Canada’s uncounted emissions

0
42
An infographic uses weights to show the difference between Canada's domestic greenhouse gas emissions in 2022 and estimated 2022 carbon emissions from oil and gas exports. Domestic emissions totaling 708 megatonnes are offset by estimated emissions from oil and gas exports totaling 939 megatonnes.

Although Canada claims to be a leader in climate action, an independent analysis shows that the oil and gas exports the country sells to other countries potentially produce more emissions per year than all of Canada's sectors combined.

Canada's oil and gas industry is growing, despite evidence that unchecked production from the world's existing fossil fuel infrastructure will lead to global warming of more than 1.5 degrees Celsius.

Achieving net-zero global emissions by 2050 will require a rapid transition away from fossil fuels and no investment in new fossil fuel supply projects, according to the International Energy Agency.

But Canada is producing oil in record quantities, approving new production projects and is about to open a liquefied natural gas (LNG) export center in British Columbia.

Although the federal government plans to limit emissions from oil production and refining, the majority of this industry's emissions do not come from this region.

Canada exports most of its crude oil and nearly half of its natural gas. That's important because 70 to 80 percent of most oil companies' emissions come from using their products — like the gasoline that powers cars and the oil that heats homes, according to the Pembina Institute, an independent Canadian think tank.

As Canada reduces its domestic emissions, the question arises as to what extent its exports contribute to global emissions.

The answer depends on how they are counted.

Canada's domestic greenhouse gas emissions 2022

(Emissions are given in CO2 equivalents and include carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide)

1 Mt = 1,000,000 tonnes

708 megatons

domestic CO2 equivalent emissions in 2022.

This is the same as:

216,905,718

Emissions from passenger cars

Canada's reported national greenhouse gas emissions rose to 708 megatonnes of CO2 equivalent in 2022. That's 708 million tonnes of emissions released within the country's borders.

The country's method of calculating emissions complies with the standards of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, thus avoiding double counting between countries.

But the national emissions balances of major oil and gas exporting countries may only tell half the story, says Zurich-based climate policy analyst Frederic Hans.

The reason for this is that emissions from the combustion of exported fossil fuels are counted by the country that imports them, not by the country that exports them.

Hans, who works on the international research project Climate Action Tracker, agreed to share CAT's unprecedented analysis of Canadian export emissions.

939 megatons

estimated CO2 emissions from oil and gas exports in 2022.

This is the same as:

287,675,804

Emissions from passenger cars

If all of Canada's oil and gas exports were burned, approximately 939 megatons of carbon dioxide would be released.

Although actual emissions from oil and gas exports may be higher or lower, the estimates give an idea of ​​the magnitude.

Domestic greenhouse gas emissions of CO2e (Includes carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide)

708 m

Estimated CO2 emissions from oil and gas exports (Carbon dioxide only)

939 m

An infographic uses weights to show the difference between Canada's domestic greenhouse gas emissions in 2022 and the estimated CO2 emissions from oil and gas exports for 2022. Domestic emissions totaling 708 megatonnes are offset by estimated emissions from oil and gas exports totaling 939 megatonnes.Megaton symbol = 10 megatons (Mt)

Estimated emissions from Canada's oil and gas exports were about 1.3 times higher than domestic emissions in 2022.

In other words, the export of oil and gas could potentially cause more emissions than all other sectors in the country combined.

Let's zoom out to compare Canada's domestic and export emissions over time.

Canada's domestic and estimated exported emissions (megatons)A line graph going back to 1990 compares estimated annual emissions from Canada's oil and gas exports to the country's domestic emissions. While domestic emissions have stagnated since the early 2000s, estimated export emissions have surpassed the country's domestic emissions since 2015 and continue to rise.

The experts CBC News spoke to said the CAT's estimates generally reflect expectations: While domestic emissions are stagnating, emissions from Canada's oil and gas exports are rising and increasingly exceed Canada's official figures.

Jessica Kelly, a Winnipeg-based senior policy adviser at the International Institute for Sustainable Development, said Canada should review its exported emissions, even if it is not required to do so.

“I think Canada has the image of the cowboy in the white hat on the world stage,” she said. “We can point to our own domestic emissions reductions. We can point to our own climate policies and say we're doing a really good job on that, but when we export our emissions to other countries … that clean image of Canada starts to falter.”

Environment and Climate Change Canada told CBC News that its emissions reporting meets international standards and that the company is continually looking for ways to better measure emissions.

In terms of domestic emissions, Canada appears to be on track to meet its 2030 national emissions target, assuming that climate mitigation measures such as the carbon tax and emissions trading system are as effective as promised.

At the same time, Hans said Canada is contributing to a global economy based on fossil fuels rather than supporting decarbonization.

Nevertheless, Canada is not an isolated case among the major oil and gas exporting countries.

For comparison, CAT provided estimates of emissions from exported oil and gas for the United States, the world's largest oil and gas producer, and Norway, another major producer and exporter.

Estimated exported emissions (megatons CO2)A line graph going back to 1990 compares the estimated annual emissions from oil and gas exports of three countries: Canada, the United States, and Norway. The U.S.'s oil and gas export emissions estimates significantly exceed those of Canada and continue to show an upward trend. Canada's export emissions have increased less dramatically in comparison. The emissions estimates for Norway's oil and gas exports are lower than those of Canada and appear to be stabilizing.

Hans said all wealthy, developed nations should think beyond their borders.

In fact, it should be the export nations, and especially the industrialized countries, that lead the transition to a low-carbon economy, he said.

If greenhouse gas emissions are reduced rapidly and significantly worldwide and the use of fossil fuels is stopped, global warming can still be limited to more than 1.5 degrees Celsius.

But as long as other countries are willing to burn fossil fuels, the Canadian oil and gas industry is willing to sell them to them.

In fact, the oil and gas industry is preparing to expand its market to become a global energy supplier.

CBC News asked Lisa Baiton, president and CEO of the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP), whether the industry feels responsible for the emissions of its products once they leave Canadian soil.

In an email response, Baiton said Canadian oil and gas, as an alternative to coal and other more emissions-intensive sources, could make a significant contribution to decarbonization efforts by reducing global emissions.

Both natural gas produced in Canada and Canadian offshore oil are among the lowest-emission sources in the world, while the emission intensity of the oil sands is steadily declining, Baiton said.

In fact, total emissions from Canada's oil and gas sector increased by 83 percent between 1990 and 2022, according to the national greenhouse gas emissions inventory. A 2023 IEA report ranks Canada's oil and gas sector as the seventh least emitting among major oil and gas producers.

In addition, according to forecasts by the Canadian Energy Regulatory Authority, global demand for fossil fuels from Canada could even decline in the long term.

Kelly of the International Institute for Sustainable Development said the United States is already preparing for that future.

Canada is currently plunging into a weakened market. President Biden has put the aggressive expansion of the LNG market in the US on hold, Kelly said.

Ross Linden-Fraser, senior research fellow at the Canadian Climate Institute, agreed that opportunities in the fossil fuel market are limited.

If countries continue to burn oil and gas on this scale, 1719004076there is no path to net zero, which is why we know that demand for these products will decline in the future.

Linden-Fraser said that regardless of where and by whom emissions are counted, it ultimately comes down to one thing.

In the overall picture, what matters is what the atmosphere looks like, he said.