NEWS
11/25/2019 15:58 EST | Updated 11/26/2019 12:58 EST

Greenhouse Gas Levels Hit New High As Canada Pushes Oil Expansion: Researchers

How Canada will reconcile its climate change and energy policies is TBA.

TORONTO — The world’s atmosphere faces a new record high for greenhouse gas concentrations — as Canada is planning to increase oil production by 60 per cent over the next 20 years.

That’s the latest news from a number of reports released by researchers and the United Nations this week. 

The UN’s World Meteorological Organization found that in 2018, carbon dioxide increased to 147 per cent of the pre-Industrial level in 1750, said a statement Monday. Between 2017 and 2018, the concentration of the greenhouse gases grew at the highest rate in a decade.

ASSOCIATED PRESS
Petteri Taalas, Secretary-General of the UN's World Meteorological Organization, says concentrates of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases have reached record highs. He made the announcement in Geneva, Switzerland, Nov. 25, 2019.

Methane also increased to 259 per cent above the pre-Industrial level, as did nitrous oxide — from fertilizer, industry and other human activities — to 123 per cent. 

At the same time, Canada, China, Russia, United States, India, Australia, Indonesia and Norway are planning to collectively produce 50 per cent more fossil fuels by 2030 than would be consistent with stopping global warming at two degrees C, and 150 per cent more than at 1.5 degrees C, research suggests.  

“How do we reconcile growth in the energy sector while reducing emissions?” Philip Gass, one of the report authors, told HuffPost Canada. He’s a Canadian working in Geneva, Switzerland. 

“That’s the big challenge in Canada. Something’s gotta give.”  

Veronique de Viguerie/Getty Images
The Syncrude Canada oil refinery shown here in Fort McMurray, Alta., November 2008.  

The unprecedented report last week from the Stockholm Environment Institute, UN Environment Programme and other research groups delved into the production gap faced by Canada and other fossil-fuel producing countries.

Researchers reviewed each country’s policies and actions to expand production of fossil fuels (including coal, oil and gas), despite commitments to aggressively reduce greenhouse gas emissions. 

Canada has committed to phasing out coal by 2030 and implemented a carbon price, but those don’t cancel out the fact it’s also set on expanding the oilsands, said Gass. Oil and gas production contributes to 27 per cent of Canada’s emissions.

Xinhua News Agency/Getty Images
Aerial photo taken on Nov. 21, 2019 shows a cargo ship being loaded up with coal at Rizhao Port in China.

The federal government purchased the Trans Mountain pipeline for $4.5 billion, and spent $320 million in subsidies to finance the expansion in the first half of 2019, according to the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis

It also provides $1.6 billion a year in subsidies to the fossil fuel industry and supports research and development, said Gass. 

Canada continues to send the message that it will be able to expand its oil and gas sector while meeting its target of reducing emissions 30 per cent below 2005 levels, without saying exactly how it can be done.

 

JASON REDMOND/Getty Images
A marker for the Trans Mountain Trail is pictured outside a Kinder Morgan terminal and tank farm in Burnaby, B.C. on June 20, 2019.

“We’ve seen progress reports, but we haven’t seen to date the math,” Gass said. “If the government thinks it can do it, please tell us how.”

Last week, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau named Jonathan Wilkinson as the new minister of environment and climate change. At a news conference Wednesday, Wilkinson didn’t provide any further insight. 

“I think all Canadians have sent a message that we must deal with climate change but also want to think thoroughly about how we do this and reach the goal while providing for economic prosperity,” Wilkinson said, emphasizing the importance of working with Saskatchewan and Alberta, which have mounted legal challenges of the federal government’s price on carbon. 

“I think all Canadians have sent a message that we must deal with climate change but also want to think thoroughly about how we do this and reach the goal while providing for economic prosperity,” Wilkinson said, emphasizing the importance of working with Saskatchewan and Alberta, which have mounted legal challenges of the federal government’s price on carbon. 

Watch: New environment minister takes questions. Story continues below.

 

He said the Liberal government has started to “think through the economics of how we actually move through this energy transition.” 

The differences between Alberta and Saskatchewan and the rest of the country in weighing priorities between climate change and fossil fuel production is deepening, although Wilkinson rejected calling the tension a “western issue.” Instead, he said it was about the legitimate economic concerns of the “hydrocarbon producing regions.” 

Researchers from Yale University and the University of Montreal, among others, highlighted this divide with an updated study released Thursday that estimates 58 per cent of people in Alberta and 53 per cent in Saskatchewan believe global warming is not caused by human activity.

Nationally, 60 per cent of people believe humans are to blame, especially in eastern provinces like Quebec and Nova Scotia.