Competition Bureau Canada has opened an investigation into allegations that the Canadian Gas Association is greenwashing fossil methane as clean, following a C$10-million complaint filed in September by the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment (CAPE).
The bureau confirmed the decision November 4 in a two-paragraph letter [pdf] to Dr. Leah Temper, director of CAPE’s fossil fuel ad ban campaign.
CAPE’s complaint asserts that it’s false and misleading of the Gas Association to represent “natural” gas as “clean”. With proper emissions accounting, “‘natural’ gas has comparable greenhouse gas emissions to coal, in part because methane, the main ingredient in ‘natural’ gas, has up to 80 times the climate-warming potential of carbon dioxide,” the doctors say in a release. “The extraction and production of gas also pollutes the air and contaminates water sources.”
CAPE also cites a 2022 heat pump study by Natural Resources Canada to counter the CGA’s claim that methane gas is cheaper than other home energy options.
“In a year where millions of people across the planet have been displaced, sickened, and killed by extreme weather events, it is unconscionable for the fossil fuel industry to continue to greenwash its deadly products and drive consumer demand for fossil fuels that harm our health,” said CAPE President-Elect Dr. Melissa Lem. “As the world converges for COP 27, decision-makers and regulators in Canada and beyond must step up to end corporate greenwashing.”
While the CGA case and a recent probe into alleged false advertising by the Royal Bank of Canada show the Competition Bureau increasing its scrutiny of climate-related claims, “broader regulation is necessary to tackle the scale of this problem,” the CAPE release states. Rather than expecting the public to play “whack-a-mole” by filing complaints as they see problems arise, the doctors say federal rules could take inspiration from measures like an anti-greenwashing law in the European Union, a ban on environmental messaging in car ads in Norway, and a requirement in France to document all claims of carbon neutrality.
They also cite this week’s report of a UN expert group chaired by former federal climate minister Catherine McKenna, which set out to “prevent net-zero from being undermined by false claims, ambiguity, and ‘greenwash.’”
Closer to home, Temper cited Canada’s own strict limits on tobacco advertising as an “inspiring precedent” for the way fossil industry claims should be treated.
“Just like cigarette smoking, fossil fuels have significant health impacts: air pollution from the burning of fossil fuels is one of the leading causes of premature mortality in Canada, and children who live in homes with gas stoves have similar risk of asthma as children living with a smoker,” she said. “Fossil fuels also cause climate change, which affects the health of Canadians through heat waves, food insecurity, respiratory problems from wildfire smoke, increased infectious diseases from pests, disruptions to health care infrastructure and services, and more.”