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British Columbia LNG’s greenhouse-gas impact is prompting Clark to get creative with numbers

Premier Christy Clark's government is working on a strategy to claim credit for reducing greenhouse-gas emissions outside of B.C. borders. On the same day that an internal government document surfaced showing her government expects a liquefied natural gas industry could double the province's GHG emissions, Ms. Clark said it's time to take a more global view of the environment.

"My view is very much that when we export our natural gas to places like China and we help them reduce their need for dirtier forms of energy like thermal coal, we are doing the world a favour," she told reporters last week. The new math aims to bridge the gap between the pursuit of LNG and the reality of B.C.'s climate-change law, which requires a dramatic reduction in the province's GHG output.

Environment Minister Mary Polak is tasked with guarding the province's claims to being a climate-change leader. She suggests that the Premier's talk of a strategy is still preliminary. "At this stage we're not talking about any kind of formal offsetting," she said in an interview.

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In the interim, here are five questions for the Premier about how her strategy might work:

If B.C. wants credit for GHG reductions outside its borders, should it also account for the emissions associated with coal exports?

British Columbia last year exported $1.4-billion worth of coal to China, and there is demand for more export capacity. Kevin Washbrook, director of Voters Taking Action on Climate Change, is leading the fight against expansion. "It's absolute hypocrisy for Premier Clark to talk about doing the world a favour," he said. The Premier would make a real difference if she denied the permits that will allow more coal exports: "She could stop, today, export of U.S. thermal coal from Texada Island."

Japan is likely the biggest customer for B.C. LNG, where natural gas is replacing nuclear power. Will B.C. also count its contribution to Japan's increased GHG emissions?

Japan's power utilities broke new records last month for LNG and coal use. The legacy of the Fukushima disaster is that its reactors remain closed for safety inspections and now Japan is backing away from its plans to reduce GHG emissions, saying it needs fossil fuels to replace the 30 per cent of its energy that was once supplied by nuclear power. Matt Horne, director of the Pembina Institute's climate change program, said any credible assessment of B.C.'s global impact on GHGs has to include Japan. "If the Premier wants to change the rules around international emissions accounting, you can't just pick one fossil fuel."

China says it will reduce its annual emissions by 93 megatonnes of GHGs by making a transition to more natural gas. But will China share the credit with B.C.?

"There are strict international rules governing this – you can't just declare B.C. is going to get credit," noted climate scientist Andrew Weaver, the B.C. Green Party MLA. Under the Kyoto protocol, a country can only take credit for reducing GHGs in another jurisdiction under limited conditions. Simply supplying the fuel doesn't qualify.

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In the absence of B.C. LNG, would China really burn more coal?

Simon Fraser University's Mark Jaccard, who helped shape B.C.'s current carbon-reduction targets, is skeptical. "Global energy markets are complicated. More natural gas might reduce coal use. It might also reduce nuclear, or slow the movement from coal to renewables," he said. Independent research is needed "to confirm that you are actually helping the planet with this grave risk instead of simply trotting out a false justification while you make the world worse."

What is the overall impact of LNG on Canada's greenhouse gas emissions, which are counted by the United Nations?

B.C.'s own internal documents estimate that an LNG industry could double the province's GHGs – the equivalent of another oil-sands project. Merran Smith, director of Tides Canada's energy initiative, said that is the bottom line that British Columbians need to think about. "The Premier needs to act on B.C.'s commitment to reduce greenhouse gases, and not find some way to fudge the accounting regime and create the illusion of reducing greenhouse gas emissions," she said.

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