Energy gluttons? Who us?
By Robert Sheppard, CBC.ca Reality Check Team | Dec. 8, 2005 | More Reality Check
The big post-Kyoto conference just ending in Montreal was a heaven-sent opportunity for Paul Martin's Liberals to highlight their commitment to curtailing global warming. It was also a natural press op for Conservative Leader Stephen Harper and NDP Leader Jack Layton to call the ruling Liberals hypocrites.
Having pledged, under Kyoto, to cut Canada's grreenhouse gas emissions by at least 5.2 per cent of what they were in 1990, the Liberals have failed to make any kind of dent in limiting these pernicious gases, both opposition leaders charged. In fact, the two pointed out in separate denunciations, greenhouse gas emissions – the byproduct mainly of driving cars and trucks, heating homes and creating energy – have actually increased 24 per cent since 1990. This is absolutely true, but doesn't tell the whole story.
According to the latest internationally accepted tally, Canada emitted 596 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent gases in 1990. This was up to 740 Mt in 2003, the 24 per cent increase.
But over the same period. Canada's economy (as measured by GDP) jumped by almost 43 per cent, which means that, as energy users at least, Canadians have become increasingly more efficient in getting more bang for the buck.
The more important aspect in all this, though, which Mr. Harper should know well coming from the oil- and gas-producing region of Alberta, is that a significant portion of our greenhouse gas deficit stems from extracting and shipping ever-increasing quantities of oil and natural gas to the United States. (Gas exports to the U.S., for example, have more than doubled over that period, making Canada the world's second-largest natural gas exporter and turning Alberta into a debt-free boom land.)
Of the 144 Mt increase in greenhouse gas emissions since 1990, at least 86 Mt (41 per cent) is from the broad energy sector and just more than 40 per cent of that can be attributed to the rise in oil and gas exports to the U.S. There are two reasons for this. The first is extraction costs, especially the cost of delivering usable barrels of oil from sticky tarsands. This process requires vast amounts of steam and other emission-releasing energy. The second factor is that the capture and delivery of natural gas by pipeline has led to millions of tonnes of so-called fugitive emissions as unwanted sour gas is flared off at the well site and methane escapes from many regular pipeline leaks.
With an average consumption of 402.6 million Btu per capita – less than the U.S – we Canadians are often considered the world's top energy gluttons. And while we do have our special burdens – cold winters, old houses in many parts of the country, long commuting distances, a decades-long love affair with the minivan, and, more recently, the SUV – part of the reason we can claim this ignoble prize is that we carry at least some of the energy needs and global warming obligations of our neighbour to the south.
For more detailed information:
Canada's 2001 per-capita energy consumption, at 402.6 million Btu per person, was higher even than that of the U.S., at 341.8 million Btu per person, according to the U.S. EIA. This rate was also considerably higher than in France (177.8 million Btu per person), the U.K. (164.8), Germany (174.3) and Japan (172.2). Oddly, perhaps, Canada's 2001 per-capita carbon emissions of 5 metric tonnes (Mt) were below the U.S. at 5.5 Mt per person, but virtually twice that of most European nations.