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Trudeau’s support for 1.5°C target should spell the end for Energy East, investor-state provisions

Don't COP out

Canadian Youth Delegation

At the recently concluded COP21 climate talks in Paris the Trudeau government endorsed the inclusion of text in the agreement that commits the world to limiting global warming to “well below 2 degrees Celsius” and to “pursue efforts” to keep it below 1.5 degrees Celsius. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says the Paris Agreement is “historic, ambitious and balanced” and that, “We will move towards a climate resilient economy, and we will invest in public transit, green infrastructure and clean technologies to create new jobs and support our communities.” Alberta premier Rachel Notley says she is confident that her province can contribute and thrive under these targets.

So what do we need to do to meet this target?

In January, the Globe and Mail reported, “Using a computer model, economists at University College London calculated both the economic value and carbon content of fossil fuels around the world and looked at the most cost-effective way for fossil-fuel development to proceed while trying to hold to the two-degree global target.” The study says Alberta’s oil reserves hold 48 billion barrels of oil. “[It} then finds that only 7.5 billion barrels of that, or about 15 per cent, can be used by 2050 as part of the global allotment of fossil-fuel use in a two-degree scenario.”

The article adds, “The figure assumes that new technologies will make possible a reduction in the carbon intensity of oil sands production. If this does not happen, the authors say, then even less of the oil-sands reserve should be extracted. …In their analysis, the authors of the study also looked a the potential impact of carbon capture and storage technologies (CCS) and found that the result was not enough to change the overall picture, in part because such technologies are not expected to come online rapidly enough to allow fossil fuel burning without consequence.”

Alberta Energy says, “Oil sands production is expected to increase from 2.3 million barrels per day in 2014 to 4 million barrels per day in 2024, keeping pace with demand, providing jobs to Canadians, and creating a sound economic basis for the future.” The current production level of 2.3 million barrels a day equals 839.5 million barrels a year. That means that the limit of 7.5 billion barrels of oil to meet the 2 degrees Celsius target would be reached in 8.9 years. In other words, according to the University College London study, the tar sands would need to be shut down in 2024 just as Alberta Energy projects production almost doubling.

Likewise, the proposed Energy East pipeline would move 1.1 million barrels of oil a day, which is about 401.5 million barrels per year. Just the Energy East pipeline alone (no other pipelines, no other tar sands production) would hit the carbon budget of 7.5 billion barrels in just under 19 years.

If Canada were to “pursue efforts” to keep the global temperature increase below 1.5 degrees Celsius, as agreed to in the Paris Agreement, these time frames would be even shorter.

We can presume that the Trudeau and Notley governments may not accept the findings of the University College London study. Or it is possible that, despite this study factoring in new technologies, they believe “clean technologies” (to use Trudeau’s phrase from last night) can be effectively employed to avoid transitioning away from the tar sands. It’s also possible that the Paris Agreement’s commitment to “carbon neutrality” by the latter half of this century will be seen as the fix. Carbon neutrality (which is not the same as zero emissions) likely includes mechanisms like carbon emission trading and Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+).

In short, carbon emission trading allows a country to purchase the right to emit more by another country trading its right to emit carbon to them. And REDD+ basically says that, since deforestation accounts for 12 to 29 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions, a country buying a forest to stop that deforestation should be given carbon credits for preventing those emissions.

We might also presume that the Trudeau government may not see “free trade” agreements like the Canada-European Union Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) and the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) as contributors to climate change. Both contain investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) provisions that allow transnational corporations to sue national government for lost profits resulting from public interest measures. Any corporation based in any of the 28 European Union member states or the 11 TPP countries with investments in the tar sands could conceivably sue Canada for measures that would restrict those operations or limit its market.

Many people were relieved that the Harper government did not represent this country at the COP21 talks and are pleased that the Trudeau government was not perceived to be playing an obstructionist role in Paris. Let us build on that, and on the government’s stated commitment to the 1.5 degrees Celsius target, to make the case that the Paris Agreement compels us to transition to a 100 per cent clean economy by 2050 and that a further expansion of the tar sands, more pipelines, market mechanisms like carbon emission trading, and more “free trade” deals like CETA and the TPP are inconsistent with that goal.

If the Trudeau government has truly committed to a future that limits global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, how else is it going to get us there?