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Vast majority of carbon reserves must stay in the ground to meet 1.5C target.

with 13 comments

The current news about the PM and the Mayor of Montreal having meetings about pipelines – and the not public hearings into Kinder Morgan’s desire to exapnd the TransMountain pipeline – both miss the most important point. These things must not be built. They are both designed to increase the use of the tar sands, and thus are not consistent with the undertakings Canada made in Paris. The following is a News Release put out by GreenPeace which I doubt will be printed by much of the mainstream media, so I am putting it here.


Seventy-four North American groups call on the prime minister and premiers to take swift action to meet Canada’s new climate goal.

Vast majority of carbon reserves must stay in the ground to meet 1.5C target.

January 27, 2016

On the eve of a meeting of Canada’s environment ministers in Ottawa to talk about the national climate strategy, 74 organizations – representing millions of people in Canada and the U.S. – sent an open letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Canada’s premiers outlining the steps Canada needs to take to fulfill its international commitment to limit global warming to 1.5 C, as agreed to by 195 countries at the Paris climate summit.

The letter explicitly states that new tar sands pipelines like Energy East and Kinder Morgan cannot be built if Canada is to meet its commitment. Instead, the prime minister and the premiers must work to decarbonize Canada’s economy and speed the rapid uptake of renewables, efficiency and sustainable transportation options.

“Canadian decision makers have the opportunity to be real climate leaders in the clean energy era – but they must accept the science to do it. There is simply no room for major new pipelines in a safe climate future,” says Steven Guilbeault of Équiterre. “The science is demanding we keep the carbon in the ground and start the transition. That is a reality that our premiers and the prime minister need to embrace.”

“We’re reminding the Canadian and provincial governments of the tremendous work that needs to be done for Canada to meet its global climate commitment,” said Mike Hudema, Climate and Energy campaigner with Greenpeace Canada. “One and a half degrees Celsius is a level vital for the survival of millions of people and the safety of all life on the planet. We don’t have much time to make the transition to 100% renewable energy and we can’t afford to build new pipelines that send us in the opposite direction.”

As the federal and provincial governments collaborate on the design of a new national climate plan in the 90 days following the Paris Agreement, the repositioning of Canada as a global climate leader has never been more important. An ambitious, just, science-based plan aligned with limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees will require all provinces and the country to decarbonize their economies and keep the vast majority of remaining carbon reserves in the ground.

“To have a decent chance at limiting global warming to even 2 degrees, 80% of fossil fuel reserves globally must stay in the ground. The 1.5 degree limit requires us to go even further faster,” says Hannah McKinnon of Oil Change International. “This is especially true in a country like Canada that is home to the third largest oil reserves in the world. We cannot lock ourselves into decades more of unwanted pollution by expanding pipelines and production in places like the Alberta tar sands. Instead, we need to move the other way.”

“What we need now is leadership on a pathway towards energy and economic diversification, not more short-sighted attempts to force pipelines across our country – Canadians didn’t stand for it before and we won’t stand for it now,” says Graham Saul, Executive Director of Ecology Ottawa.  “Canada has exceptional opportunities in the clean energy economy. We could completely redefine ourselves as a renewable energy superpower, create tens of thousands of jobs from coast to coast to coast, and show the world what it means to responsibly transition to zero-carbon within a few short decades. This is what will build a strong economy, not saddling ourselves to decades more of last century’s dirty energy.”

The letter concludes with the signatories stating their commitment to working with federal, provincial and municipal governments, along with First Nations, Metis and Inuit leaders and the growing climate movement to meet these challenges and move beyond oil.


The full letter and signatories can be seen here

Written by Stephen Rees

January 27, 2016 at 7:42 am

13 Responses

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  1. Many thanks for bringing attention back to what’s required to meet the 1.5 degree target. Rather than focusing on pipelines, meeting the target and addressing the need for economic prosperity require us to focus on replacing jobs in the tar sands with jobs connected to renewables.

    Jeffrey P.

    January 27, 2016 at 8:19 am

  2. Leaving fossil fuels in the ground is easier said than done. I have yet to read a credible plan to transition away from fossil fuels at a reasonable cost. I’d love to say we can do it tomorrow, but I don’t see any way to rebuild our cities and energy infrastructure without involving construction equipment burning diesel fuel and steel mills making windmill towers. As we know here in BC it’s next to impossible to change course with governments who receive donations from suburban real estate developers and freeway builders.

    Economics trumps (oh, I had to hesitate before using that word!) reason every time. Tim Flannery addressed this issue in his latest book, “Atmosphere of Hope” where he postulates the corporations and governments cannot seem to control their own inertia. But local (distributed) renewable energy has and will continue to compete with large-scale centralized utilities if the utilities turn on them and toss their contracts with individual solar roofs, as they did in Nevada. Feed-in tariffs help kick start renewables, but they are too numerous and expensive and drive up the rates on low cost coal or hydro power when combined with them. However, there is no denying that Germany’s FITs and China’s manufacturing power has dropped the price of making renewables (both solar and wind) into a very competitive position. EVs are making inroads too. The dime is slowly turning.

    The record low oil price does help illuminate the high cost and sheer folly of creating a deep oil dependency. Alberta now has a government that is not as beholden to the industry as the previous governments, and one that talks a lot about diversification too. But walking the walk may be a different story. Even the NDP draws the line at an emission cap on paper and implementing carbon pricing, but not cancelling out the entire industry. That is politically impossible and unrealistic there. Instead, they need to work with the feds while the world price of oil remains low and their economy is down to develop a new and far cleaner parallel industrial strategy and foster a great expansion in especially wind power (very great potential there) and create thousands of jobs while they concurrently shut down coal power plants. Oil won’t stay low forever, and the current price is all about artificial manipulation of the supply. Once it inevitably goes up again then the gears and boilers will start up again, albeit with a carbon tax.

    Flannery thinks we will overshoot the carbon bubble, and he bases that on the past decade of evidence, so he is now advocating geo-engineering and adaptation. These may be tough pills for Greenpeace to swallow, but the goal is the same: To limit temps to 1.5 degrees or less. Greenpeace may well be part of the delay problem if they start lobbying against reasonable and very conservative and controlled attempts at geo-engineering (e.g. growing carbon-absorbing algae in large volumes). This may well be where emotions and ideology join economics to trump reason. And that will be very bad for the planet.


    January 27, 2016 at 1:18 pm

  3. In the current context, it is disheartening to listen to the advocates for retaining fossil fuels and the expected development of new technologies that are claimed to make that less of a climate change problem. Both carbon capture/storage and geo-engineering are leading edge technologies: that means that they are unproven and likely to be very costly. Meanwhile, we are surrounded by alternative power sources that are showing that they can be competitive in the current market place even though the price of oil has dropped dramatically. These are no longer untried or unknown but are being hobbled by a combination of bureaucratic inertia and incompetence. Plus, of course, the very successful lobbying – not to say downright bribery – by the fossil fuel industries. We could end fossil fuel subsidies now. We could impose stringent greenhouse gas emission restrictions, for example requiring effective methane capture – and refuse permission for projects that increase ghg. We could have a real environmental impact assessment process. We could simply fire all those Harper appointees. We could have had an effective Carbon Tax instead of a corporate subsidy generator.

    Instead of that we continue to seek compromises and accommodations – as though somehow we have infinite amounts of time at our disposal. As though the immediate impacts of climate change were not dramatic and expensive enough and will inevitably get worse, rapidly.

    We have a whole lot of things we know will help like energy efficiency, bus lanes, removing excess parking supply, electric streetcars and trolleybuses. And an even longer list of stopping activities which we know are causing the problems: fracking ought to be halted based on its local health impacts and seismic effects alone. Not building massive new highways and huge infrastructure projects like Site C and the Massey Tunnel replacement. Not chasing after the chimera of LNG wealth.

    I am not all convinced that the problem is economics as there are more than enough examples of countries which have been making much better decisions than Canada or BC. All we have to do is adopt, adapt and improve. It may not be “easy” but accommodating the reluctant does not have to be part of the process.

    Stephen Rees

    January 27, 2016 at 2:39 pm

  4. There is a possibility that the advocates for retaining fossil fuels are underestimating the current price slump.

    My understanding is that China banked off its outrageous growth, and their demand for oil went down. Meanwhile, the US fracking companies had to keep pumping because they are overleveraged and had to keep up the payments to their investors, and therein created a glut. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia saw an opportunity to devastate one of their competitors and kept the spigot open, and the glut got bigger. However, they may have miscalculated because one of their other competitors — Iran — appears to be almost ready to come back on stream now that most of the international, sanctions have been lifted.

    In this context, noted geoscientist David Hughes continued his previous drilling results data analysis of the five US shale formations and discovered that Eagle Ford has likely peaked and will enter a period of decline at a time when they cannot come anywhere near meeting their costs of production or making dividend payments. The Bakken isn’t very far behind, according to his research, and between the two of them there will be a significant falldown in production at or near 2020. So much for the American energy revolution.

    For these reasons, not to mention the planet-busting environmental issues, you have to wonder why reasonable people have not grasped the fact that it’s all a very damaging house of cards. I believe that there is now massive potential to foster renewable power at the local level and inject it into the grid and help offset a portion of fossil fuel energy with EVs and electrified transit. Even in winter here you get about 50% efficiency. But I am afraid that BC Hydro may be instructed by our Minister of Gas and our fracking premier to lower the rates currently offered to people, say, with solar roofs and excess generation to dampen renewables while putting us 12 billion more in debt so that foreign frackers can have subsidized power from Site C.

    Rebuilding our cities and fostering new heavy industry with clean power are too dependent on larger governments and businesses to innovate and commercialize, something we are not good at here. However, a big difference can still be made at the local level. Despite all this, I remain optimistic. Al it takes is one powerful person with a vision.


    January 27, 2016 at 4:36 pm

  5. Does this include Newfoundland & Labrador? Oil and gas now contribute to a third of the provincial economy. They are more dependent than Alberta.

    Just a few days ago approval was given at the provincial and the federal level for further exploration off-shore.

    “The Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board (C-NLOPB) is announcing that Exploration Licence 1105 held by Corridor Resources Inc. has been amended to extend Period I to January 14, 2017. Under the Atlantic Accord legislation, the amendment is a Fundamental Decision and has been ratified by the federal and provincial ministers of natural resources.”

    Since production began in 1997, the three producing offshore fields have pumped more than 1.5 billion barrels of oil, radically transforming Newfoundland and Labrador’s economy.

    The Hebron field is scheduled to begin producing in 2017, with estimated reserves of 700 million barrels, and the 2013 Bay du Nord deepwater discovery is thought to contain between 300 and 600 million barrels.

    The irony is that with an NDP government in Alberta and a Liberal government in Ottawa, the oil will lubricate the works and the oil will start to flow.

    The real question is rail or pipe.


    January 28, 2016 at 10:22 am

  6. Of course: it applies to all sources of fossil fuels – oil, gas, coal – wherever they may be. Most of the current proven reserves will have to stay in the ground if we are to keep global warming to the Paris 1.5ºC target. Exploring for more is beyond irrational. See the links in the next post for more information

    Stephen Rees

    January 28, 2016 at 10:29 am

  7. Centralized vs. decentralized power generation is one way of looking at changing our situation, but as mentioned, with bureaucratic and corporate inertia, not to mention the millions still put into climate change denial / doubt by vested interests, perhaps Canadians should focus more on turning their backs on the fossil fuel industry and creating a parallel economy of their own based on renewable energy. This, again, could be greatly aided by the recent cost advantages of solar and wind, which are now leaping ahead and creating thousands of jobs along with EVs.

    Though a green economy may reconfigure into a partially decentralized and self-sufficient energy array, the important question remains regarding fostering heavy industry powered by zero emission sources of energy. A steel mill using massive quantities of electricity in an electric arc furnace or a cement plant utilizing electric induction kilns will obviously not be powered by solar roofs from a nearby neighbourhood. In my opinion, if Canada wishes to continue being an industrial nation with all the attendant jobs, patent and export potential while switching over to renewables and clearing its huge cloud of emissions, then it will need both intermittent distributed solar roofs and central, stable hydro or geothermal power plants.

    Either way there is a huge potential here for renewables, and by electrifying transport and buildings, and practicing sustainable urbanism and agriculture, we can largely displace the 74.3% of the energy consumed in the nation (measured in 2012) from burning fossil fuels. It may well be less than a 1:1 displacement considering the vast waste that occurs now. Nonetheless, even with 1:0.75 the nation will reduce its emissions drastically and could still have a viable economy. However, participation by the provincial utilities would be necessary. This may be difficult, but at least most of them are publicly owned.

    Good governance would initiate policies to accomplish the majority of this by 2050, which is only 34 years away! But of course, we cynics have been waiting for good governance for decades and know if it ever arrives, it will be greatly diluted. So the onus may be more on individuals and independent businesses and institutions to divest of fossil fuels and invest in renewables, and to build them in ourselves in our own homes and businesses, and to take transit and ride bikes more. In one sense, now is an ideal time because the oil companies are down with the low world price and many people are out of work, many of whom would probably quite easily and willingly slip into working in new clean energy start-ups, IF such a thing was encouraged.

    This report from the Centre for Dialogues on Sustainability is quite good. Canada’s emissions and energy profiles are indicated on p. 21. There is an excellent map graphic of Canada’s clean energy potential (focused on solar and wind) on p. 31. It’s hard to believe when you’re looking at the bright yellow glow and swaths of brilliant green covering the southern Prairies that there is a massive, filthy and infamous carbon operation in the same area. To think we could feed the entire nation year round and, if we were ambitious enough we could export food from farms and solar greenhouses in southern Alberta and Saskatchewan to the rest of the continent as points further south are increasingly wracked by drought. Solar and wind arrays could power the Prairie segment of a national high-speed rail corridor, and high-voltage DC transmission lines could follow the corridor to enable sharing clean power inter-provincially and the provinces to therein save billions by deferring building expensive new generation capacity.

    Click to access SDC_EN_30marchlr.pdf


    January 28, 2016 at 10:31 am

  8. It’s obvious, Stephen, that we Canadians need a plan to transition away from fossil fuels. This could be done through social media in the absence of a government(s) plan which will allow individuals and groups to follow some guidelines, perhaps even crowd fund green business. There are many Websites that address this (Transition Towns, … to name two) , but not from a Canadian perspective where our specific circumstances are addressed.

    Transition doesn’t mean shutting down the oil industry overnight, but it could certainly pertain to shutting down huge swaths of it, perhaps 90+% by mid-century. Given the turning point of Paris, and with the increasing exposure of the antics of Koch Industries and Exxon, there will be no sympathy for these bloated corporate structures. I have relatives and friends who work in the Alberta oil patch and some of them are no doubt now laid off. However, the engineers among them were highly paid and are no doubt well-positioned to retire early … that is, those of whom didn’t go on spending binges. I do sympathize with the laid off service industry workers; they are the real victims of their government’s intransigence regarding diversifying the economy.


    January 28, 2016 at 10:43 am

  9. @ Eric, Newfoundland’s planned Lower Churchill hydro project at Gull Island and Muskrat Falls in Labrador is slated to bring over 3,000 MW of power capacity online, or 16.7 TWh a year. That is the equivalent of almost three Site Cs in capacity and enough to power close to 1.5 million homes a year. Obviously, Newfoundland is looking at exports to the US way above domestic demand.

    Oil drilling on the Banks has a limit on its life far less than the century+ of Labrador power. The life cycle emissions from the concrete dams and methane from subsurface soils is far, far less than that from fossil fuels. Though inundated land is an issue, there is a zero chance for polluting hydrocarbon blowouts.

    Newfoundland and Quebec and the feds have locked horns over hydro before, but if they can get their act together then can offer cheap, clean, permanent, stable power to the US eastern seaboard for a long, long time. If they really get their act together, then they can trade clean power with other provinces as well, taking advantage of the time zone rate differences and keeping hundreds of billions in the bank by delaying expenditures on new projects.

    Hibernia and similar unconventional oil projects cannot offer anything close to this.


    January 28, 2016 at 11:08 am

  10. I do not see the governments stopping the developments of energy projects.

    This above mentioned approval of off-shore drilling rights did not receive any press. How come?

    And, are the feds approving off-shore drilling exploration to only say no, you can’t extract it, once they find the oil?


    January 28, 2016 at 11:20 am

  11. Agreed. Unknown. No.

    The point is that renewables are increasingly competitive with fossil fuels, especially the more expensive unconventional sources like offshore. The development of parallel renewable and far cleaner energy generation is currently happening, as is divestment from fossil fuels and more individuals, businesses and investment funds investing on solar and wind.

    The feds did not say No to offshore drilling, but neither did they (or any government) say No to Muskrat Falls. One of these will die off and the other will persist for more than a century.


    January 28, 2016 at 12:12 pm

  12. Practicality and logic don’t trump politics. This Liberal government is not going to drive Newfoundland and Labrador into the poor house by plugging up their energy bonanza, particularly now that it is doing better than ever.


    January 28, 2016 at 9:28 pm

  13. Hibernia and other expensive unconventional oil reserves will live or die with the market. The market will no doubt include placing a price on carbon emissions, the artificial supply controls enacted by producers, the geological constraints of getting the supply out of the ground affordably, fluctuating demand, and the volatility of prices as they rock between a floor and a ceiling.


    January 29, 2016 at 11:55 am

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