In the climate change hypocrisy sweepstakes, it’s hard to beat Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. But he sure talks a good game.
Climate change is a clear and present danger, he says. Left unchecked, it will have dire consequences for the environment, the global economy and humanity itself. In late 2015, just before he enthusiastically endorsed the Paris climate change accord, Trudeau said: “The atmosphere doesn’t care where carbon is emitted. It requires us to take action all around the world.”
In came plans for a carbon tax, which is now being imposed on any province without its own emissions pricing. The tax will start next year at $20 for every tonne of greenhouse gas emissions and will raise fuel prices, but it is designed to be revenue neutral. Canadians will receive rebates (the average Ontario family would get about $300 a year). So far, so good. But now look at what’s happening.
Less than a year after Canada endorsed the Paris deal, the federal government approved Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain pipeline expansion. The pipeline connects Alberta to the British Columbia coast and would give the oil sands, one of the world’s most carbon-intensive energy projects, a vast new market in Asia.
Last spring, when a regulatory war between Alberta and B.C. put the pipeline into deep-freeze, Kinder Morgan abandoned the project. To keep it alive, the Trudeau Liberals spent $4.5 billion of taxpayers' money to nationalize it. They also approved the Enbridge Line 3 crude oil pipeline, from Alberta to Wisconsin. “I’ve said many times that there isn’t a country in the world that would find billions of barrels of oil and leave it in the ground while there is a market for it,” Trudeau said.
In yet another Jekyll-and-Hyde moment in Trudeau’s initiatives on the climate file, he came out in support of the $40-billion LNG Canada project in October. Owned by a consortium of oil and gas companies led by Royal Dutch Shell, the project will take gas from the Montney fields on the Alberta—B.C. border and send it by pipeline to a terminal near Kitimat, B.C., where it will be turned into liquefied natural gas (LNG) and shipped to Asia.
LNG Canada is a carbon hog. It is also incompatible with B.C.'s carbon-reduction targets and Canada’s ostensible enthusiasm to meet the Paris agreement objectives, which seek to limit average global temperature increases to 1.5 C over pre-industrial levels.
Thanks to a carbon tax that is held up as a worldwide gold standard, B.C. was making credible progress in reducing emissions from all sources. In 2015, emissions were equivalent to 61.6 million tonnes of carbon dioxide, down 4.7% from the 2007 baseline year, even during robust economic growth. The province’s emissions targets were set to fall rapidly to 39 million tonnes in 2030, 26 million tonnes in 2040 and 13 million tonnes a decade later.
LNG Canada’s domestic emissions, at best, threaten to make those targets much more difficult to meet. At worst, they will blow the province’s entire carbon budget. Marc Lee, a senior economist at the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, delivered a submission to the B.C. government in August that calculated that the emissions from LNG Canada’s first phase alone would range from nine million to 12 million tonnes of carbon dioxide a year. That’s about double the emissions of B.C.'s entire existing oil and gas industry.
LNG Canada says the annual emissions would be 3.5 million tonnes. But the figure apparently assumes the production of hydro power from a massive legally contested dam that has yet to be built.
Using Lee’s figure, LNG Canada alone would consume between 23% and 31% of B.C.'s allowable emissions by 2030, rising to between 69% and 92% by 2050. For LNG Canada (and other new LNG plants) to operate at full capacity, everyone else in B.C. would have to reduce emissions drastically. But who? Is the government going to buy every driver an electric car?
The LNG Canada figures, by the way, exclude emissions from burning the fuel in Asia. Add those to the B.C. emissions, and the total would reach 93 million tonnes of planet-warming CO2 a year when the project reaches capacity, Lee says. The project’s backers, including the Trudeau government, argue that the LNG would displace coal in China. That’s a big assumption. The LNG might fill new energy demand or even displace clean energy sources such as solar power.
When then prime minister Stephen Harper yanked Canada from the Kyoto climate accord in 2011, environmentalists labelled him a fossil. Perhaps, but he wasn’t a hypocrite. He knew Canada had zero chance of meeting carbon-reduction targets as long as it remained a resources-based economy, and he was right. Trudeau is promising a greener future, but his enthusiasm for carbon-intensive projects belies that image. Canada is still part of the global warming problem.