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Why Canada (and all nations) Should Embrace a Price on Carbon – a rebuttal

There was a recent article in the National Post attempting to explain why Canada shouldn’t do anything about its greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Thankfully, the article never stooped so low as to argue that human-induced climate change is not a serious issue. Rather, the author’s main argument was focused on the fact that China currently emits over 10 times more GHG emissions than Canada, and therefore, any GHG emissions reductions that Canada achieves would be a useless attempt to curb this global problem.
Sure it’s a bit of a sting when Canada has the goal of reducing its GHG emissions from 739 Mega Tonnes (Mt) CO2eq (in 2012) to 524 Mt CO2eq by the year 2030, and China’s current policy allows their GHG emissions to rise from 7,500 (2012) to 13,600 Mt CO2eq by 2030. However, this increase in China’s GHG emissions is understandable given they are a developing country and the GDP per capita difference between Canada ($29,800) and China ($5,000) is a justifiable reason to give China far more leniency than Canada. Let’s first look at a country-by-country comparison of annual GHG emissions and country population to get an idea of where China and Canada fit into this picture along with most other nations in the world.

Figure 1: Annual greenhouse gas emissions by country (Mt CO2eq, top axis); population by country (million, bottom axis). Both on a log10 scale graph.

Figure 1: Annual greenhouse gas emissions by country (Mt CO2eq, top axis); population by country (million, bottom axis). Both on a log10 scale graph.


Data sources: GHG emissions ( 1, 2); population.

It is an extremely flawed attitude to believe that Canada shouldn’t do its part because Canada’s 33 or so million people and 739 Mt CO2eq of GHG emissions (2012) are so much smaller than China’s 1.3 billion people and 7,710 Mt CO2eq emissions (2012).
What if all countries that are relatively small take this attitude? If we add the GHG emissions of countries with populations that are less than 100 million people the result is around 12,270 Mt CO2eq per year – an emissions rate that is 1.6 times greater than China’s annual GHG emissions. If all of the 184 some odd countries with populations that are less than 100 million people and emitting a marginal amount of GHG emissions when compared to China took on the attitude that they’re small, and therefore, shouldn’t do their part in reducing their country’s emissions, we’d be in a lot of trouble. If these countries adopted the attitude portrayed in this recent article,we’d likely be creating a far worse climatic impact on the planet than China for many years to come.
To say my country contributes minutely to a global issue and hence we should do nothing, is simply a deplorable attitude to take when it comes to global problems such as climate change. We need to think less like nationalists and more like global citizens. When we do this, we gain a clearer picture of who is really to blame and who should put in the most efforts. As figure 2 illustrates below, it is places like Canada that have the greatest carbon footprint per capita than most countries in the world. In fact, Canada’s carbon footprint is about 3.8 times larger than China’s average per capita footprint. So how can a Canadian argue that Canada should do nothing?

Figure 2: Average per capita Carbon Footprint of nations (tonnes CO2eq/person)

Figure 2: Average per capita Carbon Footprint of nations (tonnes CO2eq/person)


Data sources: GHG emissions (1, 2); population.

As a Canadian, does this attitude reflect a globally justified balance? Simply think about why an average Canadian emits more GHG emissions than an average Chinese person. It is clear that there is a huge inequality gap between nations and this is why developing countries like China are given greater leeway while still not getting a free ride.
As for Canada’s carbon tax and the expected cost to Canadian households, I recommend you read a far more informed article on the subject here. One thing you need to realize is that Canada’s carbon tax is to be a revenue neutral tax. That means taxes on carbon-intense energy sources that consumers end up paying will be distributed back to the people in a way that supports the most needy or sustainably innovative groups of our population. The people who win in this equation are those who take climate change seriously and innovate and adapt to live a lifestyle that is considerably less reliant on fossil fuels.


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Ecogamut Consulting – helping you achieve your sustainability goals

At Ecogamut, making sustainability metrics work for you is the bread and butter of our operation. Our toolbox of expertise includes life cycle assessment, environmental product declaration, carbon footprinting, carbon offsetting, and climate change adaptation strategies. With a team of Ph.D.-level experts you can be rest assured that Ecogamut will deliver a high quality and high impact product that will effectively direct your organization or jurisdiction towards its most cherished sustainability goals.
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Have a sustainability project on your mind and think we can help? Contact info@ecogamut.ca


Measuring the Success of British Columbia’s Renewable and Low Carbon Fuel Regulation

British Columbia’s (B.C.) Greenhouse Gas Reduction (GHGR) Targets Act (GHGRTA) contains ambitious goals of reducing province-wide greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 33% in 2020 and 80% in 2050 (relative to 2007). With ~38% of B.C.’s GHG emissions stemming from transportation (in 2012), it is clear that B.C.’s GHG emissions reduction goals can only be realized with an effective transport fuel policy. Enacted in December 2009, the GHGR Renewable and Low Carbon Fuel Requirement (RLCFR) Act and Regulation have achieved significant GHG emissions reductions accredited to its enforcement with 904,900 t CO2eq emissions reduction in 2012. At face-value, this is a great success. However, there are several accounting issues that suggest these GHG emissions reductions are inaccurate.
In a recent study published in Biofuels, we show that the RLCFR legislation has not been nearly as effective as proclaimed by the B.C. government. Nevertheless, this transport fuel regulation is essential if B.C. wants to achieve its future GHG emissions reduction targets.
If you’d like more details, please feel free to contact us. Otherwise, here’s a brief overview of the paper…

An Intro to BC’s fuel regulation

With overwhelming consensus (Cook et al., 2013), it’s become clear that human-induced climate change is a serious issue and this has led to a number of local jurisdictions stepping up their climate action plan with bold targets written into legislation, where B.C. is poised to be at the forefront. Taking inspiration from California’s Greenhouse Solutions Act (approved September 2005) the Liberal government of B.C. first expressed their ambitious GHG emissions reduction targets during the reading of the provincial Throne Speech in February 2007 with now legislated targets of reducing GHG emissions by 33% in 2020 and by 80% in 2050—relative to GHG emissions in 2007 (64.3 Mega tonnes (Mt) CO2eq) (Sodero, 2011). One act/regulation that has gained particular notice is the GHG emissions reduction Renewable Low Carbon Fuel Requirements (RLCFR) Act/Regulation of B.C. (B.C. Government, 2014), because it has been noted and given media attention as being B.C.’s most effective climate legislation to date in terms of reducing GHG emissions (Thomson, 2015; Wolinetz & Axsen, 2014).
Enacted in December of 2009, the RLCFR Regulation requires two main conditions of large-scale (greater than 75 million m3 per year) transportation fuel suppliers of B.C. Firstly, these fuel suppliers are required to blend their fossil gasoline and diesel fuels with at least 5% and 4% of renewable fuels, respectively (B.C. Government, 2014). Secondly, these fuel suppliers must ensure that the life cycle carbon intensity (CI) of their fuels is below the CI limit prescribed during a given year, where this CI limit is set to be reduced by 10% from 2011 to 2020 (B.C. Government, 2014).
According to B.C. government accounts the RLCFR has been a success thus far, where in its first three years, GHG emission reductions attributed to the RLCFR have increased: 558.7 Kilo (K) tonnes (t) CO2eq in 2010 to 904.9 Kt CO2eq in 2012 (B.C. Government, 2012). In fact, a recent report has stated that the RLCFR is currently B.C.’s most important piece of climate legislation where it has contributed to 25% of B.C.’s GHG emissions reductions in 2012, relative to the 2007 baseline year (Wolinetz & Axsen, 2014). With this early success, it is important to ask how this reduction in GHG emissions is being calculated and whether there are any important life cycle accounting measures being left out of the equations.

What the study did

The study looked into the details of the RLCFR of B.C. to firstly understand how past GHG emissions reductions that are being reported and accredited to the RLCFR are being calculated. Secondly, this study highlighted two key CI accounting items that the RLCFR neglects to consider: incorporating indirect land use change (iLUC) and developing fossil fuel CIs that are representative of the fossil fuel mix of a given compliance period.

Now let’s take a closer look at iLUC.

Why iLUC is important

The inclusion of iLUC is important because GHG emissions due to iLUC can lead to a significant increase in CI (Broch, Hoekman, & Unnasch, 2013). For instance, Ahlgren & Di Lucia (2014) undertook a review of iLUC modelling results and found iLUC factors for corn and wheat ethanol to range from 7 to 104 g CO2eq/MJ and -80 to 155 g CO2eq/MJ, respectively. For canola, soy and palm-based biodiesel, iLUC factors ranged from 2 to 220 g CO2eq/MJ, 2 to 270 g CO2eq/MJ and 3 to 114 g CO2eq/MJ, respectively (Ahlgren & Di Lucia, 2014). These iLUC factors are substantial given that the most recently approved CIs (iLUC not included) reported by the B.C. Government for ethanol, biodiesel and hydrogenated derived renewable diesel (HDRD) ranged from -4.23 to 70.36 g CO2eq/MJ, -0.05 to 38.32 g CO2eq/MJ, and 18.16 to 63.66 g CO2eq/MJ, respectively. The inclusion of iLUC factors for B.C.’s dedicated crop‐based ethanol and biodiesel fuel sources would dramatically change the perceived benefits of a renewable fuel that is derived from cropland.

What we found in the accounts as reported

In terms of total GHG savings, the reported GHG savings are 12% higher than those calculated in this study using the regulation’s equation. As illustrated in figure 1, the main disparity stems from GHG savings due to the use of biodiesel and HDRD fuels. In all cases, except for propane, the reported savings tend to be higher than the values we calculated using the regulation’s specified equation.
Figure 1: Greenhouse gas savings (kilotonnes [Kt] CO2eq) in the year 2012 attributed to the RLCFR Regulation for each alternative fuel type. Values are presented as those reported in the government accounts and as a result of own calculations. Percentage values represent the C/¡ % difference of calculated results relative to reported values. HDRD = hydrogenated derived renewable diesel; CNG = compressed natural gas; LNG = liquefied natural gas.

Figure 1: Greenhouse gas savings (kilotonnes [Kt] CO2eq) in the year 2012 attributed to the RLCFR Regulation for each alternative
fuel type. Values are presented as those reported in the government accounts and as a result of own calculations. Percentage
values represent the C/¡ % difference of calculated results relative to reported values. HDRD = hydrogenated derived renewable
diesel; CNG = compressed natural gas; LNG = liquefied natural gas.

How reductions change when iLUC is included

GHG savings are greatly reduced when the average iLUC factors are included. In some cases, from this GHG perspective it would have made more sense to use conventional petroleum-based gasoline and diesel in place of these GHG intense crop derived ethanol and HDRD supplies consumed in B.C. These significant fuel-specific reductions in GHG savings, in turn, equate to significant reductions in total 2012 GHG saving, as is depicted in figure 2.
Figure 2: Total greenhouse gas emissions savings in the year 2012 that are attributed to the RLCFR Regulation when iLUC factors are included. Total values are calculated using own calculations. Calculated and reported savings with no iLUC factors are also included (horizontal broken lines) for comparison. SD = standard deviation of iLUC factors. ‘#’ yr AP = amortization period (years) to divide iLUC related GHG emissions across; K = kilo ('000). Negative values indicate no savings or a net burden.

Figure 2: Total greenhouse gas emissions savings in the year 2012 that are attributed to the RLCFR Regulation when iLUC
factors are included. Total values are calculated using own calculations. Calculated and reported savings with no iLUC factors are
also included (horizontal broken lines) for comparison. SD = standard deviation of iLUC factors. ‘#’ yr AP = amortization period (years) to divide iLUC related GHG emissions across; K = kilo (‘000). Negative values indicate no savings or a net burden.

Figure 2 displays the range of total 2012 RLCFR-related GHG savings when iLUC is factored into the calculations and it clearly shows the importance of including iLUC where even the application of median iLUC factors can lead to greater than 50% reductions (see triangle markers in figure 2) in total GHG savings. As the amortization period increases, the range of GHG savings converges because the iLUC factors decrease. When a 30 year amortization period and the median iLUC factors are applied, total 2012 GHG savings are reduced from the reported 904.9 Kt CO2eq, to 505.4 Kt CO2eq—a significant 44% decrease.

Some important points of discussion

Another important caveat that is lost in the RLCFR reported total savings lies with electric mobility. The majority of GHG savings attributed to electric mobility stems from B.C.’s lower mainland (greater Vancouver area) sky-train and trolleybus system in which most of this transport network existed well before the RLCFR regulation was enforced in 2010. In other words, the RLCFR cannot claim any sort of additionality or credit for implementing the vast majority and if not all of this low-carbon mode of electric public transportation.
Another concern is that there is no public RLCFR documentation that provides an explanation as to why iLUC is not accounted for. Uncertainty should not be an argument for systematically excluding iLUC from the life cycle CI of a biofuel (Muñoz et al., 2015). Even with the level of uncertainty in iLUC factors to date, including iLUC gives us an indication of an extremely relevant hotspot that should not be overlooked. The inclusion of iLUC makes the CIs of biofuels more accurate, not less. In other words, it is better to be ‘approximately right than precisely wrong’.
In the immediate short term the RLCFR regulators need to provide a better publicly accessible explanation of why they are not including iLUC. This explanation should be accompanied with an implementation plan that clearly states milestones and methods for generating iLUC factors to be incorporated into the RLCFR Regulation.
There are numerous reasons to remain optimistic that technological innovation will enable the goals of the RLCFR Regulation to be realized. It is becoming increasingly clear that carbon capture and storage systems will need to be integrated with oil sands related processing units, upgraders and refineries. For instance, results from Cai et al. (2015) indicate that around 16.3 to 39.7 g CO2eq/MJ diesel occurs during the oil sands recovery (9 to 30.1 g CO2eq/MJ diesel) and refining (7.3 to 9.6 g CO2eq/MJ diesel) processes. If CCS units can create even a 50% net reduction in these life cycle emission sources, then B.C.’s increasingly stringent CI limits will be easier to reach.
B.C. needs to continue research, development and provide economic incentives until regional waste wood and agricultural residue-based diesel/ethanol (i.e. 2nd generation biofuels) can be generated at a commercial scale. Generating fuels from such sources have proven to exhibit substantially lower life cycle GHG emissions (in the range of ‐5 to 30 g CO2eq/MJ) than their petroleum counterparts and iLUC is not a significant issue (Chum et al., 2011).
One of B.C.’s big transport related GHG solutions resides in electric mobility. Given B.C.’s vast quantity of hydro power resources and a correspondingly low electricity grid CI, the Government of B.C. has a great opportunity for incentivizing the increased adoption of personal electric vehicles (PEVs). The commercial availability of PEVs is global, and with an already developed and expanding network of charging stations, B.C. is ripe for increasing PEV share in the personal motor vehicle fleet. Smart meters could also be used to account for domestic EV charging and thus increase measured GHG emissions reductions from personal EV transport in B.C. However, caution and analysis is required to ensure PEVs do not end up as just a secondary family vehicle (due to the currently low mileage per charge) and PEVs do not significantly displace more GHG friendly modes of transportation, like bus (trolley), sky train, bicycling and walking.

For a full list of references and more details please contact us…


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About

Ecogamut Consulting – helping you achieve your sustainability goals

At Ecogamut, making sustainability metrics work for you is the bread and butter of our operation. Our toolbox of expertise includes life cycle assessment, environmental product declaration, carbon footprinting, carbon offsetting, and climate change adaptation strategies. With a team of Ph.D.-level experts you can be rest assured that Ecogamut will deliver a high quality and high impact product that will effectively direct your organization or jurisdiction towards its most cherished sustainability goals.
———————————
Have a sustainability project on your mind and think we can help? Contact info@ecogamut.ca