Canada’s oil and gas emissions dwarfed by handful of ‘super polluter’ global coal projects

Canada can do more to help reduce global emissions with natural gas exports

By Deborah Jaremko
The Belchatow Power Station in Rogowiec, Poland is the highest-emitting coal plant in the world, according to a study published in the journal Environmental Research Letters in August 2021. Getty Images photo

Big wins could be found in the fight against climate change by focusing on the world’s “super polluters” instead of sweeping measures across countries and industries, according to researchers with the University of Colorado Boulder.

An August study published in the journal Environmental Research Letters found that the highest polluting power plants in the world are responsible for 73 per cent of all CO2 emissions from electricity generation.

Switching just these plants from coal to natural gas could reduce global CO2 emissions from electricity by as much as 30 per cent, researchers found. Natural gas, they said, is “the most available and efficient mitigation option.”

Canada is building its first liquefied natural gas (LNG) export terminal, where the product is expected to be used primarily to displace coal in Asian markets.

If used to replace coal in China, natural gas from LNG Canada alone is expected to reduce emissions by 60 to 90 million tonnes per year. That’s more than the 50 million tonnes emitted from Canada’s entire natural gas production sector in 2018, according to federal emissions data.

Natural gas exported from B.C. is expected to be cleaner than other sources, with emissions intensity that is less than half of the global average, according to a report by Oxford Energy Institute.

Top 10 “super polluters” compared to Canada

Using a newly constructed global database, researchers at the University of Colorado Boulder identified the world’s top 10 emitting power plants in 2018. All coal-fired, there are two in Europe, two in India, three in South Korea, and one each in Japan, Taiwan and northern China.

It takes just more than the top five of these plants to exceed the emissions of Canada’s entire oil and gas production sector, according to Canada’s national emissions inventory.

The industry in Canada supports more than 500,000 jobs and provides the United States with more than 95 per cent of its natural gas imports and half of its imported oil.

Emissions from Canada’s natural gas production are less than half the emissions of the top two plants combined.

Meanwhile, emissions from the approximately 100 operating projects of different sizes and technologies in Canada’s oil sands are less than the pollution of just the top three coal plants together.

There were 2,445 coal plants operating around the world as of July 2021, as well as 195 under construction and 324 in “pre-construction,” according to Global Energy Monitor.

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