Memo to the new Environment Minister

With a government as centrally controlled as our federal government, one has to wonder why the media make such a fuss covering cabinet shuffles. Peter Kent may be the new Environment Minister, but the message box is still from the Prime Minister’s Office. So it was not much surprise to  see our new Environment Minister touting the same old lines as his predecessors. I like this one, as covered by the Globe:

“Our focus for the next several years is going to continue to be on maintaining the economic recovery and we will do nothing in the short term which would unnecessarily compromise or threaten to compromise that recovery,” Mr. Kent said in an interview. “It is not our intention to discourage development of one of our great natural resources. We know it can be developed responsibly.”

I hope one day Peter Kent will have to look his grandkids in the face and tell them how, confronted with overwhelming scientific evidence about climate change, he took his turn as Environment Minister to do precisely nothing about the problem.

Now, as fortune would have it, Statscan just released its Energy Statistics Handbook for the Third Quarter of 2010. So I decided to compile some of the information therein for the benefit of Mr Kent. I’m taking the numbers for Canadian fossil fuel production and exports, and converting them into millions of tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions. This is a first cut at a national version of a BC-oriented Climate Justice Project publication called Peddling GHGs, mostly aimed at getting a better handle on the environmental impact of our fossil fuel exports.

The standard methodology for counting Canada’s GHG emissions includes the emissions associated with getting fossil fuels out of the ground, and anything combusted domestically (in cars, homes, industry and electricity-generating plants), though not exports. But Canada is not just addicted to fossil fuels, we are a major dealer. In 2009, the value of Canadian exports of fossil fuels was north of $360 billion, and that was a drop from closer to $430 billion the year before.

Just counting the embodied emissions in fossil fuels ripped from Canadian soil (interestingly, called withdrawals), in 2009 we extracted gunk worth almost one billion tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent. That is a fair bit more than our official total for GHG emissions, precisely because of exports, which total just under 600 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent. Here is how things break down in terms of extraction and exports:

Embodied GHGs, 2009
Mt CO2e
Withdrawals Exports
Crude Oil 429.8 296.8
Petroleum Products 64.9
Natural Gas 386.7 184.8
Coal 122.0 52.0
Total 938.5 598.6

Note: there is no withdrawal figure for refined petroleum products because those are already counted under crude oil. We also import fossil fuels for domestic purposes, though Canada is a major net exporter overall.

When I look at these numbers, I wonder what Kent could possibly mean by responsible development. The only responsible development is to leave these fossil fuels in the ground, and start to fund green infrastructure like public transit, energy efficiency upgrades and renewable energy alternatives. Per dollar of investment these areas would also create ten times the jobs as investments in fossil fuel extraction.

And as a bonus, Peter Kent could look his grandkids in the face and tell them about the courage he showed to clean up our environmental mess.

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