We Tweet at Their Pleasure

Being suspended from Twitter might be a mixed blessing: it lays bare your dependency on a social media platform that enforces its rules with Kafkaesque abandon and forces you to rethink your relationship with a digital platform that exercises absolute power without accountability.

Twitter has been a valuable tool for me to indulge my passion for continuous learning in my areas of interest: climate change, sustainability, energy and low carbon transition, cultural change, digital culture, and current events. It has also allowed me to engage with a broad range of people with similar interests. I follow climate scientists, climate/energy professionals, educators/academics, journalists, climate activists, writers, politicians, and other public figures. I have become familiar with some amazing people via Twitter. Where else could I have a conversation with some of my heroes? At its best, being on Twitter feels like you are at the biggest gathering in the world, with some of the world’s most interesting people. How valuable is Twitter? According to an assessment provided generously by Peter Klein at Educated Change, my Twitter profile was worth 500K EC coins as of May 2018. I take this valuation with some skepticism, but it does reinforce that social networks have tangible value for the people who participate in them. This may be especially true for self-employed people like me, working in rapidly changing areas and dependant on their knowledge of those areas to make a living.

I spend a lot of time on Twitter, perhaps more than I should. After joining in May 2011, Twitter became a habitual part of my internet usage. By August 2018 I had sent just under 11,000 tweets (10.9K according to Twitter), was following about 1700 people, and had about 1040 followers. Mine is not a huge network, but it is not insignificant either. These numbers are somewhat imprecise, because if I look at Twitter today (www.twitter.com/carbonexplorer ) I have 0 followers and am following 0 people.

If you are a fellow Twitter user, imagine how seeing 0 followers and 0 following on your profile might make you feel. You no longer have a Twitter feed that reflects what you are interested in. Twitter is dead to you.

My Twitter account has been suspended. According to Twitter, I was suspended from Twitter “due to multiple or repeat violations of the Twitter Rules: https://twitter.com/rules.”

As best I can tell, I was suspended from Twitter after posting a link to a shared Google Doc that is a one-page partial transcript of a YouTube video by Kate Raworth (www.twitter.com/KateRaworth ), the author of Doughnut Economics: Seven Ways to Think Like a 21st-Century Economist. In the video, Kate introduces the Three Horizons Framework and goes on to suggest twelve questions that could be used to support a deeper dive using the framework in a group strategy workshop. I found this video very interesting, especially the twelve questions. I couldn’t find them written out anywhere, so I decided to transcribe them and share the results. The first time I shared this I got the title of the Google Doc wrong, so I deleted my tweet, fixed the title, and tried sharing it again. For some unknown reason, Twitter considered this breaking their rules.

What Twitter rules could I have broken? I don’t know, but here is my best guess on how the Twitter algorithm may have interpreted my behaviour:

  1. Intellectual property: On my Google Doc, I credited Kate Raworth as the source, so I have not broken this rule.
  2. Third-party advertising in video content: According to its rules, Twitter doesn’t like “pre-roll video ads”. If this was strictly enforced, most YouTube videos would violate the rules. In any case, I didn’t post a video, I replied to a tweet that posted a YouTube video.
  3. Spam: I was not trying to sell anything and genuinely believed that others who saw Kate’s tweet would be interested in a list of the 12 questions she suggested on the video. In fact, I started the list for my own purposes to capture the 12 questions, then quickly realized others might be interested too, and decided to share it

I don’t understand which of Twitter’s Rules I allegedly broke, and Twitter won’t tell me. After I was suspended, I filed an appeal saying I didn’t believe I broke any of their rules. About 36 hours later they responded:

Twitter Support Suspended and No Appeal

Email from Twitter Support: You are Suspended and There is No Process to Appeal

This was not a very useful message. It didn’t tell me what rule I violated and how I violated that rule. Even worse, it told me there is no way to appeal this decision. In essence: you broke our rules, we are not telling you which rule you broke or how you broke it, and don’t bother trying to appeal or resolve this issue, even if you feel you have been treated unfairly.

My response to this incident has been interesting. I was initially angry at this arbitrary and unjust action by Twitter. How dare they suspend me for my innocuous tweeting to a bunch of climate/energy geeks and ignore the egregious behaviour of high profile extremist propagandists like Alex Jones? I’m still angry but I’m also asking some questions about my own and our collective co-dependency with social media:

  1. What are the costs and benefits of depending on Twitter and other digital platforms for various purposes including news, education, social networking?
  2. How can we protect our interests and become better participants on digital platforms like Twitter?
  3. Why is Twitter’s enforcement of its rules so opaque, irregular, arbitrary, and inconsistent?
  4. Why is Twitter’s process for appealing their suspension decisions so difficult to use?
  5. Why can’t Twitter treat its users in a fair and transparent way and provide them with due process to understand, appeal, and resolve disputes?

I don’t have the answers to these questions, but I do have some advice for Twitter users and for Twitter.

Advice for Twitter Users

  1. Rethink how you use Twitter. What do you value about Twitter? What are other ways you could obtain that same value? What are the costs and benefits of using Twitter? When is Twitter the best use of your time?
  2. Remember that your ability to use Twitter may be revoked at any time for seemingly arbitrary reasons, with no way to appeal this decision. Don’t assume you will always have access to your Twitter account and everything associated with it (e.g., your tweets, direct messages, who you follow, who follows you).
  3. Take actions now to prevent loss of access to your Twitter account (e.g., read the Twitter Rules) and to mitigate potential costs if it occurs. For example, you can download your Tweet archive and almost most of your Twitter data via your account settings.

Advice for Twitter

  1. If your systems detect that one of your users may be breaking your rules, tell the user what rule they allegedly broke, and how they allegedly broke it. It is not enough to tell the user they have broken the rules. Can you imagine being arrested and told only that you broke the law? No, you probably can’t imagine that. Hence my Kafkaesque reference.
  2. Put in place a real appeal process with due process. It’s difficult, if not impossible to appeal a decision if you don’t even know the basis for the decision (i.e., what rule you allegedly broke) and the evidence supporting that decision. Yes, this is going to require you to hire more people to exercise human judgement. That is the price of success.

Have you ever been suspended by Twitter? What did you learn from the experience? Do you have additional advice for Twitter users or for Twitter?

Posted in Business, Culture, Social Media | Tagged | 2 Comments

Climate Policy Engagement: Does Your Carbon Handprint Reduce or Increase Your Carbon Footprint?

We spend a lot of effort understanding and trying to reduce our carbon footprint. That’s great. But it’s also important to understand and optimize our carbon handprint, sometimes defined as the impact (positive or negative) we have on other’s carbon footprints.

Even if you reduced your company’s carbon footprint to zero, climate change would remain a key challenge. System-level change is necessary, and that means changing the structure and rules of our economic system to make it less dependent on the fossil fuels mostly responsible for human-caused greenhouse gas emissions.

Some recent work by InfluenceMap frames “influence on climate and energy policy” as a key part of a company’s carbon handprint:

New research from UK think tank InfluenceMap identifies the 50 companies most influential in shaping climate and energy policy around the world. Some of these (like ExxonMobil) are in opposition while others (like Apple and Unilever) are championing ambitious national-level policy to support their decarbonization plans. All, as major corporations, play a major role in policy-making globally both directly and through their trade associations, the research finds.

InfluenceMap provides a great graphic to summarize their work:

Inline image 1

The horizontal axis measures how aligned a company is with policies that support the Paris Climate Agreement. The vertical axis measures how intensely the company engages in climate policy-making via lobbying, consultations, and other fora.

This work shows that a company’s climate policy engagement can have a positive or negative impact on their carbon handprint. Companies can significantly amplify their climate impacts (positive or negative) by how they engage in the climate policy-making process.

The final section of their report gives individual scores for the 50 most influential companies, with links to explain their detailed scoring. Big Oil and Big Materials do not do well. There are some familiar companies listed, including:

What can a company do with this information? Here are some suggested next steps:

  1. Score yourself using this approach
  2. Identify what it would take to improve your score and carbon handprint
  3. Use these results to engage with internal and external stakeholders, asking questions such as:
    1. How material is this to our business?
    2. Where we are at today?
    3. Where do we want to be?
    4. How can we align our actions with our values?
  4. Improve your carbon handprint by strongly supporting climate policies consistent with the Paris goal of “well under” 2°C

Feel free to contact me to discuss further.

Posted in Business, Carbon Management, Climate Change, Systems Thinking, Uncategorized | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Beyond Compromise to Stretch Collaboration

In The Best Way to Combat Climate Change is Compromise, Chris Turner makes some great points that most thoughtful climate activists would agree with. Yes, it will take decades to make the transition to clean renewable energy. And no one is expecting the oil/tar sands to shut down immediately. What climate activists are calling for is alignment between energy policy and climate policy, which will inevitably lead to a managed decline in the oil/tar sands rather than the continued expansion that industry and government promote. Turner recognizes that “Canada has always tried to have it both ways.” That era is over, at least when it comes to the inherent contradiction between endless fossil fuel expansion and credible climate action.

What is troubling about this article is its framing that we are all complicit. Turner asserts that “I’m as fully complicit in the long rule of oil as anyone. As everyone.” There is some truth to this, but it conveniently ignores that some of us are more complicit than others, and some of us have benefited from the long rule of oil more than others. How are First Nations on the front lines of oil patch development in Alberta as complicit as investors who have become unimaginably wealthy from these projects, while escaping their immediate impacts? Aside from the “tics” that psychologically isolate us from the reality of climate change, beyond the politics that favour compromises over bold actions, there is a dark underbelly: a long campaign by fossil fuel interests to delay effective climate action by spreading misinformation and doubt about climate change science. This campaign was brilliantly described by Harvard historian of science Naomi Oreskes (recently interviewed on the CBC Radio program Ideas) and is helping fuel lawsuits alleging illegal behaviour by ExxonMobil and other big oil players. [Edit: For an eye-opening exploration of how Big Oil has captured democratic institutions in Canada, I strongly recommend Kevin Taft’s book Oil’s Deep State, summarized here.]

While this dark underbelly may not align with Turner’s historical narrative of Canadian compromise, it must be recognized and confronted before we can work together for an energy system that acknowledges natural limits and provides economic benefits for all Canadians. Perhaps looking to historic compromises is the wrong model. Instead, we could look to the “stretch collaboration” framework proposed by Adam Kahane in his book Collaborating with the Enemy: How to Work with People You Don’t Agree With or Like or Trust. Stretch collaboration includes three dimensions. First, we need to embrace conflict and connection. We may have all benefited from fossil fuel development, but some have benefited more than others. We ignore this at our peril. The second stretch is to experiment a way forward. No living person has experienced the momentous shift in energy systems that we are going through. We need to have some humility and recognize no one has all the answers. Finally, as Turner points out, we are all in this together. We can’t change the behaviour of others, we can only change our own. In Kahane’s words, “If you’re not part of the problem, you can’t be part of the solution.”


Posted in Business, Carbon Management, Climate Change | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

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.

Posted in Carbon Management, Climate Change, Uncategorized | Tagged , , | 3 Comments

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 […]


Posted in Climate Change, Culture, Systems Thinking | Leave a comment

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.

Posted in Business, Carbon Management, Systems Thinking | Leave a comment

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, https://www.ipcc.ch/report/ar5/wg1/

[2] Kate Connolly, 8 June 2015: G7 leaders agree to phase out fossil fuel use by end of century, http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/jun/08/g7-leaders-agree-phase-out-fossil-fuel-use-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, http://www.thestar.com/opinion/commentary/2015/09/08/u-of-t-should-divest-from-fossil-fuels.html

[6] Patrick Collinson, 10 April 2015: Fossil fuel-free funds outperformed conventional ones, analysis shows, http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2015/apr/10/fossil-fuel-free-funds-out-performed-conventional-ones-analysis-shows

[7] Damian Carrington, 15 January 2015: Engaging with oil companies on climate change is futile, admits leading UK environmentalist, http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2015/jan/15/engaging-with-oil-companies-climate-change-futile-admits-leading-environmentalist

[8] Letter from health professionals: “Do no harm: the Wellcome Trust should not profit from the fossil fuel industry”, http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2015/jun/25/do-no-harm-wellcome-trust-should-not-profit-from-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, http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2015/jun/23/a-beginners-guide-to-fossil-fuel-divestment

Posted in Carbon Management, Climate Change, Systems Thinking | Tagged , | Leave a comment

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.

Posted in Climate Change, Culture, Systems Thinking | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

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, http://www.neb-one.gc.ca/pplctnflng/mjrpp/nrgyst/index-eng.html

[2] Pembina Institute (2014): Climate Implications of the Proposed Energy East Pipeline: A Preliminary Assessment, http://www.pembina.org/pub/2519

[3] Ontario Energy Board (2015): Preliminary Assessment – Climate Change, http://www.ontarioenergyboard.ca/html/oebenergyeast/resources.cfm#part2

[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 http://cdm.unfccc.int/Reference/tools/index.html

[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).

Posted in Business, Carbon Management, Climate Change | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

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

Posted in Business, Climate Change | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment