Saturday, September 30, 2006

Emissions (or energy) intensity

A snippet of the upcoming Canadian GHG and smog-forming emissions plans (Globe and Mail):

In a separate interview with CTV Newsnet, Ms. Ambrose said the plan would include financial penalties.
Oil industry sources said yesterday the Tories intend to set standards to reduce "energy intensity" in the sector, an approach that would reduce emissions for every barrel produced. That approach, which is favoured by the Alberta government and the industry, would see emissions continue to rise as oil-sands development booms, but would slow the pace of the growth.

Any regulation is better than the current situation. But the intensity trick is what I've been warning about for months (Toronto Star):

Since the days of the Canadian Alliance, Harper and colleagues have opposed the Kyoto limits on greenhouse gas emissions. They preferred the approach of the United States, which refused to sign any international climate agreement under the pretence that it could hurt the economy. The new "Made in Canada" plan is expected to be based upon the current U.S. government policy that the Bush administration adopted in 2002 after rejecting Kyoto... It is worth examining the problem with a U.S.-style policy...

The economy, expressed as GDP, grows at roughly 3 per cent a year. The compound interest function on your calculator will show that this average annual growth rate works out to 34 per cent growth over a 10-year period. The stated target is to have the GHG intensity — the emissions divided by the GDP — be 18 per cent lower in about 10 years. Since the GDP will have increased by 34 per cent, the greenhouse gas emissions can actually increase by 10 per cent over those 10 years. The proposed reduction in intensity is actually an increase in total emissions.

Proponents will argue that this is still an improvement over business-as-usual. If the greenhouse gas intensity remains constant over the 10 years, the total emissions would increase by 34 per cent. In that sense, the reduction in intensity could represent some progress. It would not save the planet from the disastrous implications of climate change but it would be better than nothing.

Actually, no. The catch is that the greenhouse gas intensity of the U.S., of Canada, and of virtually every industrialized country has been decreasing for years as our economies become more productive and our technology improves. How much? Here's the funny coincidence. In the U.S., the greenhouse gas intensity decreased by about 18 per cent between 1990 and 2000.

In other words, the Bush administration climate policy is just a statement about staying the course. It does absolutely nothing to address climate change. Canadians should be wary of any similar Conservative policy that uses words like greenhouse gas intensity and claims to address both the economy and the climate. When the announcement is made, have a calculator handy.

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