We Are Being Misled by Our MPs
The government of our country must be held to account by our Members of Parliament. On the most important issues, our Members of Parliament must speak with absolute candour and be guided by conscience. On the grave issue of climate change, now become the rapidly unfolding peril of climate breakdown, their duty is not to betray our children.
During the past fifteen months, the Trudeau Government has three times announced with much fanfare new emissions reductions targets and promises for 2030 and for 2050. At the same time, on November 24, 2020, and most recently on December 9, 2021, the government has quietly published ambitious new scenarios promising major increases in Canada’s oil production to 2030 and 2050. The two ambitions are incompatible.
Multiple studies in the past year have warned of the danger of continuing to expand Canada’s oil production. The leading study is a report by the International Energy Agency (IEA) released on May 18, 2021, called Net-Zero by 2050: A Roadmap for the Global Energy Sector. To have a realistic chance of keeping the increased warming of the earth’s atmosphere to less than 1.5°C, global oil production must decline 25% by 2030, 50% below the 2019 level by 2040 and further decline 75% below the 2019 level by 2050. The UN Production Gap Report on October 20, 2021, informs us that the world’s major oil producers (including Canada) are currently planning to produce 30 million to 40 million bpd more oil by 2030 than would be consistent with the 1.5°C pathway.
Yet, with a handful of exceptions (count them on one hand), none of our elected Members of Parliament in any of the three large cross-Canada parties* (Liberal, Conservative, and NDP Party) will talk about the catastrophic implications of our increasing oil production.
On October 27, 2021, the day after his appointment as Environment Minister, Steven Guilbeault was asked about the oil and gas sector. He responded: “We are not trying to cap production. We will be capping the amount of pollution that comes from those sectors.”
Canada’s emissions reduction promises
On November 19, 2020, The Liberal Government declared that Canada would reach “Net-Zero Emissions by 2050”. A new set of emissions reduction numbers was released on December 11, 2020, when the government published a 70-page booklet entitled A Healthy Environment and a Healthy Economy. It claimed that Canada’s annual level of emissions would be reduced to 503 Mt by 2030. That would represent a 31% cut below the 2005 level.
An accompanying 9-page supplementary “Annex” document released by the government on December 11, 2020, provided us with some detailed quantitative information about how the 503 Mt target will be achieved. That is the most up to date information so far available to Canadian citizens that tells us where, in terms of Canada’s national emissions, we might be headed by 2030.
Four months later, on April 22, 2021, the Trudeau Government announced another reduction target for Canada by 2030. The new promise is a 40% to 45% cut in our domestic emissions within the next nine years. A 45% reduction would reduce our total emissions to 401 Mt (down from 730 Mt in 2019).
But when it announced the new goal in April 2021, the government did not provide any details of how the new goal might be achieved. Key details would include a breakdown showing the projected emissions by 2030 in each of Canada’s seven major economic sectors (i.e., oil and gas, transportation, heavy industry, buildings, etc.). Without information about the “sectoral emissions”, the April announcement provides us with no effective way to assess the plausibility of achieving a 40% or 45% reduction.
The 40% to 45% reduction targets are entirely unsubstantiated. When Parliament approved the Canadian Net-Zero Emissions Accountability Act (Bill C-12) on June 30, 2021, the government gave itself until December 31, 2021, to reveal details of the new 40-45% reduction targets for 2030, with a proviso that allowed it to extend that deadline for a further 3 months. The deadline has now been extended to March 31, 2022.
We are now waiting to see the plan. Our emissions situation is grave.
The December 11, 2020 “Annex” document includes a projection of Canada’s emissions to 2030, which purports to count the benefits of “the impacts of all the currently announced initiatives”, which means all the various new emissions reduction plans (“initiatives”) described in the A Healthy Economy and Healthy Environment document. This new forecast is called the “With Initiatives scenario”:
The emissions numbers shown for 2005 to 2018 are the historical data, setting out Canada’s actual emissions over that period. The columns on the right give us the government’s emissions projections for 2030. The first column on the right shows the “Reference Case” projection for each sector. The Reference Case gives us the expected outcome by 2030 based on Canada’s existing policies, counting the benefit of all carbon-reduction policies already implemented by the Federal government and provincial governments but assuming no additional measures will be implemented and come into effect. Based on the Reference Case, Canada’s total emissions by 2030 are expected to be 657 Mt.
The most significant new information that was published on December 11, 2020, is shown in the second column on the right. It shows the new projections for 2030 based on “the impacts of all the currently announced initiatives”. This scenario assumes they will all be fully and successfully implemented. The government’s promise was that they will reduce our total emissions to 503 Mt.
The above data reveals the extreme difficulties we face in achieving any deep cuts by 2030. The transportation sector, Canada’s second largest emitting sector, is expected (even with the benefit of all the new climate policy “initiatives” announced on December 11, 2020) to achieve only a 6% reduction by 2030, below the 2005 level. Agriculture shows no reduction at all below 2005. And while the emissions reductions in the electricity sector by 2030 are impressive (declining from 64 Mt down to a projected 11 Mt by 2030 under the “with initiatives” scenario), it is clear that once the new “initiatives” are fully implemented we will have exhausted the prospects of obtaining any additional deep cuts from the electricity sector.
In the case of the oil and gas sector, the Reference Case released on December 11, 2020, projects that emissions will decline to 194 Mt by 2030. But after counting the benefits of promised new “announced initiatives”, the government’s bold new claim is that oil and gas sector emissions will be further reduced to 138 Mt by 2030, a 56 Mt reduction.
Compared to other government data publicly released over the past seven years, this promised 56 Mt reduction of oil and gas emissions down to 138 Mt by 2030 has no precedent. The record of the past 30 years, and especially since 2005, has conclusively shown that rising oil sands production has been accompanied by rising overall emissions.
No analysis is provided in the Annex or in the Healthy Economy document that allows us to see how this 56 Mt reduction can be achieved. The Annex document simply gives us the newly promised oil and gas emissions number for 2030 (138 Mt) without any analysis of what specific new policies or technologies explain this large reduction. One sentence in the Annex contains a very brief reference about “strengthening methane regulations”. Additional methane reductions cannot explain the 56 Mt reduction in the oil and gas sector.
Even if the full amount of the promised 56 Mt reduction in oil and gas sector emissions by 2030 is feasible, that will only help reduce Canada’s total emissions down to 503 Mt. The needed reductions to get to the 401 Mt target cannot be found without much deeper and rapid cuts in the emissions released by the oil and gas sector. It appears that the government’s main plan to curb and cut emissions in the oil and gas sector rests on Carbon Capture, Utilization, and Storage (CCUS) technology. The Annex document accompanying the government’s Healthy Environment and a Healthy Economy brochure on December 11, 2020, mentions “carbon capture utilization and storage” in a discussion about “promising decarbonization technologies”. But it offers no estimate of the share of the promised 56 Mt reduction that might be achieved by CCUS before 2030. The Canada’s Energy Future 2020 report also contains numerous references extolling the future potential of CCUS technology. But neither source provides any quantitative details about deploying CCUS in the oil sands, or any details about the magnitude of potential reductions by CCUS that could be obtained within the next eight or nine years, or about the enormous economic costs (the oil industry, in interviews with the financial press, says about $30 billion to 2030 and $75 billion to 2050). The economic viability of CCUS has never been proven in any large-scale deployment anywhere in the world.
“We are not going to talk about production”
But most troubling of all is that even if CCUS could be deployed on a massive scale in Canada’s oil sands industry, the rationale justifying this plan is that it will enable us to reduce the level of emissions during the oil sands extraction process in Canada (“upstream emissions”) while allowing us to continue increasing Canada’s oil production for another 10 or 20 years. We will “cap” the emissions from the extraction process but continue to grow the volume of our oil production. The oil industry and our politicians claim we are going to achieve “net-zero oil sands production” by 2050. That claim is misleading, because it conceals the essential fact that even if CCUS were to be installed at every oil production site in Canada, 85% of the emissions from every barrel of bitumen we produce will still be released into the atmosphere when the product is exported to foreign markets, refined, and burned as fuel (those are our “downstream emissions”). The share of the emissions (the upstream emissions) that are supposed to be captured by CCUS are less than 15% of the total.
Neither the Healthy Environment and a Healthy Economy report released by the Liberal Government on December 11, 2020, (widely distributed by Liberal MPs during the Federal election campaign) nor the Canada Energy Regulator’s (CER) annual Canada’s Energy Future reports (most recently December 9, 2021) documenting the projected growth of Canada’s oil and gas industry to 2050 discuss the incompatibility between the ongoing increase of our oil sands production and the overwhelming scientific evidence that affirms the need for deep cuts in global oil production by 2030.
Even the government’s appointed eleven-person Net-Zero Advisory Body appears to have decided that it will not consider, and it will not recommend, that there is any need for a cap on Canada’s oil production when it provides its policy “advice” to the government. On February 9, 2022, Dan Wicklum, the Advisory Body’s Co-chair, repeatedly assured the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Natural Resources that “we (the Advisory Body) do not have an opinion on that”; “we are not going to talk about production”; and “that is not our mandate”.** If our Members of Parliament, and the Minister of the Environment, and the government’s Advisory Body, and the government’s own energy agency (the CER) are not prepared to speak honestly and candidly about the emissions implications of continuing to increase our oil production, we are in great danger.
We filed a submission to the government’s appointed Net-Zero Advisory Body on December 20, 2021, that sets out the sources and details of the evidence referred to above.
Click the yellow button to get our discussion paper (opens as a PDF in your browser).
* Among the political parties with substantial numbers of elected members in the House of Commons, only the Bloc Québécois (with 32 Members of Parliament elected from constituencies in Quebec) has through the participation of its MPs in Parliament and in Parliamentary Committees consistently, explicitly, and forcefully addressed the incompatibility between the Federal Government’s emissions reduction promises and plans to continue increasing Canada’s oil production.
** The Net-Zero Advisory Body was established pursuant to s. 20 of the Canadian Net-Zero Emissions Accountability Act (Bill C-12) with a mandate to “provide the Minister with independent advice with respect to achieving net-zero emissions by 2050’, including advice on greenhouse gas emissions reduction plans”.