We Suck Cuz We Blow

Saskatchewan’s emissions are worse than everyone but Alberta
by Gregory Beatty

emissions

provinceWhen Canada signed the Copenhagen Accord in 2009, it agreed to report annually on its greenhouse gas emissions, as it worked to reduce them by 17 per cent from 2005 levels by 2020 to meet its commitment under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.

So how are we doing?

Well, as a country with a strong resource sector driven by oil and gas, Canada hasn’t exactly been an enthusiastic participant in the global effort to combat the potentially catastrophic effects of climate change. In fact, it’s often been obstructionist. But the National Inventory Report that Environment Canada recently released did have some good news: from 2005 to 2012, Canadian emissions were down five per cent.

Every province chipped in with GHG reductions, except two laggards: Alberta, naturally, aaand guess who?

At 250 million tonnes, Alberta’s emissions are off the charts — but ours are nothing to sneeze at either: 74.8 million tonnes, up 5.1 per cent from 2005 levels. So while everyone else (except Alberta) was going down, we went up.

Here’s some more figures to chew on. With three per cent of the population, Saskatchewan spews 10 per cent of Canada’s GHGs into the air. Per capita, Canadians produce 20.1 tonnes of GHGs each. For Saskatchewanians, it’s 67 tonnes!

“The real dilemma is that climate change is not being treated with any urgency,” says the Saskatchewan Environmental Society’s director of environmental policy, Peter Prebble. “That’s reflected in the Provincial Environment Ministry’s budget for its climate change unit. In 2012-13 it was $5.4 million. In 2013-14 it dropped to $4.3 million. Now, it’s down to $2.8 million.”

Saskatchewan’s biggest problem area is what’s classed in Environment Canada’s report as “stationary combustion sources” (which translates as heat) and “electricity and heat generation” (power). Together, they account for 45.1 million of our 74.8 million tonnes of emissions.

SaskPower has been making noise lately about needing to expand generation capacity to meet growing industrial demand. At the same time, two of its three biggest power plants are aging and will soon need replacement.

“Half our electricity generation is from coal-fired power plants,” says Prebble. “We could phase them out over 10 years and replace them with much cleaner energy sources like wind, solar, biomass, geo-thermal, hydro imports from Manitoba and small-scale hydro projects in Saskatchewan.

“We need more co-generation too. At Cory potash mine we simultaneously produce electricity and industrial-process heat by burning natural gas. We could do that at all our potash mines. We’re burning all this natural gas anyway for industrial-process heat — we might as well use it produce electricity too,” he says.

Mark Bigland-Pritchard of Climate Justice Saskatoon says part of the problem is the way SaskPower’s business model is structured.

“They can make more profit by selling electricity than saving it. Energy efficiency costs a lot less, so we need to decouple the profit from the amount sold. That’s been done in some parts of the United States and it seems to be working.

“The other thing I’d like to see is community-owned renewables. That’s what’s fueled the revolution in Europe. People form a co-operative, generate their own electricity and sell it to the grid with the benefit of feed-in tariffs, which give you assurance you’ll be able to sell your electricity onto the grid at a definite price per KWH.”

Banks will loan under those conditions, and that gives co-ops an avenue to obtain financing to get started.

“Sixty-three countries have a feed-in tariff,” says Prebble. “We don’t even need that anymore with wind. It’s cost-competitive with natural gas, and we could easily take it from three per cent of consumed electricity now to 15 or 20 per cent.”

Accounting for 16 million tonnes of Saskatchewan’s GHGs are what Environment Canada describes as “fugitive gases.” The bulk of that is methane, which gets released or flared off at the thousands of oil wells and handful of refineries in the province.

“That’s something that, with legislation, could be cut to a very small figure,” says Bigland-Pritchard. “It would cost industry more and that’s why they don’t want to do it. They would have to build pipelines to transport the gas to where it could be burned usefully instead of just allowed into the atmosphere or flared off. But legislation has been in place in Norway and Britain for 20 years and it’s not difficult.”

The third problem area is transportation, which accounts for 15.1 million tonnes of emissions. Yes, Saskatchewan is a large province with a relatively dispersed population. But we need to be smarter about how we haul our commodities — and ourselves — around.

“Transport is the fastest-growing source of emissions compared to 2005,” says Prebble. “We need to make more use of public transportation in cities, and encourage a shift from moving commodities by truck to rail. The government needs to encourage the purchase of smaller vehicles or hybrids. We also need to develop a good bicycle-path system in our cities and encourage people to think seriously about cycling more.”

The stakes couldn’t be higher, Prebble says.

“We’re getting a steady build-up of carbon every year, and with so much fossil fuels being burned it’s really accelerating. Climate scientists have said that the maximum amount we can have in the atmosphere is 790 billion tonnes. We’ve got 515 billion tonnes now, and we’re putting it into the atmosphere at a rate of 10.4 billion tonnes a year. So in another 25 to 30 years we’re going to be at the figure.”

But Bigland-Pritchard questions whether the political will is there for Saskatchewan (and Canada) to do our part to combat a problem that threatens to drastically disrupt climate patterns in the coming decades, with everything from increased extreme weather events to water and food shortages and massive flooding in coastal areas being forecast.

“Especially at the federal level, there’s a lot of denial,” says. “At a provincial level, they’re paying no attention to the crisis. They’re focused on their ‘growth and jobs’ mantra and can’t see anything beyond that.

“I think what we need is a popular movement. That’s the only way things are going to happen here.”

2014-05-01

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