ENVIRONMENT

A call for action

Criticism over Canada’s use of fossil fuels

BARBARA WICKENS July 17 1989
ENVIRONMENT

A call for action

Criticism over Canada’s use of fossil fuels

BARBARA WICKENS July 17 1989

A call for action

ENVIRONMENT

Criticism over Canada’s use of fossil fuels

After serving as host to a major international conference on the atmosphere last summer, Canada appeared to have emerged as a world leader in efforts to protect the envelope of gases that sustains life on Earth. At last June’s federally sponsored conference in Toronto on atmospheric change, delegates from Canada and 45 other countries called on the world’s industrialized nations to reduce their consumption of such fossil fuels as coal and petroleum, which produce emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2). The reason: some scientists say that a buildup of carbon dioxide and other gases in the Earth’s atmosphere—known as the greenhouse effect—has begun to raise its temperature.

Now, Ottawa has come under fire from some of its own officials—and other critics—for failing to live up to the spirit of last year’s conference. Henry Hengeveld, adviser on climatic change at Environment Canada’s Canadian Climate Centre in Toronto, for one, expresses concern that Ottawa’s promotion of

petroleum megaprojects will result in more CO2 being poured into the atmosphere. “It doesn’t make sense for us to be telling China and Russia to cut back” on fossil fuel consumption, said Hengeveld, “when we ourselves are gluttonous pigs.”

In particular, Hengeveld and others point to decisions by Prime Minister Brian Mulroney’s Conservative government during the past year to commit more than $5 billion in federal funds to the development of petroleum megaprojects across the country, including Newfoundland’s offshore Hibernia oilfield, the Lloydminster heavy-oil upgrader on the Alberta-Saskatchewan border and the projected new $4billion plant known as the OSLO project near Fort McMurray, Alta., to produce

synthetic crude oil from the province’s tar sands. As well, critics charged that Ottawa’s department of energy, mines and resources has severely slashed funding for research into nonpolluting energy sources at a time when concern over the atmosphere is growing.

Critics said that Ottawa’s support of petroleum megaprojects appeared to contradict pledges—aimed at reducing emissions that contribute to the greenhouse effect—that Energy Minister Jake Epp made at a meeting of the International Energy Agency in Paris in June.

Still, Epp told Maclean ’s that much of Canadian society depends on fossil fuels and will have to for some time. “You cannot isolate any one project and say that it is good or bad,” said Epp. Energy department officials have estimated that the three oil projects will create nearly 9,000 construction jobs and more than 5,700 permanent jobs.

The criticism of Ottawa’s stance came as prominent scientists continued to warn that the greenhouse effect could lead to a dangerous increase in global temperatures. Some scientists say that the Earth’s mean temperature is already about 5°C 5 warmer than it was during z the last ice age. They estiQ mate that if nothing is done to

halt the buildup of the greenhouse gases, it could rise by another three or four degrees by the middle of the next century, turning some parts of the world into deserts and causing glacier ice to melt. According to Rafe Pomerance, senior associate of the Washington, D.C.based policy research centre World Resources Institute, global CO2 emissions are still rising at the rate of about three per cent a year. Said Pomerance: “That is a very worrisome and high growth rate. We are entering an era of continuously changing climate.”

Others, however, disagree about whether global warming has already begun. Dixy Lee Ray, a former governor of Washington state and a nuclear power advocate, writes in the summer 1989 issue of Policy Review, the quarterly publication of the conservative Heritage Foundation, “We should remember Alaska in January, 1989, experienced the worst cold weather in its history. Proponents of the ‘Greenhouse Effect is here, global warming has begun’ theory were strangely quiet during those weeks. Is global warming on the way? Maybe some time, but it is not here now.”

Canada is not alone among industrialized nations in continuing to support the use of fossil fuels. Environment Canada officials said that none of the nations involved in last year’s Toronto conference has yet enacted legislation to reduce CO2 emissions by the target level of 20 per cent. Last month, U.S.

President George Bush introduced amendments to the 1970 Clean Air Act that would require production of more than nine million vehicles driven by such alternative fuels as methanol, ethanol and natural gas—which all emit very low levels of carbon—over a 10-year period beginning in 1995. Bush has asked Congress to pass the amendments by the end of this year, but many congressmen say that his target is optimistic. But Ottawa’s slowness to act dismayed those who had hoped that Canada would take a leading role in moving to reduce the emissions in an effort to combat the greenhouse effect.

Instead, some critics said that the federal departments of energy and the environment appear to have taken divergent courses in their response to concern over the greenhouse effect. Last August, federal and provincial energy ministers set up a task force to study the implications for Canada of the call by last summer’s Toronto conference for industrialized nations to reduce their CO2 emissions by 20 per cent of 1988 levels by 2005. The task force report is due next month. But Environment Canada presented a scientific paper to an energy department conference in April that showed that oil sands emit more CO2 per unit of energy produced than any other fossil fuel.

In light of that, Hengeveld said that a policy leading to increased development of synthetic oils is “hypocritical.”

For his part, Kirk Dawson, director general of the Canadian Climate Centre, said, “It’s very clear that the energy department will have to review its energy policy options.”

Since 1984, the federal government has slashed its funding for energy efficiency and alternative energy projects to $32 million in 1990 from $400 million in 1984. The programs affected included projects involving wind and solar energy, which have minimal effect on the Earth’s atmosphere. The spending cuts mean that Canadians are less likely to be weaned away from their heavy reliance on fossil fuels. Indeed, Canadians on a per capita basis are the fourth-highest producers of CO 2 emissions in the world, after East Germany, the United States and Czechoslovakia.

Ottawa’s policies also appeared to contradict pledges that Epp made at the Paris meeting of the 21-nation International Energy Agency this summer. According to a communiqué issued following the meeting, ministers from member nations agreed to consider “making greater use of available energy sources with lower levels of CO2” and to conduct more research into such renewable energy sources as solar, wind and hydroelectric power. The communiqué also said the ministers “pledged that they will not wait for all uncertainties to be resolved, but will act now.” But Epp argued that cutting funds to the Energy Efficiency and Diversity program did not mean that Ottawa was reducing its commitment to the environment. “Most of those technologies are now well developed,” he said. “How long do you keep funding? Let’s develop the next phase.” Meanwhile, a series of international conferences planned during the next three years may result in an eventual international agreement aimed at slowing the greenhouse effect. The

44-nation U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climatic Change is scheduled to draft a framework for a global treaty on the environment by 1992. Scientists say that a global agreement on carbon dioxide emissions should resemble the 1987 Montreal accord in which 24, nations agreed to reduce the production and use of the family of chemicals called chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), which have been blamed for damaging the stratospheric ozone layer that protects the Earth from the sun’s ultraviolet rays.

Some prominent scientists say that they are optimistic that the greenhouse effect can be halted. James Hansen, a climatologist with the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration, said most projections that show very large climate change by the year 2030 are based on the assumption that growth rates in CO2 emissions will continue to increase. But, added Hansen, “I now see some hope that it won’t happen. We can help greatly even if we just take the steps that would make good policy anyway, like practising energy conservation, improving energy efficiency and reducing the rate of deforestation.”

In Canada, critics are pressing Ottawa not to wait for international accords on CO2 emissions, but to act now. Charles Caccia, former environment critic for the opposition Liberal party in Ottawa, said that the energy department’s budget “is moving in the opposite direction to that which it should be if it is serious about climate warming.” As well, a coalition of 28 environmental, I conservation and aboriginal 1 organizations last month preje sented Mulroney with a proposed agenda for action on the environment. The document, entitled “Greenprint for Canada,” proposed the cancelling of financial subsidies for the Hibernia, Lloydminster and OSLO projects.

The “Greenprint” also suggested that Canada should become the first country in the world to enact a national carbon tax to raise as much as $40 billion over 15 years. According to the document, the tax would create incentives for using nonpolluting energy sources while raising money for programs to reduce or recycle carbon emissions. Said Stephen Hazell, executive director of the Canadian Arctic Resources Committee, who chaired the committee that drew up the report: “It’s not just a document, it’s the start of a process. We are establishing a secretariat to monitor the government’s action and we will issue an annual report card.” Clearly, the pressures are mounting for Ottawa to put its environmental affairs in order.

BARBARA WICKENS

DOUG NIXON

WILLIAM LOWTHER