01 July 2006

Canada and Kyoto

For my Canada Day post, I'd like to say that Canada is not doing well at all on the greenhouse gas emissions front.

The Conservative Prime Minister Steven Harper and his Minister of Environment, Rhonda Ambrose, have taken a lot of heat for abrogating the Kyoto treaty on climate change. My feelings on this have been ambivalent. While I hardly think the Conservatives are going to govern in a pro-environment fashion, at least they are being honest with the population. In a parliamentary system when the governing party passes legislation, everyone knows who wrote it and who passed it. There's none of the bizarre amendments that are so omnipresent in the US Congress and you can't run away from your record very easily. In comparison, all the Liberal party was doing was offering empty platitudes to the green vote. I mean really, can anyone name a successful program instituted by the Liberal party that helped reduce greenhouse gas emissions? The "One Tonne Challenge"? Please... Liberals pander to environmentalists in order to get their votes, but in office they don't actually effect any significant policy changes. Canada has a resource-based economy, and on our current course we could actually manage to pass the USA in per capita greenhouse gas emissions in spite of our relatively green electricity production infrastructure.

Also much of the criticism against Kyoto is strong. I certainly can't see the value of shipping money to Eastern Europe (whose economies and hence emissions collapsed in the 1990s) in order to 'offset' CO2 emission. It would be far better to spend that money nationally on programs to actually reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The fact is, as soon as the Bush administration decided not to ratify Kyoto, the treaty was dead. The American influence on the global economy and global environment is far too massive to be sidestepped. The fact that coal-powered China also has no incentive to take another path (aside from destroying their local environment) is another nail in the coffin.

The sad fact of the matter is that Canada could probably meet its Kyoto targets without a lot of fuss:
  1. Eliminate raw methane emissions. Methane has 22 x the global warming potential as CO2 so the benefit on a mole by mole basis is very big. Methane mainly comes from two sources: the oil and gas industry and waste streams (landfills and wastewater). For the oil and gas industry, the government would need to institute regulations to vastly reduce the amount of methane that is permitted to leak out of natural gas pipelines and wellheads. Reducing methane production from wastewater (sewage) and landfills is a matter [edit] of caping them and introducing anaerobic bacteria to eat the carbohydrates and cellulose in order to produce biogas, a mixture of methane and carbon dioxide. Biogas is typically burned in large diesel engines to provide electricity; in the future solid oxide fuel cells could be used. [/edit]
  2. Introduce a feebate program on cars and light trucks without any loopholes. Canadian fleet fuel economy is pathetic. More long term programs to improve the transportation sector would include pushing freight onto electrified rail and improving the quantity and quality of public transit. I've lived in both Victoria and Edmonton and in both busses are generally filled to overcapacity during rush hour. Canada in itself is not big enough to induce new technologies like the plug-in hybrid to appear on the marketplace but we can still make a huge impact by slowing shifting the structural framework of the transportation sector to use sustainable energy and be more efficient.
  3. Further green the electricity sector so that we can better make the argument that switching to electricity is the way to go. Investing in a more robust electrical grid with more DC connections will payoff in any future. 57 % of our electricity comes from hydro and 13 % from nuclear. The obvious missing factor is wind. While Alberta has some significant wind development (and amazing katabatic winds coming off the Rocky Mountains) Canada in general lags behind every developed nation in wind. The hydro provinces (Quebec, British Columbia, and Manitoba) are uniquely well suited to use their reservoirs to handle the intermittency problems of wind power. Alberta and Saskatchewan should be pushing carbon dioxide sequesterization much harder. I live in Edmonton so I understand that it would be practically impossible to convince the province to get off coal but pumping CO2 underground has a real potential economic value for tertiary recovery of conventional oil and gas. The experience at Weyburn has been positive and the government could be pushing this technology far, far harder. Ontario doesn't have the thick sedimentary basin of the prairie provinces so they appear to be stuck with nuclear power for the moment. (Oh, and which is more environmentally benign, new nuclear plants in Ontario or new hydro-electric dams in Quebec?)
  4. Continue to increase EnerGuide standards on appliances and offer programs to encourage residential and commercial building owners to retrofit their structures to use less electricity and natural gas. Consider for example how grossly excessive the lighting in most commercial buildings is. The bathrooms in new buildings on the University of Alberta campus usually have motion sensors that turn on when you enter. This sort of technology should see more common use. Putting photosensors on hall lighting to turn the lights off when the sun is shining from the outside would be another positive step to reduce wasted electricity.
A pretty simple and achievable plan in my opinion: push hard on methane, increase car fuel economy standards and push public transit and rail, invest in green electricity generation, push efficiency and conservation through government standards. None of these policies would have a significant harmful impact on the economy and in the long-run, improving energy efficiency will benefit any country.


wilbur said...

Paradoxilly, urning methane is a way to decrease global warming, but not eliminate it. Methane is 22 times more potent than CO2 as a greenhouse gas. Burning methane converts it to CO2 and water. Viola! we have just reduced global warming by a factor of 22 over just releasing methane into the atmosphere.

wilbur said...

sorry about the typo.
Paradoxilly, burning methane is a way to decrease global warming, but not eliminate it. Methane is 22 times more potent than CO2 as a greenhouse gas. Burning methane converts it to CO2 and water. Viola! we have just reduced global warming by a factor of 22 over just releasing methane into the atmosphere.