Kinder Morgan and Line 3 pipelines could undo progress from coal phase out

The Council of Canadians protesting the Kinder Morgan project at the Burnaby export terminal, May 2016.
 
Premier Notley is joining Natural Resource Minister Jim Carr and Ian Anderson, CEO of Kinder Morgan Canada, in Vancouver today to promote the Kinder Morgan pipeline. 
 
The talk aimed at Vancouver's business community is being rightfully targeted by a local rally. 

The Facebook event states, "Kinder Morgan does not have consent from the majority of the nations whose territories the pipeline aims to cross. KM has already violated its environmental conditions by polluting rivers with plastic and interfering with salmon."
 
The Albertan and federal commitment to phase out coal-fired power (not coal mining) will undoubtedly again be a key talking point in justifying support for the highly contentious pipeline project aiming to ship 890,000 barrels of tar sands crude from Alberta to BC, and export markets through the Salish Sea.  
 
Here’s the thing.

The climate pollution stopped from 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 built.

  • Ontario coal phase out: removes 30 Megatonnes tonnes of climate pollution every year.
  • Albertan coal phase out: removes 5.15 Megatonnes of climate pollution 
  • Total: 35.15 Megatonnes of climate pollution removed every year.
  • Line 3: adds 19-26 Megatonnes of climate pollution every year.
  • Kinder Morgan: adds 25.1 Megatonnes of climate pollution every year.
  • Total: 44.1-51.1 Megatonnes of climate pollution added every year.

And the climate pollution numbers used here only account for upstream emissions (producing tar sands crude to fill these pipelines), let alone the far more significant impact in burning the end product (downstream emissions).

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. 

But here’s the thing, climate change is not a game of political chess.

Climate change is an unprecedented crisis we collectively face that is already having significant environmental, social and economic impacts. There is no breathing room.

Progress in one area cannot be allowed to help justify, or provide political cover, for increasing climate polluting projects in another area.

Prime Minister Trudeau has stated several times that, “there isn’t a country in the world that would find billions of barrels of oil and leave it in the ground while there is a market for it.”

Yet this is precisely what we need to do. 

The tar sands are Canada’s largest and fastest growing source of greenhouse gas emissions. It's long overdue to take the demand of ending tar sands expansion including pipelines, seriously. 

Globally, a third of oil reserves, half of gas reserves and over 80 per cent of current coal reserves should remain unused from 2010 to 2050 in order to meet the target of 2 degrees. The authors behind this finding featured in Nature Journal further explain that any increase in unconventional oil production, such as the Alberta tar sands, is 'incommensurate with efforts to limit average global warming to 2 degrees.' 

Even clearer is the new research by Oil Change International that finds the potential emissions from currently operating oil gas and coal fields and mines alone could take us beyond 2 degrees. 

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 as proposed, it would  account for one fifth of all of the emissions generated from all sectors in Canada requiring significant and painful cuts elsewhere.

What of Canada’s 2030 emission reduction target? Even under the best case scenario of the Trudeau Liberal policies achieving the reductions they have set out to achieve – and let’s be honest, the federal record of meeting emission reduction goals, including former Liberal governments, is not great – the plans presented to date will not meet the goal. There remains a 44 Megatonne gap .

Further, thinking that the federal government’s 2030 target fulfills our fair share in addressing climate change is dangerous. Minister McKenna herself acknowledges the target is insufficient in 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.  

This is one of the reasons the Council of Canadians recently endorsed the Lofoten Declaration, a forward looking document that now has the support of over 500 organizations which states:

"We recognize that a full transition away from fossil fuels will take decades, but also, that this shift is an opportunity more than a burden. We are in a deep hole with climate. We must begin by not digging ourselves any deeper. Research shows that the carbon embedded in existing fossil fuel production will take us far beyond safe climate limits. Thus, not only are new exploration and new production incompatible with limiting global warming to well below 2ºC (and as close to 1.5ºC as possible), but many existing projects will need to be phased-out faster than their natural decline."

The Declaration further argues the important role of wealthy fossil fuel producing countries like Canada, Norway, U.S. and Australia have in leading an end to fossil fuel expansion projects and planning for a just transition away from fossil fuels.

The truth is this change is coming.

We can demand bold leadership from our governments now in managing the fossil fuel industry in the interests of people and the environment. Or we can continue to expand the fossil fuel sector and wait for the inevitable crash, leaving the livelihoods of impacted workers and communities up to the interests of markets and Big Oil. 

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

We can stand up to the interests of Big Oil, taking leadership from impacted communities such as  Indigenous communities saying no to the Kinder Morgan pipeline, that are on the front lines of stopping fossil fuel expansion. 

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.

But as the Lofoten Declaration says, the first step is to stop digging deeper into the hole we're in.