Submission to Northern Gateway pipeline review panel

Others have eloquently addressed the environmental damage that will be caused by continued extraction from the tar sands. I will not repeat them here, although I believe they are very serious. However, the effects of most of these issues are limited geographically and demographically, whereas the other consequence -- climate change -- is global. I submit the comments that follow to explain why I believe the approval of the Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline would increase Canada’s already excessive contribution to global climate change.

Canadian Interfaith Call for Leadership and Action on Climate Change (October 2011) stated “We believe all nations need to adopt energy policies that result in actual emission reductions to a fair and safe global level.”

According to the 2011 International Energy Agency (IEA) report (derived from numbers reported for the year 2009), worldwide yearly CO2-eq emissions (CO2-eq includes additional greenhouse gases) were 4 tonnes per-capita. Canada contributed 15 tonnes per-capita. Canada’s emissions are the third highest for individual countries and nearly four times the global average.

Emissions exported  by Canada are not included in the numbers reported to the UNFCCC as  required international agreements. Canada exports significantly more emissions than it generates domestically -- 1.15 times as much. In addition, over one quarter of all emissions within Canada result from extracting and processing fossil fuels for export. If we include these, over 60% of our fossil fuel emissions are either exported, or caused by exports.

There are two ways that we can measure GHG emissions. One is the flow rate, the equivalent of water flowing from a faucet into a bathtub. The other is the cumulative amount - the amount of water in the bathtub. In addition, bathtubs have a drain. For emissions, the drain is referred to as a sink. If water flows into a bathtub at the same rate as it flows out (of the drain) the level of water remains constant. In discussing GHG emissions, the rate is usually measured in Mega tonnes (Mt) per year. The level is measured in parts per million (ppm.) Forests and oceans are sinks in that they remove greenhouse gases from the atmosphere. Unfortunately many of these sinks are being damaged by global warming.

In their 2007 Assessment Report, the IPCC suggested that the rate of emissions should be 10-40% below 1990 levels by 2020 and 40-95% by 2050): “Under regime designs for low and medium concentration stabilization levels (i.e. 450 and 550 ppm CO2-eq; GHG emissions from developed countries would need to be reduced substantially during this century. For low and medium stabilization levels, developed countries as a group would need to reduce their emissions to below 1990 levels in 2020 (on the order of –10% to 40% below 1990 levels for most of the considered regimes) and to still lower levels by 2050 (40% to 95% below 1990 levels), even if developing countries make substantial reductions.”

IPCC estimates are conservative since they are formed by the consensus of climate scientists from member countries. The above estimates are based on the outdated assumption that 450 ppm is a safe level, whereas NASA scientist James Hansen has calculated that we must return to below 350 ppm to have any chance of avoiding catastrophic climate change. (Pre-industrial levels were 280 ppm.) At present, atmospheric CO2-eq concentration is around 395 ppm and increasing by around 2-3 ppm per year.

According to an article in Nature Climate Change, University of Victoria scientists, Swart and Weaver, write that  “To have a 66% chance of limiting warming to less than the 2 °C limit put forth in the 2009 Copenhagen Accord, one carbon–climate modelling study estimated that total future global carbon emissions should be limited to less than 5.9×1017 g C [grams of Carbon]. If this amount were to be distributed equally among the current global population, the resulting allowable per capita cumulative carbon footprint would be 85 tonnes of carbon. The eventual construction of the Keystone XL pipeline would signify a North American commitment to using the Alberta oil-sand reserve, which carries with it a corresponding carbon footprint. For comparison, by fully using only the proven reserves of the Alberta oil sands, the current populations of the United States and Canada would achieve a per capita cumulative carbon footprint of 64 tonnes of carbon.”  If we include other sources of emissions, such as from agriculture, we are way over the 85 tonne limit. [Swart and Weaver report emissions in tonnes of carbon; carbon dioxide is 3.67 times heavier than carbon so 64 tonnes of carbon is the equivalent of 235 tonnes of carbon dioxide.]

Swart and Weaver conclude: “If North American and international policymakers wish to limit global warming to less than 2 °C they will clearly need to put in place measures that ensure a rapid transition of global energy systems to non-greenhouse-gas-emitting sources, while avoiding commitments to new infrastructure supporting dependence on fossil fuels.

For Enbridge to recover construction costs and make a healthy profit, they will need to operate the pipeline for at least 25 years, which would be a suicidal commitment to new infrastructure supporting dependence on fossil fuels.

Not stated in the above discussion is that most credible climate models have calculated that keeping temperature rise to less than 1.5C (not 2C) is essential to avoid potential runaway (irreversible) warming. We are already experiencing dramatic extreme weather worldwide, resulting in adverse impacts on food production and ever increasing human suffering. In addition, recent research has suggested that the Arctic could be completely ice-free by 2015, decades sooner than predicted only a few years ago. An ice-free arctic is one of the feedbacks that accelerates global warming -- due to the fact that dark water absorbs heat, while ice reflects it.

At a meeting in Copenhagen, one of the world’s most influential climate scientists, Schellnhuber of the Potsdam Institute, argued that if climate change continued unchecked, the carrying capacity of the planet would plummet from the present seven billion inhabitants to one billion. Many estimates warn that over 50% of all species on Earth could go extinct.

Some argue that Carbon Capture and Storage will solve the problem by storing carbon in empty saline aquifers. But this technology has never been demonstrated to work on a large enough scale to sequester the emissions from the oil sands, let alone all other sources of GHGs.
Further, oil sands extraction devastates boreal forests, which are a major carbon sink. This sink is what led to the Harper government to claim a 25Mt/year forestation (LULUCF) credit in a recent report by Environment Canada and in-situ extraction, which could ameliorate this damage, generates even more emissions than mining.

Estimates published by Environment Canada in the “2012 National Inventory Report 1990-2010: Greenhouse Gas Sources and Sinks in Canada” show that Canada's emissions in 2010 were 692 Mt/year, which is 85 Mt/year higher than our Copenhagen target (607 Mt/year by 2020), and predict that by 2012 our emissions will be 720 Mt/year.

Compare this with our Kyoto pledge to reduce our emissions by 6% below our 1990 levels (which were  592 Mt/year) by 2012 (resulting in a target of 559 Mt/year over the 5 year commitment period of 2008-2012).

The European Union has set a target of 20% below 1990 by 2020. If we were to have an equivalent target, we would have to reduce our emissions to 473 Mt/year by 2020.

Approval of the Northern Gateway pipeline would make it impossible for Canada to meet its totally inadequate emission reduction targets and set a terrible example to the rest of the world.