Can Canada Build New Pipelines and Meet Our Climate Targets?

Originally published by Environmental Defence

This is a guest post by Kevin Brady and Duncan Noble, co-authors of The Climate Test: Aligning Energy Project Assessment with Climate Policy


Kevin Brady is a sustainability consultant, author and educator.




Duncan Noble works as a carbon management consultant to develop and implement climate change solutions.


Canada’s federal government is fond of saying that we can build pipelines and still meet our climate promises. Is that political rhetoric or a legitimate argument? One way to answer that question is to apply a “climate test” to all new major energy infrastructure projects. A climate test would check a project’s expected carbon emissions against Canada’s commitments to reduce carbon pollution. A climate test would also assess the project’s economic viability in a carbon-constrained future.

The federal government is modernizing the National Energy Board (NEB), Canada’s energy and pipeline regulator. NEB modernization provides an opportunity to use a climate test to align major energy projects such as pipelines with climate policy. Ultimately such a test will need to be broadly applied across all government decision-making. Long-lived energy infrastructure projects are a good place to start, as they can affect Canada’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions for decades after their construction, and they can have a consequential impact on Canada’s ability to achieve its climate commitments to reduce GHG emissions.

In partnership with Environmental Defence, we reviewed the latest literature related to climate tests and interviewed a select group of experts from the public sector, private sector, civil society, and Indigenous groups. The outcome from this work is a report, The Climate Test: Aligning Energy Project Assessment with Climate Policy, that was submitted to the NEB Modernization Expert Panel. Below are our main conclusions and recommendations from the report.

First and foremost, the lack of a climate test puts Canada’s climate change commitments in jeopardy and poses a major business risk for the companies that want to build energy projects. Without a climate test, policy makers cannot assess the potential GHG impacts of projects. For industry, a climate test will help ensure they are investing in projects that are economically viable by ensuring they have adequately incorporated the future cost of carbon and changes in demand for fossil fuels in a carbon-constrained world into their project plans.

Second, we believe the evidence supports a two-part climate test that addresses both the GHG emissions and the economic dimensions of assessing major energy infrastructure projects (and ultimately other policies, programs and projects.) The economic part of a climate test can help to capture the downstream impacts of a project – for example, the GHGs emitted when the oil transported in a pipeline is burned – by considering fossil fuel supply and demand consistent with the Paris Agreement to limit global warming to well below 2 degrees Celsius. The emissions component will help determine if the project’s expected GHG emissions fit into Canada’s carbon budget – the upper limit on GHG emissions from Canada that is consistent with a 2-degree world (see graphic below).

The Carbon Budget part of the climate test (Noble and Brady)


Thirdly, the lack of an overarching integrated Canadian energy and climate change strategy is a key barrier to ensuring provinces and the federal government are aligned on climate policies, programs, and tools (e.g., a climate test). This also poses a challenge for the NEB. The lack of such a strategy results in the NEB being a focal point for climate policy “battles” that it is not equipped or mandated to address. This is part of the reason pipelines have become so controversial over the last ten years. Therefore, we believe there is an urgent need to separate climate policy discussions from the review process for individual projects like Energy East.

Finally, a major bottleneck in the development of a climate test is the lack of a comprehensive carbon budget allocated at the economic sector level. To align energy projects with climate policy, each economic sector, such as the oil and gas industry, must demonstrate how its total emissions fit within Canada’s climate commitments. The development of the carbon budget at the economic sector level will be difficult, but federal-provincial alignment will be critical if Canada is to apply a climate test that ensures the full range of projects, policies and programs are consistent with Canada’s climate commitments to reduce the country’s carbon emissions.

Our analysis was informed by a considerable amount of existing research and the views of the experts we interviewed. It is a complex subject and we believe achieving consensus on the final design of a climate test, and how and where it should be applied, will require further consultation and dialogue. Hence, we included recommendations on the design of the test, the process for building consensus on the test, and providing the capacity and support required to maintain and apply it. Effectively incorporating a climate test will require new and existing data to be gathered and integrated into decision-making processes. This will require human and financial resources, and new processes and decision support tools.

There is no doubt we can design a rigorous climate test for new major energy infrastructure projects. In fact, several examples of such a test already exist. But there’s plenty of doubt whether Canada can build new oil sands pipelines and still meet its national and international climate commitments. There’s an obvious way to clarify those doubts: it’s time to apply a climate test.

Read the full report here.

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Planting Seeds So Something Bigger Might Emerge

This is a re-blog of a really great interview with Kevin Anderson. It covers the Paris Climate Agreement, why most of us should hardly ever fly, and how change can happen in complex systems. Highly recommended reading!

The Paris Agreement & the Fight Against Climate Change An interview with Kevin Anderson In early February, FlyingLess interviewed Kevin Anderson, Professor of Energy and Climate Change in the School of Mechanical, Aerospace, and Civil Engineering at the University of Manchester (United Kingdom). Kevin is also Deputy Director of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change […]

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Want Change? Include People, Process and Tools

In my 30+ years of working in and with many organizations, I have seen many attempts to change the way people do things. Some are successful, some fail. Systems thinking can give us insights on how to make change initiatives more successful. The core idea of systems thinking is that the structure of a system influences its behavior. Any business system includes people, process and tools. Trying to change behavior (i.e., the way people do things) without considering all three is a recipe for failure.

I was trained as an engineer and am prone to a tool/technology bias. It’s not only me – this bias is endemic in our culture. How many times have you witnessed this scenario: Got a problem? Let’s buy or create a tool to solve it. From Fitbits to geoengineering the climate, we look to tools and technology to solve our problems. But tools and technology are only part of our systems. We also need to consider people and processes.

Here’s a simple example. I was working with a client starting to collect and manage data about their greenhouse gas emissions. They asked for help reviewing their results and also asked for observations and recommendations on how they could improve their data collection and management system. Here’s a summary of our recommendations:


  • Define clear roles and responsibilities for data collection, validation and analysis at the various levels (e.g., site, region, corporate)
  • Ensure the goals of data collection are clear to staff and the understand what the results will be used for (e.g., public reporting, targeted performance improvement, etc.)
  • Ensure adequate staff are available to fulfill responsibilities
  • Provide appropriate training on how to use the tools and who to contact if they have questions or find “exceptions” to the rule
  • Build these responsibilities into performance objectives (“carrot and stick”)
  • Provide incentives to encourage good behavior (“carrot”)


  • Define regular processes for data collection, data submission, data review and data analysis (e.g., weekly, monthly, quarterly, yearly)
  • Ensure appropriate balance of effort between data collection, data analysis and feedback based on results so that the impact of actions taken can be seen in the data
  • Assign responsibilities for each step in these processes
  • Communicate expectations to all affected staff
  • Follow up regularly to ensure processes are being followed, and revise processes as required to adapt to new information


  • Provide a tool that simplifies the overall process and creates value, helping users to focus more on analysis and actions, and less on getting the data
  • In the interim, improve existing tools (e.g., use version control, improve documentation, simplify, etc.)

I can’t guarantee success if you follow this advice, but making sure to include people, process and tools in your plans will improve your chances of making change successful at your organization.

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Queen’s University Should Divest from Fossil Fuels

The Advisory Committee on Divestment of Fossil Fuels at Queen’s University asked for submissions concerning if the university should divest its pooled endowment fund and pooled investment fund from companies engaged in fossil fuel extraction and distribution.  I offered the following comments as a concerned Queen’s alumnae (B.Sc., Engineering Physics, 1981 and MBA 1988); a professional engineer with a duty to hold paramount the safety, health, and welfare of the public; and a climate change professional.

Recommendation: Queen’s should divest its investments in companies that participate in the extraction and distribution of fossil fuels for both moral and pragmatic reasons.

There is overwhelming scientific evidence that the burning of fossil fuels is the main contributor to climate change.[1] We know that we cannot continue to burn fossil fuels on the current scale. Even Canada recently agreed to a G7 pledge to phase out fossil fuel use by 2100.[2] To avoid the worst impacts of climate change and ensure global warming does not exceed 2°C, most known fossil fuel reserves must stay in the ground.[3] The fossil fuel industry may acknowledge the reality of human caused climate change, but refuses to change its business models and continues to spend billions developing even more reserves – hence ensuring we will exceed 2 degrees of global warming and threatening the very basis of our civilization. This refusal is clear evidence that the activities of public corporations engaged in fossil fuel extraction and distribution generally constitute “social injury” as defined in Queen’s Statement on Responsible Investing.

The only way fossil fuel companies will change their ways is via regulation and massive moral suasion, including divestment by leading institutions like Queen’s. Queen’s has an opportunity to be a leader on this issue, or it can stick its head in the sand and let others do the hard work required to address climate change – the defining challenge of the 21st century.

Fossil fuels are not a good investment from at least two perspectives. They are not “good” because the harm they cause (e.g., climate change, air pollution, spills that contaminate land and water, etc.) outweighs the benefits they provide to society. From a purely pragmatic investment perspective, the sector has under-performed relevant benchmarks recently and is at high risk of continuing to under-perform.[4], [5] The world’s leading stock market index company concluded recently that investors who divested from coal, oil and gas earned an average return of 1.2% more a year over the last five years.[6] To fulfill its fiduciary duty as an investment manager, Queen’s should divest.

On the question of divestment vs. engagement, remaining invested and pursuing shareholder engagement activities is the “easy” decision, but it is the wrong decision. It’s wrong because it won’t work. For example:

  • Leading environmentalist Jonathon Porritt spent many years engaging with fossil fuel companies such as Shell and BP but eventually concluded that his efforts had been futile.[7]
  • There is “little or no evidence” to suggest that engagement could convince fossil fuel companies to significantly reduce global fossil fuel production,[8]
  • Shareholder engagement can work to persuade companies make changes like paying their workers a living wage or adopting better recycling practices, but it is unlikely to persuade a company to commit to change its business model or put itself out of business.[9]

The fossil fuel divestment movement is growing faster than any previous divestment campaign. Leading organizations from different sectors of society (e.g., universities, cities, pension funds, foundations, faith organizations) are part of this movement. The fossil fuel divestment movement is diverse, including the Rockefeller Foundation (heirs to the fabled Rockefeller oil fortune) and the Canadian Medical Association. It’s time for Queen’s to join this movement.

As a professional engineer, I believe that climate change goes to the heart of engineering ethics – the duty to hold paramount the safety, health, and welfare of the public. As a professional engineer knowledgeable about climate change, I am obliged to recommend the eventual phase out of fossil fuels; and no further building of long lived infrastructure for development, transport or use of fossil fuels in developed countries. Unless fossil fuel companies are deprived of the moral, legal and financial means of continuing their “business as usual” business models, they will continue to extract fossil fuels that will ultimately be burned and contribute to dangerous climate change.

[1] For example, Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), Fifth Assessment Report, Climate Change 2013: The Physical Science Basis,

[2] Kate Connolly, 8 June 2015: G7 leaders agree to phase out fossil fuel use by end of century,

[3] C. McGlade, P. Ekins. The geographical distribution of fossil fuels unused when limiting global warming to 2°C. Nature 517, 187–190 (8 January 2015), doi:10.1038/nature14016

[4] Jeff Rubin, 2015. The Carbon Bubble: What Happens to Us When It Bursts Random House of Canada.

[5] Jeff Rubin, 8 September 2015: U of T should divest from fossil fuels,

[6] Patrick Collinson, 10 April 2015: Fossil fuel-free funds outperformed conventional ones, analysis shows,

[7] Damian Carrington, 15 January 2015: Engaging with oil companies on climate change is futile, admits leading UK environmentalist,

[8] Letter from health professionals: “Do no harm: the Wellcome Trust should not profit from the fossil fuel industry”,

[9] Emma Howard, 23 June 2015: A Beginner’s Guide to Fossil Fuel Divestment A comprehensive guide to the basics of divestment: what it means, why the urgency and how it impacts climate change,

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A Tale of Two Headlines: When is Switching to an Electric Car a Good Thing?

Imagine two headlines for a story about electric cars:

  1. Switching to an electric car isn’t always good for the environment

  2. Switching to an electric car would reduce carbon emissions for over 80% of Canadians

CBC radio recently ran a story using the first headline, although the headline was not supported by the content of the story. The second headline reflects the content of the story more accurately, but they chose not to use it. In fact, I wrote it. But hey, I’m not a CBC headline writer.

CBC interviewed Chris Kennedy, a University of Toronto Engineering prof who recently published a study (caution: it’s behind a paywall) looking at the threshold level for electricity carbon intensity: above the threshold switching to an electric car would increase carbon emissions, below the threshold switching would reduce emissions. And yes, the study relies on life cycle assessment studies that take into account the climate impact of producing the batteries required for electric cars.

The CBC got the story wrong. In their story they said “Yet new research suggests that even if every driver in Canada made the switch, from gas to electric, the total emissions might not actually go down.” But the research result is very clear that the opposite is true: if every driver in Canada made the switch from gas to electric total emissions WOULD go down. Carbon emissions would go down for drivers in every province except Alberta, Saskatchewan and Nova Scotia, which collectively account for only 17% of Canada’s population. So switching to an electric car would reduce carbon emissions for over 80% of Canadians. I guess that doesn’t make for such a good headline. Kennedy’s research indicates that if electricity carbon intensity is less than the threshold of 600 tCO2e/GWh (plus or minus 100), total emissions would go down by switching to electric cars. Canada’s average electricity carbon intensity is less than 200 tCO2e/GWh (see Figure below), although it varies considerably by province.

The grey shading indicates the transition zone around the 600-ton threshold in CO2 emissions, below which electricity generation is carbon competitive.

The grey shading indicates the transition zone around the 600-ton threshold in CO2 emissions, below which electricity generation is carbon competitive.

Source: Kennedy, Key threshold for electricity emissions, Nature Climate Change (2015)

It’s disappointing that CBC got this very important story wrong. Creating doubt about the climate benefits of electric cars in most of Canada is irresponsible journalism.

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New Report Downplays Climate Impact of Energy East: Assumes Oil by Rail Alternative

A new assessment of the climate impact of the proposed Energy East pipeline is significantly lower than the previous assessment, mainly because it assumes the oil would be extracted and shipped by rail if the pipeline is not built.

The proposed Energy East pipeline would transport up to 1.1 million barrels of oil per day from Alberta to the Atlantic coast of Canada, for export or refining.[1] The climate impact of Energy East has been assessed twice, and the results are dramatically different (see Figure 1). The Pembina Institute’s analysis estimated that building Energy East would lead to increased GHG emissions of between 30 and 32 million tonnes CO2e per year.[2] The expert consultant hired by the Ontario Energy Board (Navius Research) concluded that building Energy East would lead to a much smaller increased GHG emissions of between 1 and 4 million tonnes CO2e per year.[3]

Navius vs Pembina Climate Impact of Energy East

Figure 1: Estimated Climate Impact of Energy East by Navius (OILTRANS) and Pembina (Source: Ontario Energy Board)

How could these two assessments of the same project come up with such different results? To answer that question, we need to delve into the somewhat arcane world of GHG accounting.

The climate impact of a project depends on a number of things, including what it is compared to. In GHG accounting jargon, this is called the “baseline”, or what would happen without the project. But because no one knows for sure what would occur in the future if a project doesn’t go ahead, there is no foolproof way to select the best baseline to compare a project to. But that doesn’t mean any baseline will do. Thankfully, the international GHG accounting community has spent a lot of effort developing rigorous and defensible methods for selecting a credible baseline.[4] As far as I can tell, neither Pembina nor Navius used these methods. I say “as far as I can tell”, because neither Pembina nor Navius documented, in a sufficiently transparent way, how they selected their baselines.[5]

The OEB/Navius analysis results in a smaller estimate of increased GHG emissions from Energy East because it assumes that if the pipeline is not built, the oil that would otherwise fill the pipeline would be transported by rail “… if it is economic.”. In other words, they are using “oil by rail” as their baseline. The Pembina analysis results in a higher estimate of increased GHG emissions from Energy East because it assumes that if the pipeline is not built, the oil that would otherwise fill the pipeline would be left in the ground. Let’s call this the “oil in the ground” baseline. There are additional differences in the geographic and life cycle scopes of the analyses by Navius and Pembina, but these don’t appear to affect the results as much as the different baselines used.

How should the baseline be selected? According to internationally accepted best practices, the following steps should be included:[6]

  1. Identify all credible alternatives to building Energy East;
  2. Identify barriers to the identified alternatives (e.g., legal, environmental, technical, economic, political, etc.) and eliminate unrealistic alternatives; and
  3. Conduct a financial analysis of remaining alternatives and identify the most attractive option.[7]

Did either study include these steps? It’s hard to assess the OEB/Navius study, since we only have a 4 page summary of their analysis, and it’s not clear when the full report will be available. From the 4 page summary, it appears that the Navius study spent most of their effort on step 3, but may have glossed over steps 1 and 2. The Pembina study considered the “oil by rail” baseline, and decided it was not feasible due to a number of barriers (e.g., cost, capacity, social license). For both studies, a more systematic and transparent application of best practices for baseline selection would enhance their credibility.

An accurate estimate of the climate impact of the proposed Energy East pipeline is essential to inform the public and decision makers. This requires a transparent and credible methodology, and we should expect it to be consistent with internationally accepted GHG accounting standards and protocols (i.e., codified best practices). This must include, amongst other things, a full documentation and justification of assumptions about what would happen if the pipeline is not built (i.e., selection of the baseline). Until this happens, any estimate of the climate impact of Energy East is incomplete and unreliable.

About the Author

Duncan Noble has developed and/or reviewed dozens of GHG inventories/carbon footprints for organizations, products and projects for clients in various sectors. He has contributed to the development of leading GHG methodologies including the ISO 14064 Standards and the WRI/WBCSD GHG Protocol (Corporate Standard). He actively participated in the “Methodology” Technical Work Group of the GHG Protocol Product Life Cycle Standard and supported a client Road Test of this Protocol. He was actively involved in the development of the GHG Protocol Corporate Value Chain (Scope 3) Standard. Duncan has also developed a methodology for the Verified Carbon Standard, the world’s leading voluntary greenhouse gas program. On behalf of CSA, he has delivered eleven 2-day training sessions on the ISO 14064 Standard and WRI/WBCSD GHG Protocol.

[1] National Energy Board, Energy East Project,

[2] Pembina Institute (2014): Climate Implications of the Proposed Energy East Pipeline: A Preliminary Assessment,

[3] Ontario Energy Board (2015): Preliminary Assessment – Climate Change,

[4] For example, the UN Clean Development Mechanism, ISO 14064 – Part 2, GHG Protocol for Projects, etc. These methods are typically used to assess a project that reduces GHG emissions, but they can also be used to assess a project, like Energy East, that increases GHG emissions.

[5] At time of writing, only the 4 page “Preliminary Assessment – Climate Change” was available from OEB/Navius.

[6] See, for example, the UN CDM “Combined tool to identify the baseline scenario and demonstrate additionality”, available at

[7] The “most attractive option” depends on the perspective taken for the analysis (e.g., a private investor such as TransCanada would have different “most attractive” criteria than a public policy entity).

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Letter to Ontario Energy Board Opposing Energy East Pipeline

18 October 2014

Ontario Energy Board
P.O. Box 2319
Toronto, ON, M4P 1E4

Re: Proposed Energy East Pipeline

I am writing to express my deep concern about the proposed Energy East Pipeline and to recommend that you do not approve this project. This pipeline, if approved, would encourage reckless growth in the tar sands, would make climate change worse, would help ensure that Canada does not meet our commitments on climate change, and would put our local ecosystems and drinking water at risk.

Tar sands production is Canada’s fastest-growing source of the carbon pollution that causes climate change. Canada’s tar sands producers intend to more than triple their production to over 5 million barrels per day by 2030.[1] This growth in production is expected to triple tar sands carbon pollution between 2005 and 2020, an increase large enough to cancel out all emission reductions that other parts of Canada’s economy are expected to make over the same period, including Ontario’s phase out of coal.[2] Filling the Energy East Pipeline would result in upstream emissions of about 30 million tonnes, roughly equivalent to doubling the fleet of passenger cars in Ontario.[3] It is clear that Canada will not meet our international commitments on climate change if this reckless growth in tar sands production is allowed to proceed.[4] If the proposed Energy East Pipeline is approved, it will lock in growth in tar sands emissions for decades, help ensure Canada reneges on our international climate change promises and increase climate change risks for all sectors of our society.

Energy East Pipeline proponents may argue that tar sands oil will get to market one way or the other (e.g., via rail or other pipelines), and that building this pipeline will not affect upstream emissions. However, it is clear that tar sands growth is not inevitable and that pipelines matter. For example, in September 2014 Norway’s Statoil shelved a multibillion-dollar tar sands project, blaming rising construction costs and the repeated delays in new export pipelines that would boost the value of Canadian heavy crude oil.[5] Without the low cost transportation provided by pipelines like Energy East, tar sands growth will not be locked in and we have a better chance to manage our carbon pollution.

Building long lived infrastructure to produce or transport tar sands oil is not consistent with a safe climate. Even the former governor of the Bank of Canada, Mark Carney, recognizes that the “vast majority of reserves are unburnable” if global temperature rises are to be limited to below 2°C.[6] Given this reality, it makes sense to leave the dirtiest fossil fuels like tar sands in the ground. Since Canada clearly does not have a strategy or a plan to achieve our GHG emission reduction targets, no new tar sands production or transportation projects should move forward until their cumulative impacts are consistent with our national and international commitments to reduce carbon pollution.[7]

Please consider my concerns in your review of the Energy East Pipeline, and keep me informed of your review process for this project so that I can participate in this process.


Duncan Noble

[1] Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP), June 2014: Crude Oil Forecast, Markets and Transportation

[2] Environment Canada, 2013: Canada’s Emissions Trends (2013)

[3] Pembina Institute, 2014: Climate Implications of the Proposed Energy East Pipeline: A Preliminary Assessment

[4] Auditor General of Canada, 2014: Report of the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development

[5] Globe and Mail, September 26, 2014: “Statoil halts multibillion-dollar Alberta oil sands project

[6] The Guardian, October 13, 2014: “Mark Carney: most fossil fuel reserves can’t be burned

[7] Palen et al., Nature (25 June 2014): Energy: Consider the global impacts of oil pipelines

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Tapping Big Data: Was Global Warming Changed to Climate Change?

If you follow climate change/global warming, you will likely encounter people who insist that the term “global warming” was changed to “climate change” for various reasons (e.g., “global warming stopped, so they changed the name”, etc.).

One way to test this hypothesis is to tap into “big data”, in this case Google’s database of English books. Google has a cool tool called the “Ngram Viewer“, which allows you to determine the frequency of words and phrases in their database of books. What does Google’s Ngram Viewer tell us about this hypothesis?


Figure 1: Global warming vs climate change for all English books

American English

Figure 2: Global warming vs. climate change for American English books

British English

Figure 3: Global warming vs climate change for British English books

Some observations:

  1. For all English books and American English books, it’s clear that the phrase “climate change” was in use before the term “global warming”. This contradicts the hypothesis that global warming was changed to climate change.
  2. Global warming is more common in American English than it is in British English, but climate change dominates in both.
  3. Usage of “climate change” peaked in the year 2001. This was driven by British English usage. This is quite interesting and merits additional research about if this is a real trend, or an artifact of the Google Books database.

For additional discussion and the history of these two terms, check out Skeptical Science.

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Open Letter to Environment Minister Leona Aglukkaq


Honourable Leona Aglukkaq, M.P.
Minister of Environment
House of Commons
Ottawa, Ontario K1A 0A6

Re: Living Up to Our Climate Change Promises

Dear Minister Aglukkaq,

On behalf of Canada, your government made a promise to the world to reduce our GHG emissions by 17% by 2020, from a 2005 base year. The world expects Canada to live up to that promise. Canadians expect our government to live up to that promise. I expect you to fulfil that promise.

Before you left for the Warsaw COP conference, you affirmed your government’s commitment to our 2020 Copenhagen reduction target. I would welcome this announcement if it was credible. However, based on your own analysis (Environment Canada, 2013: Canada’s GHG Emissions Projections), there is no plan in place to reach our 2020 goal.

I urge you to develop and implement a plan to meet our 2020 GHG emission reduction target. There are multiple analyses available as to what needs to be included in a credible plan to reach our 2020 target. At a minimum, this plan needs to put a price on carbon pollution and phase out subsidies to the fossil fuel industry.

In his speech at Riverside Church on April 4, 1967, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now. …We may cry out desperately for time to pause in her passage, but time is adamant to every plea and rushes on. Over the bleached bones and jumbled residues of numerous civilizations are written the pathetic words, ‘Too late.’”

It’s already too late for the victims of climate change enhanced extreme weather like Typhoon Haiyan, Super Storm Sandy, and Hurricane Katrina. By the time our children confront extreme heat, terrifying storms and complete loss of summer arctic sea ice, it might well be too late for all of us. It isn’t too late for us to act … yet. We can still avert what could be a disastrous climate crisis. There are no excuses for delay.

I am willing to do my part to avoid dangerous climate change. Are you willing to do yours?


Duncan Noble

Copy:     Stephen Harper, Jim Flaherty, Cheryl Gallant, Megan Leslie, John McKay, Elizabeth May

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Government Newspeak & Greenwash: We Demand Better

Shouldn’t we hold our elected governments to a higher standard than we expect from the folks who sell soap? Or at least as high a standard as we expect from marketers?

In October 2013, the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) announced six enforcement actions, including one that imposes a $450,000 civil penalty and five that address biodegradable plastic claims, as part of the agency’s ongoing crackdown on false and misleading environmental claims. In Canada we rely on a voluntary approach, with enforcement weak or non-existent.

Strictly speaking, greenwashing rules apply to claims made about a product. However, it’s getting harder to tell the difference between a marketer selling a product and a government pitching for votes. Susan Delacourt explores this connection in her recent book Shopping for Votes: How Politicians Choose Us and We Choose Them. According to one analyst who reviewed this book, “Canadian politics has moved into an era when voters no longer think much of themselves as citizens, with duties and obligations and longer-term perspectives, but as taxpayers in a consumer society who shop among politicians for those who will give them the most at the lowest cost”.

In a recent example of newspeak, the government of Canada congratulated the government of Australia on its initiative to repeal its carbon tax, and made the following statement:

Our government has reduced greenhouse gas emissions while protecting and creating Canadians jobs – greenhouse gas emissions are down since 2006, and we’ve created 1 million net new jobs since the recession – and we have done this without penalizing Canadian families with a carbon tax.

I won’t examine the jobs number, although I’m skeptical of it. The greenhouse gas emissions claim is incomplete and misleading. The reason that GHG emissions are lower “now” (the latest year with data is 2011) than they were in 2005 is that Canada’s emissions fell during the global recession. Emissions have been rising again since 2009, and the trend is going in the wrong direction. Harper’s government did not reduce greenhouse gas emissions, the global recession did, supplemented by provincial actions such as Ontario’s phase out of coal fired power.


Source: Pembina Institute, Environment Canada

According to the government’s own analysis, Canada will miss, and miss badly, its emission reduction target of 17% by 2020, from a 2005 baseline. Environment Canada estimates our GHG emissions will be 20 per cent higher than our 2020 commitment.

In an article about Canada’s latest GHG Emissions Projections, the Pembina Institute commented:

… this year’s edition shows that Ottawa has done nothing over the past year to change this trajectory: there is not a single new policy (my emphasis) on the list of federal initiatives to reduce emissions in Canada. So it’s little surprise that the country is no closer to reaching its emissions target. In fact, the gap between where we are headed and where we should be headed has grown slightly in the past year.

The central conclusion of this year’s report is inescapable: without a serious ramp up of effort from our government, Canada is headed for another major broken promise on climate change. This is bad news for a lot of reasons, not least for our credibility.

Canada was singled out by authors of the United Nations’ most recent emissions gap report:

The authors picked out Canada as a lead laggard. Canada is on track to exceed its 2020 target of 607 megatonnes by slightly more than 110 megatonnes or about 20 per cent, according to its own reports. (A megatonne is a million tonnes.)

“So it is significantly off track right now,” Taryn Fransen, another report author, said.

Morgan added, “Canada doesn’t seem to fully grasp the risk that climate change poses to it and its people in its approach to climate change.”

“It is very important that countries like Canada meet its targets not only for atmospheric reasons – I mean the need to reduce emissions in the atmosphere – but also because of the signal that it sends to others,” Morgan said. “Canada is a wealthy country. It certainly has the resources to do it.”

If Canada was selling soap, it would be guilty of at least two greenwashing sins. First the “Sin of the Hidden Trade Off”, committed by suggesting a product is “green” based on an unreasonably narrow set of attributes without attention to other important environmental issues. Add to that the “Sin of Irrelevance”, committed by making an environmental claim that may be truthful but which is unimportant or unhelpful for consumers seeking environmentally preferable products. Claiming that Canada is making progress on climate change ignores the bigger reality that, absent drastic actions, we are on track to renege on our promises to the international community.

Other examples of greenwashing, or to put it plainly, lying, by Canadian government ministers, are regrettably common. For example, Robyn Allan, former President and CEO of the Insurance Corporation of British Columbia, accused Natural Resource Minister Joe Oliver of resorting to “desperate and false arguments” to sell the Keystone XL pipeline. Allan concludes her article as follows:

Mr. Oliver’s claim that Keystone XL would enhance energy security, create thousands of jobs and support the environment is wrong. For many of us concerned about adding value to our non-renewable resources, meaningful and long term jobs for Canadians, global warming and climate change, his brazen misrepresentations are insulting.

Canadians expect their federal government to demonstrate leadership on climate change.

We also expect them to tell the truth.

Perhaps it’s time to put in place greenwashing rules for governments.

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