments doing more than the federal government to address climate change.

Typhoon Haiyan a wake-up call for climate summit

We and our leaders at all political levels – local, national and international – must do everything we can to confront the crisis. As Mr. Sano told delegates in Warsaw, “We cannot sit and stay helpless staring at this international climate stalemate. It is now time to take action. We need an emergency climate pathway.”

With contributions from David Suzuki Foundation Senior Editor Ian Hanington.

Team Harper should rack a win at climate negotiations...if they're smart

Team Harper should rack a win at climate talks…if they’re smart


Team Harper should rack a win at climate negotiations...if they're smart

With another round of international climate negotiations opening this week in Warsaw, Poland, and a new poll finding Canadians wanting leadership on the issue, Stephen Harper and his Conservative government have an opportunity to begin turning the tides on what has been up until now an abysmal failure.

Since taking the helm, Harper and his party have floundered at the United Nations climate events, with the likes of former environment minister John “Bull in a China Shop” Baird ham-handedly relegating our country to perpetual fossil of the day and year awards.

Canada’s fall from grace

As someone who has been working in and around these international climate talks, and other such global negotiations, for many years now I have witnessed first hand Canada’s fall from grace. Our small country (population-wise) has historically hit well above its weight in many international forums, with a reputation for neutrality and expert diplomacy. Now, we are called a “petro-state” and a fly in the ointment at such talks.

Up until Harper, Canada has been a international leader on global efforts to battle environmental issues. Former Progressive Conservative Prime Minister Brian Mulroney was an outspoken global leader on reducing CFC’s and his leadership culminated in the Montreal Accord that saw 191 countries agree to phasing out ozone depleting chemicals.

Under Jean Chretien and the Liberals Canada was one of the first countries to sign on to the Kyoto Protocol to reduce global climate change pollution, and that leadership started a domino effect with many countries following our lead. Harper’s lack of performance, and in many cases outright opposition to deal on climate change, is not only being noticed by the international community, it is also starting to be noticed at home.

New poll: Canadians want climate change to be a top issue

A poll out late last week finds that a large majority – almost 60 percent – of Canadians agree that climate change should be a top issue for the Harper government. A whopping 76 percent say that Canada should sign on to a new international agreement to limit greenhouse gas emissions.

While I am the first to admit that public opinion polls can fall well short of reality, in this case there is substantial proof at the street-level. Everyday people and not just the media or opinion-makers are wanting Harper to rejuvenate Canada’s international reputation on the issue of climate change.

Canadians to rally for climate this weekend

Look no further than the hundreds of events being planned across the country for a “Defend our Climate, Defend our Communities” day of action being held this coming weekend. Such a show of discontent in the streets and in front of MP’s offices has to have Harper and his minions at least a little worried.

And it is only going to get worse for Harper as more and more extreme weather events pile up week after week on the nightly news. Climate change is no longer a theory. The atmospheric disruption and extreme weather scientists talked about almost 20 years ago when Canada signed on to the Kyoto Protocol is now “the new normal.”

Harper could redeem himself in Warsaw

With these talks starting this week and next in Warsaw, Harper and his new environment minister, Leona Aglukaqq, have an opportunity to redeem themselves. It would be good for our international reputation to do so, not to mention my children’s children who, as it stands today, face a pretty bleak future. And according to public opinion polls, a strong stance on climate by Harper would be good politics.

So what’s stopping him?

BC struggles to reconcile carbon emissions with clean LNG claims

BC struggles to reconcile carbon emissions with “clean” LNG claims

BC struggles to reconcile carbon emissions with clean LNG claims
Australia’s Colongra gas-powered electrical plant – BC LNG would be powered by carbon-intensive plants like this one

VICTORIA – Like the underground shale gas that Premier Christy Clark says will pave the way to a debt-free future, British Columbia appears caught between a rock and a hard place in balancing its hunger for a burgeoning liquefied natural gas (LNG) industry and meeting its ambitious 2007 greenhouse gas pollution-reduction targets.

Liberals mum on LNG economic, environmental plans

If there is a definitive plan in place, the government isn’t laying it out yet: Natural Gas Development Minister Rich Coleman says the Liberals’ LNG economic plan, which includes a tax structure developed with industry consultation, should be complete within thee next 30 days. It won’t be introduced to the legislature until next year.

Environment Minister Mary Polak says similar LNG environmental negotiations are underway, of which she indicates the options are limited and is refusing to fully elaborate.

But a process of elimination indicates B.C. will rely heavily on carbon offsets to meet its environmental goals.

Offsets in the offing for BC LNG emissions?

That means even if the actual pollution dumped into the atmosphere increases, rather than declines, B.C. will still be able to say the targets have been met because of the discounts offered by requiring industry to financially support environmentally-friendly initiatives to fight global warming.

Still, even if the offsets enable B.C. to claim it has met its pollution targets — targets trumpeted at the time as being among the most stringent in North America — the emissions levels Canada must report to the United Nations will tell a different story.

Those numbers are reported without the discounts of offsets and they are numbers environmentalists predict will rival the emissions of neighbouring Alberta’s oil sands industry. Even without the introduction of LNG plants, environmentalists argue, B.C. is already on its way to missing its legislated targets.

“There are only two ways to reduce emissions, you either actually reduce them or you find means of mitigation and many times that’s through offsets,” said Polak.

“We know many B.C. companies are carbon neutral — Harbour Air for example — but it’s not because they have no emissions. It’s because they purchase offsets.”

Full steam ahead with LNG: 5-7 plants targeted

Besides offsets, the government could reach the targets by taking its foot off the pedal on its ambitious LNG development goals.

That’s clearly not going to happen: Clark’s Liberal government says it wants to build the cleanest LNG industry in the world and continues to repeat election-campaign statements that B.C.’s natural gas will scrub clean China’s coal-darkened skies.

In the beginning, the Liberals pledged three LNG plants: Now, the proposal is for five to seven.

Greenhouse gas reduction targets to be dropped?

The government could back away from the targets committing it to cut greenhouse gas emissions 33 per cent by 2020 — targets created under a different Liberal government, before Clark’s aggressive push towards a liquefied natural gas industry and all the extra emissions it is bound to create.

The government has refused to say it will do that, but it has left the door open.

A government official, on background, says the targets are just that: targets. If they aren’t met, government will simply try harder to meet them next time. Much like balanced budget legislation, the official says, there are no penalties for not meeting the goal.

Environmentalists and noted climate scientists, including Green Party MLA Andrew Weaver and Simon Fraser University’s Mark Jaccard, who both consulted for the Liberals on the climate targets law in 2007, have already repeatedly said the province isn’t going to meet its pollution reduction targets.

”It’s certainly our goal,” says Coleman without committing to actually doing it.

“There may be some challenges around that,” he says in an interview shortly after returning from Asia where he toured an LNG plant in Malaysia and met with executives from Petronas, the Malaysian energy company planning a $36 billion LNG investment near Prince Rupert.

[quote]We’re going to have the highest environmental standards that there are and we’re going to have the cleanest industry that there is in the world as well.[/quote]

Carbon capture in its infancy

A third option to require the industry to explore other emission reduction techniques that could involve storing carbon emissions underground is appealing, but the technology is in its infancy and no one expects B.C. can rely on it in the short-term.

“You could potentially require certain technologies be employed,” says Polak. “You could require certain purchase of offsets, but all of that is subject to negotiations, discussions, in much the same way as having the discussions now with taxation policy.”

So that leaves offsets as the most likely way to allow British Columbia to meet or at least reach for its emission goals.

The challenge is not small.

Report: BC LNG would emit 3x more carbon than plants in other countries

A recent report by Clean Energy Canada, an affiliate of Tides Canada, warned that without B.C. government policy leadership, LNG produced in B.C. could emit more than three-times the carbon produced at other plants around the world.

The B.C. government has not stated publicly what it expects its greenhouse gas emissions to be from the proposed LNG plants. But Clean Energy Canada examined a similar LNG plant under construction in Australia and concluded that B.C. LNG facilities can expect to emit about one tonne of carbon pollution for every tonne of LNG produced.

Clean Energy Canada estimates that will work out to 36 million tonnes of carbon pollution for the initially-proposed three LNG plants in the Kitimat area.

Gas still cleaner than coal?

Prof. James Tansey is a business professor at the University of B.C. who is also the chief executive officer and founder of Vancouver-based Offsetters, a global carbon-management company that helps organizations and individuals understand, reduce and offset their climate impact.

Tansey says the carbon pollution debate in B.C. is focused on legitimate concerns about increased provincial emissions.

But like the government, he notes a global move towards natural gas ultimately reduces GHG emissions worldwide.

Tansey says natural gas is a cleaner energy than oil and coal and has the potential to reduce GHG emissions by 27 per cent (read a Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives report which argues the contrary).

He says he expects the government to introduce regulations that will require the natural gas companies to purchase the offsets as a cost of doing business in B.C.

Offsets can’t erase real pollution figures

“The companies will have to do it,” said Tansey. “People don’t like offsets in general, but it’s really the only way to say those millions of tonnes of extra emissions from running the LNG facilities can be addressed. If you don’t do that, then they’re going to appear as a black mark on the carbon accounts of the province.”

Offsets may allow B.C. to meet its targets or at least approach them while still reaping the economic benefits of LNG development.

But the actual pollution numbers — without adjustments due to offsets — must be reported to provincial, federal and international climate-change monitoring agencies.

Without LNG, BC making climate progress

Environment Canada’s national inventory submission last April to the United Nations Framework convention on climate change measured a decline of almost six per cent in B.C.’s GHG emissions since 2007, when the province passed its targets law.

The inventory measured B.C.’s carbon dioxide emissions at 59.1 million tonnes in 2011 — the most recent numbers — down from 62.6 million tonnes in 2007. The target for 2020 is about 20.6 million tonnes.

The Environment Canada report stated Canada’s total GHG emissions for 2011 were measured at 702 million tonnes, while Alberta’s GHG emissions were 242 million tonnes.

LNG would ramp up BC’s carbon emissions

Matt Horne, a climate change expert with the Pembina Institute, said he’s certain B.C.’s LNG dreams will increase the province’s GHG emissions well beyond Environment Canada’s most current totals.

“I don’t know where they are going to go with the targets,” he said.

“I haven’t seen any credible projections of how the province is going to meet those targets in particular around the idea of three to five LNG plants being developed. You can’t square that circle.”

Canada's Fossil Fuels risky business with Global Carbon Budget

Canada’s fossil fuels are risky business with Global Carbon Budget

Canada's Fossil Fuels risky business with Global Carbon Budget
Alberta Tar Sands operation near Fort McMurray (photo: Kris Krûg)

by Carol Linnitt – republished from Desmog Canada

In its latest report the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) gave global greenhouse gas emissions a worldwide limit, know as the global ‘carbon budget.’ In order to prevent temperatures from rising above the 2 C threshold scientists have designated to avoid “dangerous” climate change, total global emissions need to stay within about 921 billion tonnes or gigatonnes (Gt).

As Marc Lee, senior economist with the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives recently pointed out, the carbon budget “should be a wake-up call for Canada.”

“With a development model based on ever more fossil fuel extraction, Canada’s economy and financial markets are on a collision course with the urgent need for global climate action,” he said.

As Lee explains the global carbon budget of 921 Gt gives the planet a 66 per cent chance of staying within the 2 C limit. But that chance gets drastically worse if we surpass the budget: emitting as much as 1068 Gt leaves us with a mere 50 per cent chance.

Carbon Budget
The warming potential of all global carbon assets, from the Carbon Tracker report Unburnable Carbon

Canada’s portion of the emissions pie would depend on negotiations, but would likely end up being between 4 (given our population size) and 24 Gt (given our gross domestic product).

When pooled together, however, Canada’s proven reserves of bitumen, oil, natural gas and coal add up to 91 Gt. If you add our probable reserves in you end up with a whopping grand total of 174 Gt.

Even if Canada’s negotiators were shrewd, Lee allows, and end up with a 30 Gt national budget because Canada relies on fossil fuel exports, still two-thirds of Canada’s proven reserves, and 83 per cent of proven-plus-probable reserves would need to remain unburnt.

As Lee writes, this has significant impact on Canada’s financial market:

[quote]This math should alarm institutional investors, and pension funds in particular – because stock market valuations are premised on fossil-fuel-producing companies extracting those resources. Analysts have called this a ‘carbon bubble’ in our financial markets.

This is bad news for the Toronto Stock Exchange (TSX), which is highly weighted toward the fossil fuel sector, with total market capitalization of fossil fuel companies of about $400-billion to $500-billion. Fossil fuel companies account for about 24 per cent of the total value of the S&P/TSX composite index.[/quote]

A report recently released by the Carbon Tracker Initiative shows that “currently financial markets have an unlimited capacity to treat fossil fuel reserves as assets.” This unchecked incorporation of what are already considered unburnable carbon reserves is a major market failure, write the report’s authors, that is “creating systemic risks for institutional investors, notably the threat of fossil fuel assets becoming stranded as the shift to a low-carbon economy accelerates.”

The concept of “stranded assets” made international headlines last week after a coalition of 70 investors worth $3 trillion pressured 45 of the biggest oil and gas companies to deal with this concern.

The very real limitations placed on the value of Canada’s carbon assets due to their impact on climate change also casts the Harper Government’s position on resource development in a new light.

Recently Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver told the World Energy Congress in Daegu, South Korea that “expanding and diversifying our energy exports is a top priority of the Canadian government.”

[quote]Canada is well placed to meet the growing demand for oil and gas. Canada is the world’s fifth-largest producer of oil and has the third-largest proven reserves – 172 billion barrels, of which 168 billion are from the oil sands. Canada is the world’s fifth-largest producer of natural gas, with recoverable gas resources approaching 1,300 trillion cubic feet – some 200 years of production at current rates.[/quote]

In addition to having enormous carbon reserves, Canada is failing to adequately manage its current emissions output. According to a new Environment Canada report, Canada’s carbon emissions in 2020 will be 20 per cent higher than the Harper Government’s promised reductions under the 2009 Copenhagen Accord.

Canada’s emissions are set to be 66-107 per cent higher than its required reductions to avoid more than 2 C of warming.

Merkel took BMW money before putting brakes on tougher emissions cuts

Merkel took BMW money before putting brakes on EU emissions cuts

Merkel took BMW money before putting brakes on tougher emissions cuts
German Chancellor Angela Merkel gets a tour of new BWW designs at a recent auto show

BERLIN – Germany blocked the introduction of tougher European Union emissions rules for cars shortly after Chancellor Angela Merkel’s party received a large donation from three major BMW shareholders, according to newly released parliamentary records.

Opposition parties on Tuesday cited the donation as evidence of an uncomfortably close relationship between Merkel and German automakers.

Following weeks of German lobbying, the environment ministers of the EU’s 28 nations agreed Monday to seek further tweaks to the proposed emissions rules that come into force in 2020.

Just days earlier, Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union had received 690,000 euros ($935,900) from Susanne Klatten, her mother Johanna Quandt and brother Stefan Quandt. The Quandt family holds almost half of the shares in the Munich-based BMW, whose luxury cars on average emit well over the proposed limit of 95 grams of carbon dioxide per kilometre.

Merkel’s party insisted there was no link between donation and the pressure that her government put on other European countries to hold off on the emissions deal.

“The Quandt family has supported the CDU with private donations for many years, independently of whether the CDU was part of the government or in opposition,” the party said in a statement.

The opposition Left Party noted that the decision to block the new emissions rules would directly benefit German automakers such as Daimler, Volkswagen and BMW.

“The suspicion that this corporation bought itself a favourable policy is hard to dismiss,” it said.

The auto industry and its suppliers employ some 740,000 people in Germany.

The Green Party, which is one of two parties holding talks with the CDU to form a coalition government following last month’s election, also criticized the donation, saying it harmed Germany’s image abroad.

In a compromise deal in June, national EU governments and the European Parliament agreed to force carmakers to further slash their average carbon dioxide emissions from a 2015 target of 135 grams.

Germany wants to delay the introduction of the new emissions limit until 2024.

With LNG, BC will fail to meet greenhouse gas targets

With LNG emissions, BC will fail to meet climate targets


With LNG, BC will fail to meet greenhouse gas targets

VICTORIA – A report presented to the United Nations indicates British Columbia is meeting its legislated targets to cut greenhouse gas pollution, but environmental leaders say that won’t last much longer even if the province sets up a smokescreen to hide the air pollution created by proposed liquefied natural gas operations.

Environment Canada’s national inventory submission in April to the United Nations Framework Convention on climate change shows B.C.’s greenhouse gas, or GHG, emissions have declined almost six per cent since 2007 when the province passed its law to cut the emissions by 33 per cent by 2020.

The inventory report, which measures GHG emissions from farms, factories, vehicles, gas fields and numerous other entities, measured B.C.’s carbon dioxide emissions at 59,100 kilo tonnes in 2011 — the most recent numbers. In 2007, when B.C. passed its Greenhouse Gas Reduction Targets Act, Environment Canada reported that B.C. emitted 62,600 kilo tonnes of GHG’s.

The report stated Canada’s total GHG emissions for 2011 measured 702 megatonnes, up 19 per cent since 1990, when the report first started measuring pollution emissions.

Liberals not serious about GHGs: Former climate science advisor

But B.C. climate scientist Mark Jaccard, who helped the Liberal government develop its climate targets law and implement the carbon tax, said he’s given up on Canada’s GHG reduction plans and is now working with the California Energy Commission which is advising U.S. President Barack Obama on cutting emissions.

Jaccard said if B.C. really wanted its residents to know if the province was hitting or missing its targets Premier Christy Clark would call in independent reviewers to examine the results.

“If Christy were like (former premier Gordon Campbell), she would have them estimate, and then publicly release, the effect of LNG and other policies on B.C.’s GHG target,” he said. “If Christy were like (Prime Minister Stephen) Harper she would not.”

Jaccard said the B.C. government needs to feel continuous pressure from British Columbians about its legislated goal to cut GHG emissions by 33 per cent within the next seven years. Said Jaccard:

[quote]They are not interested in climate and GHG reduction. I work with groups making suggestions to the Obama government and associated institutions. And I work directly with the California Energy Commission. And I have done a bit for Canada’s Auditor General. But since Gordon Campbell left and since Stephen Harper got a majority there is no interest in people like me from our provincial and federal governments.[/quote]

B.C.’s Greenhouse Gas Reduction Targets law mandates regular reporting of the most up-to-date emissions numbers.

Campbell’s Liberals also established a Climate Action Secretariat to support programs across the province that reduce GHG emissions. The secretariat now is part of the Ministry of Environment.

Weaver: LNG emissions make BC’s climate targets ‘meaningless’

Victoria-area Green party MLA Andrew Weaver, who with Jaccard once served on Campbell’s blue ribbon environmental advisory Climate Action Team, said Wednesday the B.C. Liberals want to tell British Columbians the province is meeting its reduction targets, but once the LNG plants fire up, those targets are meaningless.

“They simply cannot go down the path and produce the LNG they want to produce and stay within their targets without abandoning them,” said Weaver, also a noted climate scientist.

[quote]Natural gas is not clean energy. I always call it cleaner energy. It’s cleaner than coal, but it’s not clean energy.[/quote]

Weaver said clean energy is renewable energy like electricity or wind.

cleanest LNG in the world“British Columbians are essentially being sold a bill of goods when they are told that somehow we’re going to have the because the reality is we are not on that path,” he said. “Some honesty in this discourse would be really appropriate.”

Liberals water down Clean Energy Act for LNG

Earlier this week, a report by Tides Canada released a report that concluded B.C. will not achieve its goal to develop the cleanest LNG plants in the world because natural gas fuelled operations will produce LNG emissions three times dirtier than electricity-driven plants in Australia and Norway.

In July 2012, the Clark government amended its Clean Energy Act to declare that the natural gas used to fuel LNG operations would be clean energy, but Weaver said calling natural gas clean may help the B.C. government get around its own emissions law, but Canada is duty-bound to report the real numbers to the United Nations.

“We have to have an honest discussion, a transparent discussion, one where you’re constrained by the truth to say that we are heading down a path where we are willingly and knowingly going to break this law,” he said. “That to me is troubling.”

NDP vows to hold Liberals to GHG targets

Outgoing New Democrat Leader Adrian Dix said his Opposition party intends to hold the government to its emission targets.

“This is an example of a government divorced from reality,” he said.

[quote]They claim emissions aren’t emissions anymore.


Government offers no specifics on meeting targets with LNG emissions

But Environment Minister Mary Polak steadfastly maintains the government is committed to meeting its emissions reduction targets and she’s counting on industry and governments, local and provincial to find ways to cut GHG emissions.

She said her major challenge remains developing a clean environmental policy that doesn’t adversely impact the bottom line of the companies looking to develop the LNG market.

Polak wouldn’t speculate on suggestions by Weaver and Jaccard that the government will completely exempt emissions from natural gas fuelled LNG plants from the targets law.

“You’re still dealing with a hypothetical,” she said. “On top of that, there’s every likelihood that you will see a range of approaches from different companies and different technologies,” she said.


Harper Govt spent $120 million helping Enbridge: Elizabeth May

Harper caught helping Enbridge while wooing Obama on climate

Harper Govt spent $120 million helping Enbridge: Elizabeth May
Photo: Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press

While Stephen Harper was busy trying to green-wash his image with Barack Obama – acquiescing to climate targets to improve prospects for the Keystone XL pipeline – Green Party Leader Elizabeth May dropped a bombshell: the suggestion that the Conservative Government is spending $120 million in tax dollars to “grease the wheels” for Enbridge and its Northern Gateway pipeline bid.

May and her only elected Green cohort, BC MLA and Nobel Prize-winning UVic climate scientist Andrew Weaver, discussed the allegation at a press conference in Victoria on Wednesday. Said Weaver:

[quote]Documents obtained from Environment Canada and the Department of Fisheries and Oceans reveal that at a time when core science is being cut across the Government of Canada, tax dollars are being spent to do Enbridge’s homework for them.[/quote]

Harper tries to turn over new leaf

The revelation was bad timing for the prime minister, coming on the heels of a letter he sent personally to Obama, promising “joint action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the oil and gas sector.”

According to CBC, Harper reached out to his US counterpart in late August, in an attempt to persuade him to approve the controversial Keystone XL pipeline from Alberta’s Tar Sands to refineries in Texas. The project is in limbo, with Obama twice delaying his decision on the matter, recently bumping it 2014.


The Harper Government’s considerable lobbying efforts have yet to move Obama on Keystone. Some have even hampered their mission – like Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver’s attack of renowned former NASA climatologist James Hansen at a Washington, DC event. This failure is now compelling the prime minister to back off his earlier opposition to hard climate commitments, says CBC:

[quote]Sources told CBC News the prime minister is willing to accept targets proposed by the United States for reducing the climate-changing emissions and is prepared to work in concert with Obama to provide whatever political cover he needs to approve the project.[/quote]

Those sources also say Harper wanted to address Keystone with Obama at this week’s G20 Summit in Russia, but the pipeline project was drown out in the tempest surrounding Syria.

May’s allegations can’t be of help to the Prime Minster’s attempted image makeover, which is why his government was quick to respond this week. Harper’s top lieutenant on pipeline matters, Joe Oliver, fired back:

[quote]While the Green party and the New Democratic Party oppose resource development projects before the science is in, our government will not make decisions until an independent, scientific review determines they are safe for Canadians and safe for the environment.[/quote]

According to the Canadian Press, Ottawa said the money is going to “oil tanker safety studies on Canada’s coastlines…announced last March in Vancouver by Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver against a backdrop of tankers and shipping vessels in Burrard Inlet.”

(You may recall this event for the irony of a federal oil spill clean-up ship running aground en route to the press conference)

Government handout to Big Oil

May and Weaver aren’t buying this defense. To them, Ottawa is using tax dollars to subsidize things that Enbridge should be doing at its own expense – like $78 million for bitumen-specific marine spill studies. Add to that another $42 million to develop improved weather monitoring systems for the rugged north and central coast waters which tankers would transit if Northern Gateway goes ahead.

Federal monies for such core elements of Enbridge’s National Energy Board application amount to a government hand-out, says Weaver:

[quote]This is another example of federal money being used to essentially subsidize industry, and industry’s inability to actually provide effective response to marine dilbit (bitumen) oil spills because the tools don’t exist.[/quote]

For a leader who has spent the past several years gutting environmental laws, monitoring and enforcement staff, cutting research monies, and muzzling scientists, it won’t be easy now to suddenly convince Obama that he’s turned a new leaf. This is, after all, a president who has been heading in the opposite direction of late, earning accolades for his progressive talk on climate action.

By contrast, Harper’s egregious environmental record has spurred criticism from all corners – even two former Conservative fisheries ministers – leading to a series of “Stand Up for Science” rallies across the country on September 16.

If Keystone fails, it will be partly because the prime minister’s war on science and the environment finally caught up with him.

Vancouver's Stanley Park was severely damaged by a wind storm in 2006 (flickr photo)

Carbon Costs


During nearly three decades of fruitless negotiating, the political leaders of the international community have failed to find an effective way to price carbon dioxide emissions and thereby ameliorate global warming and climate change. But simple causality guarantees that we will pay a carbon tax, even if we don’t have an official one. So a carbon tax is levied and collected by nature, usually inequitably and sometimes very cruelly.

In anticipation of this rising tax, the cities of Toronto and Halifax have already instituted expensive “adaptation” strategies to accommodate an increase in street flooding, storm water runoff, sewer backups, heat-related illness and storm emergencies.

Vancouver is the latest city to consider costly preventative measures that should reduce the astronomical costs associated with more active weather. The city is still stinging from a 2006 windstorm that left 250,000 people without electricity and required infrastructure repairs of $10 million. Then a 2010 rainfall flooded many homes, which resulted in lawsuits against the city. Said Sadhu Johnson, the deputy city manager, “The key for us is to be proactive. It will save us billions in the next century” (The Vancouver Sun, July 21/12).

And how much will it cost Vancouver to be “proactive”? Just the risk assessment studies for coastal flooding, urban forest management and fresh water challenges could be $1.3 million. The “adaptation” strategy is expected to cost $84 million for the years 2012 to 2014. All these re-engineering costs can be attributed to global warming. “The climate is clearly changing,” concludes Vancouver’s study, “and, in many instances, we are observing changes at the most extreme end of the projections made a decade ago.”

And what are the expected changes? Wetter winters with a 28 percent increase in “extremely wet days” by 2050. Heavy rainfall events that occurred every 25 years will occur every 10 years. Summers will get correspondingly dryer. Temperature increases will average 1.7°C by 2050 and 2.7°C by 2080. “Extreme heat events” that occurred every 25 years will occur every 8 years. Sea level rise, difficult to predict because of so many variables, could be from 1 metre to 2 metres by 2100, a change that could cause havoc with drainage systems, wharfs, buildings, roads, waterfront facilities and low-lying residential areas.

Although inland cities do not have to contend with rising sea levels, they often have to contend with flooding rivers, and may be subjected to more extreme weather because of their continental location — Manitoba recently spent $1 billion on dikes and flood management. So multiply Vancouver’s initial “proactive” costs by the number of other cities in Canada to get a vague estimate of the hidden carbon taxes that will either be payed in prevention or repairs. Then add the rest of North America’s cities and those of the world. “Adaptation” is a term describing people’s efforts to make the best of a bad situation. Call these costs a carbon tax.

Other carbon taxes are more severe. The four people who died in BC’s Johnsons Landing mudslide on July 12, 2012, were just a few of those paying a heavy carbon tax. Unusually heavy winter snowfall and torrential rains during warm summer weather created the conditions that brought down a mountainside on their idyllic homes in the Kootenays. But floods in China, Thailand, Brazil, France, Poland, Japan, India, Australia and the Philippines in the last two years have exacted a much heavier toll.

The floods in Pakistan in 2010 drowned thousands, submerged one-fifth the country and displaced 20 million people. These floods were followed by record high temperatures of 53.5°C. Saudi Arabia had temperatures exceeding 47°C in 2010, and Mecca had rain this summer when the city was sweltering at 42.8°C — the highest temperature at which rain has ever been recorded. Russia had 172 casualties from extreme rainfall on July 7th. Britain ended an extraordinary spring drought with incessant rain. A drought is presently parching much of the US corn belt, more damage to add to the $5 billion that Texas recently lost to drought.

Climate change deserves so much attention because the impacts are pervasive and fundamental, affecting almost everything related to our security and prosperity. The science of this process is indisputably clear. More than 40 different supercomputer models consistently predict nearly identical weather outcomes for rising levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide, confirming repeatedly that the extreme weather events we have been experiencing in recent months and years are wholly consistent with the new reality we are inflicting upon ourselves. Much of this damage can be counted as carbon tax.

This tax cannot be negotiated or postponed. It is levied in accordance with the laws of physics. A rise of a single degree in temperature increases humidity by 8 percent. Humidity over oceans has already increased by 5 percent. More humid air coupled with higher temperatures transfers greater amounts of energy into storm systems and causes more extreme weather. More heat means more evaporation. Climate science requires that increasing amounts of evaporated moisture must eventually come down as precipitation. For some places, this means more droughts; for other places, this means more floods. The distribution is not based on any human notion of fairness. Nonetheless, it is a carbon tax, duly levied and dispassionately collected. Our own version would likely be less painful and more equitable — if ever the international community should find the foresight to implement one.


Carbon’s Terrifying Mathematics


Exasperation about the world’s ineffective measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions was registered clearly on August 2, 2012, when Bill McKibben, author of The End of Nature and a principle founder of the environmental movement called, published a detailed article in Rolling Stone magazine called “Global Warming’s Terrifying New Math”. As one of the most eloquent, passionate and informed spokespersons on the environmental threat of rising levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide, McKibben’s article reads like a warning and an ultimatum. To give shape to his concerns, he identifies three numbers as key reference points.

The first is 2°C. This is the maximum global temperature increase that national political leaders have decided is prudent and safe. But even with this limited increase, climatologists warn, we have a one in five chance of losing control and far exceeding this number — it’s Russian roulette, McKibben reminds us, with five chambers instead of six. He quotes Thomas Lovejoy, former World Bank’s chief biodiversity adviser, who observed, “If we’re seeing what we’re seeing today at 0.8 degrees Celsius, two degrees is simply too much.” And James Hansen, one of the world’s foremost climatologists, concurs. “The target that has been talked about in international negotiations for two degrees of warming is actually a prescription for long-term disaster.”

Newscasts now commonly carry reports of unusual droughts, heat waves, forest fires, torrential rains, floods, landslides and windstorms. As the global temperature rise approaches 0.8°C, weather anomalies are already disruptive and costly. Even with this apparently modest rise, McKibben writes, “June broke or tied 3,215 high-temperature records across the United States. That followed the warmest May on record for the Northern Hemisphere — the 327th consecutive month in which the temperature of the entire globe exceeded the 20th century average…”. The odds of this “occurring by simple chance”, he explains, is 3.7 x 10 to power of 99 — “a number considerably larger than the number of stars in the universe.” A rise of 2°C represents two and a half times this temperature increase.

The second number he asks us to note is 565 gigatons. This, scientists estimate, is the additional amount of carbon dioxide we can emit into the atmosphere before we exceed the 2°C limit. Global emissions in 2011 were 31.6 gigatons, an increase of 3.2 percent over the year before. Projections are for continued increases, the result of wholly unsuccessful efforts to reduce the global output. “In fact,” McKibben writes, “study after study predicts that carbon emissions will keep growing by roughly three percent a year — and at that rate, we’ll blow through our 565-gigaton allowance in 16 years, around the time today’s preschoolers will be graduating from high school.” A more ominous prediction comes from Fatih Birol, the International Energy Agency”s chief economist. “When I look at this data, the trend is perfectly in line with a temperature increase of about six degrees,” a situation McKibben describes as “a planet straight out of science fiction.”

The third number McKibben asks us to note is 2,795 gigatons. This is the total carbon dioxide known to be held in storage in proven reserves of oil, gas and coal around the world. These reserves are the national property of countries and the private property of corporations. The present value of these reserves is about $27 trillion, an amount that the owners expect to recover by sale and the purchasers expect to burn as fuel. Notice that this 2,795 gigatons of carbon dioxide in storage is five times larger than the allowable 565 gigatons of emissions if average global temperature increases are to be held below 2°C.

As McKibben points out, this discrepancy reveals a worrisome dilemma. If the 2°C temperature ceiling is going to be met, then 80 percent of the fossil fuels held in storage will have to remain there, unburned, at a loss of about $20 trillion in assets. In McKibben’s words, “Yes, this coal and gas and oil is still technically in the soil. But it’s already economically above ground — it’s figured into share prices, companies are borrowing money against it, nations are basing their budgets on the presumed returns from their patrimony. It explains why the big fossil-fuel companies have fought so hard to prevent the regulation of carbon dioxide — those reserves are their primary asset, the holding that gives their companies their value. It’s why they’ve worked so hard these past years to figure out how to unlock the oil in Canada’s tar sands, or how to drill miles beneath the sea, or how to frack the Appalachians.” Countries relying on royalties and corporations expecting profits will have to forego most of their income to avoid the unleashing of a “science fiction” world of excessive heat and extreme weather.

These countries and corporations are not expected to willingly constrain their extraction of fossil fuels to save the planet from the environmental consequences. Their history and performance confirm this expectation. As McKibben points out, the melting Arctic ice has merely been an incentive for countries and corporations to rush northward to find even more gas and oil. Venezuela is intending to develop the Orinoco tar sands, a site even bigger than Alberta’s reserves. Burning the oil from just these two deposits would reach the 565 gigaton limit set for holding global temperature increases below 2°C. To paraphrase Naomi Klein’s chilling words, “…wrecking the planet is their business model. It’s what they do.” The Northern Gateway, Keystone and Kinder Morgan pipelines are all North American examples of such oil promotion projects. So are the daily tankers planned for BC’s West Coast.

If a way exists through this dilemma, it’s a global carbon tax that is sufficiently large to give renewable energies a competitive advantage and to leverage petro-states and fossil-fuel corporations to leave their assets in the ground. But this will take an unprecedented act of political will — one, it seems, we are not yet ready to take.

Wind farms like this one aren't the only secret to Denmark's carbon-cutting success

Carbon 400 and How Denmark Became an Emissions Cutting Success


The level of atmospheric carbon dioxide hit a record 400 parts per million in May, 2012, a milestone that should send a chill of concern through anyone who is remotely concerned about the disturbing ramifications of global warming. Little solace should come from the fact that this concentration of greenhouse gas was only reached in the Arctic regions of Alaska, Iceland, Norway, Greenland and Mongolia, and will dip slightly as plants in the Northern Hemisphere absorbs some of it during the summer months of growth.

As for the rest of the planet, however, levels have risen during the last year from 391 to 395 ppm, up from the pre-industrial reference number of 280 ppm. We are now at the highest known concentration in at least 800,000 years, according to scientists at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Earth System Research Lab in Boulder, Colorado. The rest of the planet will probably reach the 400 ppm milestone within two years as carbon dioxide concentrations increase and equalize. The NOAA reports that the decade from 2000 to 2009 was the warmest ever recorded in human history. Meanwhile, the International Energy Agency recently announced that global carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuels in 2011 hit a record high of 34.8 billion tonnes, up 3.2 percent from 2010.

For those who are counting carbon, these numbers are dismaying because they are the definitive indicators of how poorly humanity is collectively addressing the climate change issue. Normal weather, reliable food production, community safety, political stability and almost everything environmental is linked directly or indirectly to these carbon dioxide levels. Efforts to date are not even slowing the increase in atmospheric CO2, let alone reducing the concentrations to the 350 ppm considered safe for stable climate conditions.

The exasperating element in this whole sorry process is that we know how to fix the problem and we have enough of the technology to do it. All we lack is the political will.

As models of contrast, Canada is an example of dismal procrastination and denial while Denmark represents exemplary and pragmatic effort. Instead of reducing emissions from the 1990 reference level and despite its pledge to do so, Canada has increased its emissions by 30 percent and is not even expected to reach its diluted 2020 target. In contrast, Denmark’s emissions are now 13 percent below its 1990 levels and the country is taking a leading role in wind technology, energy efficiencies and functional solutions. Canada’s failure to act is a powerful factor in the cynical and gloomy mood pervading the country — the only real antidote for pessimism is to acknowledge a problem and confront it with constructive effort.

Jeff Rubin, who left the CIBC bank as its chief economist for World Markets to analyze the direction of future socio-economic structure in an age of rising energy costs, has included Denmark’s success in his latest book, The End of Growth. How is this country accomplishing what Canada is not? The answer is surprising and obvious.

Denmark is thought of as the “wind technology capital of the world”. Indeed, it may be. But its thousands of huge turbines produce only 20 percent of its power. The rest comes from coal. Yes, coal, the fossil fuel that is 20 percent dirtier than oil and twice as polluting as natural gas. Granted, the coal is combusted in state-of-the-art facilities and the excess heat is used to warm buildings. But that’s not how Denmark’s has accomplished what Canada cannot — or will not.

Denmark’s secret, according to Rubin, is carbon taxes. The simple pressure of price on carbon dioxide-emitting goods and services induces Danes to reduce electricity consumption, to buy small cars, to build efficient houses, to bicycle, to favour local over imported food, and to shop for low-carbon products. Amazing. And the money raised goes to increasing efficiencies that further reduce carbon emissions. This little country has found a solution that is elegant, practical and effective, one that must lift a heavy moral weight from the Danish conscience and replace the load of guilt with an immense national pride — very unlike Canadians who live with a shameful international reputation darkened by the stigma of being a global environmental laggard and pariah.

For Canada, the carbon tax solution has been recommended multiple times by the government’s own National Roundtable On the Economy and Environment, an organization created in 1988 precisely for the purpose of finding common agreement between seemingly opposing interests. It was founded on the principle that “a modern economy” and “a sustainable environment” are “mutually reinforcing.” And this is one of the organizations, along with important climate science, that the Harper government is eliminating as superfluous.

If a government intends to deny the facts of science and repudiate the relationship between economics and the environment, then an image is emerging of leadership wholly disconnected from fundamental realities. All that remains for Canadians is bewilderment, exasperation and the haunting suspicion that their future is being charted by an ideology that is incomprehensible, myopic and ominous.