Friday, January 11, 2013

New oil sands pipeline plan would even more dramatically increase carbon emissions

The Vancouver Sun reports that Kinder Morgan, operator of the Trans Mountain pipeline that transports oil from Alberta to the Port of Vancouver, hopes to increase the capacity of the proposed pipeline "twinning" project. Here, I've updated previous estimates of embedded carbon emissions in proposed pipeline to the British Columbia (BC) coast.

The annual flow of carbon through the proposed twinning project and the proposed Enbridge Northern Gateway project (presuming full operation) would dwarf greenhouse gas emissions from British Columbia, an issue presented here in the past. Carbon emissions embedded in the Northern Gateway project alone would be greater than current BC emissions, and close to twice the 2020 goal. With the proposed increase in capacity of the Kinder Morgan twinning project (shaded green), emissions embedded oil exports from the proposed pipelines would be more than twice the current emissions from within the province itself. Total oil exports from the BC coast would be equivalent to over 3.6 times the provincial emissions target for the year 2020.

As we also discussed before, the pipeline expansion would completely undermine not just B.C.'s emissions reduction policy, but the entire country's emissions reduction policy.
The second graph shows the estimated gap (i.e. necessary reductions) between the most recent national emissions estimate (2010, 692 Mt) and the policy goal for 2020 (17% reduction, ~607 Mt). The emissions embedded in the proposed Northern Gateway pipeline (82.5 Mt) is alone almost as great as the Canadian 2020 emissions gap (85.3 Mt). Add in the original Kinder Morgan proposal, the recent proposed bump in capacity, and the emissions embedded in oil exports of the pipeline would be 1.6 times the national emissions gap.

Ay, here's the rub. Carbon exports are not included in a country's emissions budget. The very reasonable international greenhouse gas accounting system allocates emissions to the country where the carbon, not the country where the carbon is extracted from the ground. From a pure accounting standpoint, BC and Canada's carbon emissions would be affected by the construction and operation of the pipelines, but not the amount of oil or bitumen flowing through pipes to tankers on the coast.

The point here is about the greater challenge. The climate does not care where the carbon is burned. Should Canada bear some responsibility for the climate implications of extracting and transporting the carbon? Are we hypocrites to promote local emissions policies and controls while dramatically increasing exports of carbon to the rest of the world?

1 comment:

david lewis said...

I wonder if that many British Columbians will see the logic here.

Canada, Alberta, and BC should take some responsibility for the climate implications of extracting tar sand oil, but to say BC should add the total carbon content of oil that is merely transported across its territory to its carbon budget, if that is in fact what you are doing here, seems to be going too far.

Bob Watson called for recognizing the concept of "embedded carbon" during his 2012 AGU talk - the idea that if you used to make steel that involved a lot of CO2 emissions when you signed an agreement to reduce CO2 emissions and now you import it from China, because you still use the steel, you should not be allowed to claim you somehow reduced your CO2 emissions as a result. Watson stated that although it looks like the UK exceeded its obligations under the Kyoto Protocol because it reduced its CO2e emissions by 22% since 1990 when its Kyoto commitment was to reduce by 12%, if you factor in the fact that a lot of the products the UK used to make are now imported from China by assigning the CO2e embedded in those products to the UK the UK emissions would be 18% higher than what they were in 1990.

He said he was asked the broader question: have we changed the way we live our lives? He answered: no.

I would say the concept of embedded carbon is useful as a way to point out what it means when the UK says it more than met its Kyoto obligations, which is what Watson did. His point was, now that things have proceeded to the point that limiting global warming to 2 C seems impossible to achieve, this idea that what the UK did since 1990 with its emissions is something others should emulate should be looked at for what it is, an accident of international economic trends.

Any attempt to bring embedded carbon into international negotiations will have to consider the point that China made the profits and got the jobs that resulted from making those products while it emitted that CO2e. Its hard to see how countries importing Chinese goods are going to agree they should just add the embedded carbon those goods carry with them, while leaving the jobs and profits to the Chinese.

As for your idea of accounting for carbon that is transported across your soil by adding it to your total emissions, as if you had converted it to CO2 and emitted it - can you envision how reasonable negotiators committed to achieving a workable agreement to decarbonize civilization would incorporate this idea into the agreement?