With a new report expected to reveal a massive increase in global oil pipeline construction, an analyst says Canada is running counter to public opinion and wider international trends by adding to the problem.
The global pipeline buildout, documented by Global Energy Monitor (GEM) in an analysis to be released at midnight tonight, runs counter to the International Energy Agency’s call last year for no new oil, gas, or coal projects to hold average global warming to 1.5°C. And it flouts carbon budget analysis by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change showing that global emissions must peak by 2025 to keep any hope of 1.5°C alive.
Last week, a new database released by GEM and the Carbon Tracker Initiative showed that fossils around the world hold enough proven reserves of oil, gas, and coal to “emit more planet-heating emissions than have occurred since the industrial revolution, easily blowing the remaining carbon budget before societies are subjected to catastrophic global heating,” the Guardian reported. “You’ve got governments issuing new licences or permits for coal that are completely decoupled from their own climate commitments,” said Carbon Tracker founder Mark Campanale.
And when it comes to pipelines, Canada is doing its part to make a dire situation worse, said Julia Levin, national climate policy manager at Environmental Defence Canada.
Even as the federal government seeks public comment on a new oil and gas emissions cap—with comments due by this Friday—“Canada is still heavily invested in new fossil fuel infrastructure that allows not just ongoing production, but expansion of the sector,” Levin told The Energy Mix last week. “New pipelines are just fundamentally incompatible with what we need to do to tackle the climate crisis, and we continue to drive in the opposite direction.”
With memories of last year’s devastating heat dome and flooding still fresh in British Columbia, and Atlantic Canada beginning to pick up the pieces after Hurricane Fiona, the only possible conclusion is that “the government is set on failing” to meet its climate commitments, she said.
Levin cited the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion—a project whose “out-of-control” budget has hit C$21.4 billion, is on track to lose money, but is still receiving lavish support from a federal government that bought it with taxpayers’ money—as the most obvious example.
“It has tremendous climate implications, upwards of 90 megatonnes a year, the equivalent of 20 million cars or 24 coal plants,” Levin said. “It’s a carbon bomb that we’re going forward with, at a time when we know we can’t have any new oil and gas projects.”
Levin added that the $26 billion Canada has sunk into Trans Mountain would have paid for all the country’s major solar and wind projects between 2019 and 2021—five times over.
“We know the energy transition is happening quickly, that the demand for oil will fall drastically over the next decade,” she said. “It has to fall by 75% in order to make sure we have a planet on which we can survive and thrive.”
And as demand dries up, “Canada is the second-most carbon-intensive oil producer in the world, has very expensive oil, and we get left behind first. So the risk is not just the climate risk. The risk is that these projects become stranded assets before they’re even built.”
Levin pointed to two news items last week—Vanuatu becoming the first country to endorse the Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty, and a new poll showing that nearly seven in 10 Canadians support an oil and gas emissions cap—to argue that Canada needs the stability of a managed withdrawal from fossil fuels as the country’s biggest source of greenhouse gas emissions.
“We need a predictable pathway for communities, for workers, for industry, and this is the first time we have policy tool that will implement that pathway,” she said. An emissions cap “is a great opportunity to let us do the planning, and with that trajectory we’ll be able to see which facilities have to come offline first.”
Levin was referring to an Abacus poll for Climate Action Network-Canada that showed 69% supporting an emissions cap to “ensure the oil and gas industry takes on its fair share of climate action,” with only 16% disagreeing. The poll found support margins of 72% in B.C., 74% in Quebec, 77% in Atlantic Canada, 68% among people aged 18 to 29, 74% for those aged 60 and over, and 81 to 88% among supporters of the Liberals, New Democrats, and Bloc Québécois, CAN-Rac said in a release last week.
“Right now, oil and gas executives are raking in windfall profits, as families across Canada struggle to make ends meet because of fossilflation,” said CAN-Rac National Policy Director Caroline Brouillette. “This industry is perfectly positioned to invest in curbing their emissions. For the industry to try to escape responsibility and continue polluting without limit is an insult to the Canadians from coast to coast suffering from flooding damage and wildfires, smoky air, and heat exhaustion.”