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Don’t fall for the pipelines vs. coal shell game

Opinion published in Ricochet, December 5, 2017

Last week saw Alberta Premier Rachel Notley join federal Natural Resources Minister Jim Carr and Kinder Morgan CEO Ian Anderson in Vancouver to deliver a hard sales pitch for completing the Trans Mountain pipeline.

People gathered outside to underscore the lack of consent from the majority of First Nations whose territories the tar sands pipeline crosses, and to return Kinder Morgan’s deterrent mats the company illegally installed in an attempt to prevent salmon spawning in streams the pipeline would cross.

Inside the Vancouver event, the commitments by the Alberta and federal governments to phase out coal-fired power were trotted out again as reasons for supporting the Kinder Morgan pipeline project, which aims to transport 890,000 barrels of oil every day from Alberta to Burnaby for export through the Salish Sea. Notley has made similar arguments in support of Enbridge’s Line 3 pipeline, which will carry tar sands oil from Alberta to Wisconsin.

This is a shell game.

The amount of climate pollution prevented by phasing out coal-fired power in Ontario and Alberta is exceeded by the climate pollution that could be generated by the Kinder Morgan and Line 3 tar sands pipelines, if they are both completed.

Undoubtedly ending coal-fired power is good for the climate and our health. The Albertan plan to provide a just transition for impacted workers is particularly forward looking. Climate change is not a game of political chess, however. Progress in one area cannot be allowed to help justify, or provide political cover for, increasing climate polluting projects in another area.

What of Alberta’s cap on tar sands climate pollution? It’s too high and too late. If the tar sands are allowed to expand to 100 megatonnes of climate pollution up until 2030, it would account for one fifth of all of the emissions generated from all sectors agreed to under Canada’s 2030 emission reduction target, requiring significant and painful cuts elsewhere.

Even under the best case scenario of the Trudeau Liberal policies achieving the reductions they have set out to achieve, the plans presented to date will not meet the goal. There remains a 44 megatonne gap. And let’s be honest: the federal record of meeting emission reduction goals, including former Liberal governments, is awful.

It’s worth remembering that the Liberal target for emissions reductions is in fact the Harper-era target that falls far below the ambition demanded by countries and climate justice movements on the front lines of climate change impacts.

It also falls short of meeting the Paris Climate Agreement goal of keeping global temperature rise well below 2 degrees, let alone the goal of pursuing efforts to limit the increase even further to 1.5 degrees. Environment and Climate Change Minister Catherine McKenna herself has acknowledged this point.

It’s long overdue to take the demand of ending tar sands expansion, including pipelines, seriously. The tar sands are Canada’s largest and fastest growing source of greenhouse gas emissions. Expansion of the tar sands is simply incompatible with the Paris Climate Agreement.

As the forward-looking Lofoten Declaration, which promotes a managed decline of fossil fuel industries and which is endorsed by over 500 organizations globally, stated, “we are in a deep hole with climate. We must begin by not digging ourselves any deeper.”

We need bold leadership from our governments, not political spin. We need leadership that stands up to the well-financed influence of Big Oil and manages the fossil fuel industry in the interests of people and the environment.

The good news is there are many solutions to the climate crisis.

We can take leadership from impacted communities who are on the front lines of stopping fossil fuel expansion, such as Indigenous communities saying no to the Kinder Morgan pipeline. We can stop subsidizing the fossil fuel industry and start taxing them fairly instead of letting Big Oil away with paying billions less tax in Canada than abroad.

We can have a clean energy economy by 2050. We can plan the needed transition so that impacted workers and communities are supported through measures such as training and skills development to support new clean energy technologies.

Through this work we can make our communities livable, healthier and more equitable if we approach it the right way.