Exports and Greenhouse-Gas Emissions

Today, Statistics Canada released a very interesting study on the economic demand that is driving greenhouse-gas emissions. Between 1990 and 2002, exports outstripped Canadians’ personal expenditure as the leading source of Canada’s industrial emissions. Indeed, exports accounted for essentially all of the increase in these emissions.

Canadian Industrial Emissions (in megatons)

Final-Demand Category

1990

2002

Exports

176.4

264.4

Personal Expenditure

196.2

209.8

Other Internal Demand

112.1

99.7

Total

484.6

573.8

Of course, personal expenditure also generates non-industrial emissions. To fuel their vehicles and heat their homes, Canadians directly emitted a further 96.9 megatons in 1990 and 111.3 megatons in 2002. Imported goods consumed by Canadians implied emissions in other countries of 90 megatons in 1990 and 105 megatons in 2002. Nevertheless, exports are responsible for most of the total increase in emissions.

This study could lead to two potentially conflicting conclusions. First, we need more than “one-ton challenges” designed to encourage Canadians to change their individual behaviour. Reversing the increase in Canada’s emissions requires concentrating on the big industrial emitters who are largely producing for foreign markets.

Second, some might conclude that Canada’s environmental record is not as bad as it seems. The problem is not so much that Canadians are consuming more carbon-intensive goods, but that the rest of world is. The 264 megatons arising from Canada’s exports might be attributed to foreign consumers rather than to Canadians. However, in this view, Canadians would have to assume responsibility for the 105 megatons arising from our imports.

Statistics Canada also provides a breakdown of export emissions by sector, which I summarize as follows:

Canada’s Export Emissions (in megatons)

Sector

1990

2002

Fossil Fuels

36.7

74.8

Agricultural and Forest Products

52.3

66.9

Everything Else

87.4

122.7

Total

176.4

264.4

While fossil-fuel exports account for a significant share of the increase, I am struck by how many of the emissions come from the rest of Canada’s exports. Of course, the oil sands have expanded rapidly since 2002 and it would be interesting to see these figures for a more recent year. I suspect that fossil-fuel exports now loom much larger. Nevertheless, these figures provide an important reminder that fossil fuels are burned in producing and transporting everything else, so the oil patch itself is not the only problem.

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