Op-Ed arguing halt to Canadian oil and gas production steeped in hyperbole while ignoring our critical role in creating a lower carbon-emissions future
In an opinion article published in the Globe & Mail on Dec. 27, 2019, U.S. environmental activist Bill McKibben argued that aggressive action is required to reduce greenhouse gas emissions over the next decade in order to achieve the Paris Agreement’s goal of limiting global warming to less than 2 degrees Celsius.
Instead of presenting pragmatic and meaningful steps towards achieving this goal on a world-wide scale, McKibben criticizes Canadians for their consumption of fossil fuels and argues that halting production of Canadian oil and natural gas is ‘crucial’ to combatting climate change. These claims ignore basic facts about Canada’s role in the global energy system and the opportunities that exist for Canadian energy to assist in the transition to a lower carbon-emissions future.
Export of natural gas is Canada’s greatest opportunity to help reduce global GHGs in a serious way. Canada itself is responsible for less than 1.6 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions. This includes emissions from the upstream production of our oil and gas resources, which amount to approximately 0.3 per cent of total GHGs. Shutting down Canadian energy production would have no material impact on world emissions. However, by getting natural gas to countries like China and India, where coal use is growing, Canada can have an immediate and substantial impact on global emissions.
Unlike the United States, which is the world’s largest oil producer, largest oil consumer, and the second-largest GHG emitter behind China, Canada has a national climate plan that includes a cap on GHG emissions from the oil sands industry and a large industry emissions levy in Alberta through the Technology, Innovation and Emissions Reduction (TIER) fund.
World demand for oil and natural gas continues to grow, fueled by leading developing economies, according to the latest forecast by the International Energy Agency (IEA). Under the IEA’s most optimistic “sustainable development scenario,” which assumes the goals of the Paris Agreement are achieved, world oil consumption would still be 67 million barrels per day by 2040. Leaving Canada’s oil and gas in the ground will only result in world demand being met by suppliers that don’t have our world-leading environmental, social and governance standards.
The emissions intensity of Canada’s crude oil has decreased thanks to innovation and a commitment to continuous improvement. Oil produced from many of the newest oil sands facilities have per-barrel emissions levels that are at or below the average global barrel (see page 44).
Countries around the world are looking to Canada as the supplier of choice for responsibly produced natural gas to replace the burning of coal for electricity generation. Switching from coal to natural gas is one of the quickest and most effective steps in reducing global GHG emissions, and Canadian gas is considered one of the ‘greenest’ supplies for international markets.
Update: This article has been updated from a previous version to state the emissions intensity of Canada’s crude oil has decreased.