Premiers told to rethink pipelines as they meet on climate

A leading energy think-tank is warning premiers and territorial leaders they need to think about the effects of pipelines on Canada's carbon emissions before they think about an energy strategy for the country.

Pembina Institute argues projects such as Energy East would boost oilsands production and carbon emissions

Rethinking pipelines

6 years ago
Erin Flanagan of the Pembina Institute says rising oilsands emissions could wipe out efforts to curb carbon in Ont., Que., B.C. 7:01

The Pembina Institute is warning premiers and territorial leaders they need to think about the effects of pipelines on Canada's carbon emissions before they think about an energy strategy for the country.

A new report by the think-tank says building new oil pipelines, such as the Energy East project to bring western oil east, could produce more carbon pollution and wipe out a lot of the work the provinces have already done to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions.

The report was released Tuesday, as the premiers and territorial leaders meet to discuss climate change in Quebec City.

"The oilsands is Canada's fastest-growing source of carbon emissions," says the report. "That means infrastructure proposals such as the Energy East pipeline have significant impact on the federation's ability to meet climate change objectives."

The report, titled Crafting an Effective Canadian Energy Strategy, calls 2015 a year of reckoning.

By the fall, governments around the world must reveal their concrete plans to cut carbon emissions for the next decade at an international UN climate change conference in Paris. The initial deadline was March 31, which Canada missed.

National targets coming in June, Harper says

Prime Minister Stephen Harper has promised that Canada will release its targets for the next decade by June in advance of the meeting.

But the executive director of the Pembina Institute, Ed Whittingham, says Canada is lagging on its promise to cut greenhouse gas emissions to 17 per cent below 2005 levels by 2020.

"It's nip and tuck as to whether Canada will come anywhere close to reaching its 2020 target," Whittingham said in an interview with CBC News.

The reason is that the oilsands sector continues to grow and so does its carbon pollution.

While B.C., Ontario and Quebec are reducing or levelling off their carbon emissions, those of Alberta and Saskatchewan keep going up.

"Between 2005 and 2012, only Alberta's and Saskatchewan's emissions profiles worsened in absolute terms," says the report.

"Every other province or territory reduced or maintained the absolute size of their emissions."

Oilsands and Energy East

Oilsands production is projected to more than double to nearly five million barrels a day by 2030 from 2.1 million barrels per day in 2013.

Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard, right, and Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne, with Ontario Environment Minister Glen Murray, signed an agreement on a cap-and-trade system Monday to help curb emissions by setting limits on carbon. Premiers are meeting Tuesday in Quebec City to discuss emission reduction plans. (Jacques Boissinot/Canadian Press)

The report says building new pipelines like TransCanada's proposed Energy East pipeline could make it worse.

The project would carry 1.1 million barrels of oil a day from Alberta to the Atlantic coast.

Whittingham says filling the pipeline with oil would increase carbon pollution by about 32 million tonnes every year — equivalent to putting seven million new cars on the road annually.

He says the premiers need to think about that when they're talking climate strategy.

"Putting in new oil pipelines in the absence of how we're going to meet our international obligations is putting the cart before the horse," he said.

The Pembina report points out that the provinces have agreed on collaborating on issues of climate and energy, but they have not determined how they will address energy-intensive mega-projects like pipelines.

It recommends that they review the effects of the Energy East project on Canada's climate objectives.

It also says big pipeline projects should be put on hold until the Council of the Federation has put together a unified climate strategy.

"If we don't have that plan, we are really concerned about putting in infrastructure that would negate progress made in provinces like Ontario, B.C. and Quebec," says Whittingham.

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