GreenPeace’s recent protest of scaling the walls of Parliament Hill to protest green house gas (GHG) emissions from the tar sands was certainly well-intentioned. GHG emissions in Canada have been steadily increasing ever since Canada signed the Kyoto Accord. The following chart from Environment Canada makes it painfully clear that
- GHG emissions in Canada have been steadily climbing since 1983.
- GHG-Intensity is a false metric for tracking GHG emissions.
- There is a strong correlation between energy usage and GHG in Canada.
But are is Oil Sand mining the biggest source of the problem? Not by a long shot.
Environment Canada compiles an inventory of GHG emissions every year. Since this takes them a while to add up, the most recent data available is for 2007. A quick scan through this data with a calculator reveals that the top 3 sources of GHG emissions come from:
- Transportation (cars, trucks, planes) at 200 Mega Tonnes
- Mining, Oil & Gas, extraction and processing at 158 Mega Tonnes
- Electricity & Heat generation at 126 MegaTonnes
(1) and (3) are not surprising considering that Canada is the largest country in the world with a sparse population living in one of the coldest regions on our planet. GreenPeace would have us believe that (2) is because of the Oil Sands, but only 18% of these emissions actually come from Oil Sands extraction and processing.
In fact, according to Environment Canada’s GHG Inventory. over twice this amount (41% of mining, oil & gas industry emissions) comes from “fugitive” emissions that are caused by gas escaping from traditional oil & gas extraction through flaring, venting, burn-offs, leakage, etc. Better engineering and less carelessness by roughnecks out in the bush would go twice as far in protecting our environment than targetting the oil sands industry.
Our #1 problem, transportation, breaks down almost evenly between personal use (87 Mt) and trucking-related (81 Mt) with aviation, railways and marine use mopping up the remaining (32 Mt). More aggressive standards on fuel-related emissions and greater incentives for using electric/hybrid, clean diesel, and alternative fuel vehicles would have made it easy for Canada to live up to its Kyoto promises.
However, digging into the contributors for Electricity production reveals that there are 2 companies that EACH produce more GHG than all of the oil sands producers put together!
The environmental watchdog, Corporate Knights, is a well-respected and independent publication that publishes an annual list of the best and worst companies as measured by their environmental practices. Their most recent Carbon 50 report, reveals that two corporations,
- TransAlta and
- Ontario Power Generation,
EACH emit as much GHG as the entire oil sands industry.
Although both these polluters have plans to clean up their act, these plans are being measured using an Intensity-Based metric of Total Pollution / Total Electricity Produced.
Using this metric (which was originated by the Harper & Bush administrations to avoid accountability on climate change), it is OK to increase pollution as long as you also increase the amount of electricity generated. This enables the polluter to make faint progress, maximize public relations, and avoid accoutability.
We need to reject the intensity-based lie by refusing to allow politicians and corporations to hide behind it. Mr. Bush is now a historical figure and Mr. Harper recently flip-flopped and is no longer using it, but we also need to hold corporate Canada accountable too.
TransAlta (TA) is Canada’s largest investor owned electric power producer, producing 55% of its current 8.8 GW output from GHG-emitting, coal-fired power plants. Despite their corporate rhetoric about investing in green replacement sources, according to their investor information, TA has more coal-fired new production (271 MW) under near-term construction than renewable wind or hydro production (153 MW).
In fact, even after bringing a further 692 MW of renewable energy online by 2013, only 24% of TA’s electrical production will be from renewable energy sources.
One of the reasons for their wimpy plan is that TA has failed to include GHG reduction as a corporate key performance metric. TA has adopted non-finanical key performance measures such as Availability and Safety but not GHG reduction. Sadly, TA’s annual report measures future progress (page 58) using GHG Intensity metrics as if they are useful metrics. As a result, their executives can pocket bonus compensation while continuing to pollute our air.
Clearly TA’s leadership needs to hear from their green-minded investors that how they make money is just as important has how much money they make!! Mr. Gordon Giffin is the Board member who Chairs the Governance & Environment Committee of the Board.
Ontario Power Generation (OPG) is Canada’s largest government-owned electricity producer, producing 22% of its 21.7 GW from GHG-emitting gas and coal sources. OPG has established a target of zero production from coal by 2014 but also uses an intensity-based metric to measure progress.
This enables OPG to crow about a 2% reduction per GWhr while pumping out 28.4 Mt of GHG in 2007 – more than the entire oil sands industry. Under OPG’s flimsy plan, their zero-coal target can be acheived by replacing coal-sourced power with gas-sourced power. Since fewer GHG are produced by gas than coal, their intensity-based metric will show a reduction while total GHG pollution continues to increase.
OPG’s public relations also fail to come clean on the fact that OPG’s “renewable” power sources are actually dominated by nuclear power production which is neither green nor a renewable resource. While nuclear is “clean” from a GHG perspective, only 26% of the 21 GW produced in Ontario in August 2009 was from renewable and green sources.
OPG gets its marching orders from Mr. Gerry Phillips, Ontario’s Minister of Energy. I’m sure he’d like to hear from you.