By Jim Harding
This is the third in the pre-election series “Up Against the Wall”
Premier Wall hasn’t had much to say since he returned from the climate change talks in Paris. He is standing out as the only premier continuing to defend the fossil fuel industry. Most recently he backed Trans-Canada Pipeline’s $15 billion dollar NAFTA suit against the U.S. government for not approving the Keystone Pipeline.
He also stands alone in continuing to back questionable carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology being used for oil recovery which in turn brings more carbon into the biosphere.
Perhaps Premier Wall had hoped to be able to come back from Paris able to promote nuclear power and Saskatchewan uranium exports as a responsible carbon-reducing strategy, but the global research is nearly unanimous that nuclear power isn’t a timely, safe or cost-effective way to address the climate crisis. As I’ve noted in past articles, with the threat of nuclear proliferation and the buildup of nuclear wastes, going from fossil fuels to nuclear is like going from the frying pan into the fire.
Meanwhile Wall continues to depict the NDP opposition as stuck in the past while the Sask Party government is presented as “forward-looking”. Might this pre-election narrative become vulnerable once it gets seriously investigated? For example, just how forward-looking has Wall’s government been about climate change? About reducing our province’s huge carbon footprint? About embracing the technological revolution in renewable energy? About making our economy less dependent on fossil fuels and the volatile non-renewable resource sector?
CANADA’S CARBON FOOTPRINT
According to the United Nations, Canada has become a high greenhouse gas (GHG) emitter. This trend accentuated under the Harper Conservatives. In 2011 Canada’s total emissions were 701,791 gigagrams (Gg). This was not much lower than Europe’s largest economic power house, Germany (916,495 Gg) which has taken the climate crisis to heart, and is even higher than the much more populated United Kingdom (556,458 Gg).
Canada looks even worse when you consider per capita emissions. The Conference Board reports that in 2010 the emissions among all seventeen OECD countries averaged 12.5 metric tonnes (mt) per person. Canada’s was nearly double this at 20.3 mt, which was third highest in all OECD countries. Environment Canada information shows that the major culprits were transportation (24%), oil and gas (23%) and electrical generation (13%). Emissions from buildings and agriculture were next.
Only emissions from electricity dropped (from 18% to 13% of total) since 2000, which was largely due to Ontario shutting down its coal plants. Transportation and oil and gas continued to increase as a proportion of Canada’s overall emissions.
PER CAPITA EMISSIONS
However, national averages can be deceptive; there is a great range of emissions from coast-to-coast-to-coast in Canada. Environment Canada’s information shows that since 2000 total emissions have been steadily declining in Ontario, Quebec and B.C., and steadily rising in Alberta and Saskatchewan. Since 2000 Alberta has been the biggest overall GHG polluter of all the provinces, even surpassing Ontario with its much bigger population and economy. The oil and gas sector, especially the tarsands, and coal-fired plants, have been largely responsible. With its oil and gas “boom” and dependence on coal plants, Saskatchewan now emits more total GHGs than the much more populated B.C.
It’s not surprising, then, that the per capita (per person) levels in Alberta and Saskatchewan have been “off the wall”. Average per capita GHG emissions for all Canadians have been around 20 metric tonnes (mt). The figures for Alberta and Saskatchewan have been hovering around 60 to 70 mt, which is three or more times the national average.
HIGHEST ON PLANET?
Premier Wall likes to project himself as forward-looking, but do the facts support this?
The trend line is revealing. Environment Canada and other information shows that in 2000 Saskatchewan trailed Alberta at 61 metric tonnes (mt) of GHG emissions per person per year. Alberta was much higher at 74 mt; the country’s highest level. By 2005 Saskatchewan and Alberta were very close, at 71 and 70 mt per person per year, respectively. But by 2011 Saskatchewan had surpassed Alberta releasing 68 mt per person per year. Meanwhile Alberta had dropped to 63 mt.
When the Sask Party formed and vied for power, Saskatchewan was behind Alberta, which was Canada’s highest per capita GHG emitter. Under Sask Party rule Saskatchewan has achieved the reputation of becoming Canada’s highest per capita GHG polluter. This continues to this day. Our province’s carbon footprint is now nearly six times the OECD level (12 mt per person) which places us among the highest per capita GHG polluters on the planet.
This trend is hardly an indication of being forward-looking.
Sometimes it’s good to be first, but not when it comes to carbon pollution. Being the No. 1 carbon polluter is not a source of pride for Saskatchewan. This matter should be front and centre in the spring election.
Next time I’ll explore how Saskatchewan became Canada’s largest per capita GHG emitter. Happy New Year!