This week, the National Energy Board (NEB) announced plans for its upcoming hearings on the proposal to triple the capacity of Kinder Morgan’s Transmountain Pipeline, which transports oil from Alberta to the Port of Vancouver. The new pipeline alone is expected to lead to 50% more carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions each year than all of British Columbia currently produces. That fact prompted 26 university professors who study climate change to apply to lend our expertise to the NEB’s assessment of whether this project is in the public interest. Every one of us was rejected, because we proposed to talk about climate change.
Last fall, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), speaking on behalf of the international scientific community, expressed greater than 95% certainty that human activity, particularly CO2 emissions, is the dominant cause of recently observed climate change. By comparison, scientists have roughly the same level of confidence that cigarette smoking causes cancer.
At current emissions rates, the IPCC projected that the planet is likely to warm by 2.6 C to 4.8 C by the end of this century — a rate of climate change that is unprecedented in the history of human civilization. In addition, roughly one-third of CO2 emissions will dissolve in the ocean, increasing ocean acidity to a level not observed in millions of years.
Just last week, the IPCC released a follow-up report that concluded that this climate change could contribute to food shortages, damage to coastal cities, the displacement of millions of people and widespread species extinction.
In response to these threats, Canada has joined the governments of the world in agreeing to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in order to limit global warming to less than 2 C. As a first step, Canada pledged to reduce its emissions to 17% below 2005 levels by the year 2020.
How are we doing? Canada’s recent submission to the UN stated that our emissions will be 24% above our international target in 2020. Not only will we miss our target, but our emissions will have increased, not decreased. Fully 78% of emissions growth by 2020 is projected to come from oil sands production.
For eight years, the federal government has promised to regulate emissions from the oil and gas sector. It has yet to do so. Indeed, this fall, just after Canada reported that it was not on track to meet its 2020 target, Canadians were told by Prime Minister Stephen Harper that oil and gas regulations would be delayed, yet again, for “a couple of years.”
The purpose of the proposed Trans Mountain Pipeline expansion is to increase the oil sands’ access to global markets. Whether directly or indirectly, this additional export pathway will increase bitumen production and thus greenhouse gas emissions.