As Prime Minster Trudeau and Alberta's Premier Notley
prepare for the Paris Climate Change conference in the coming
weeks, it cannot be lost on them that Canada's carbon emissions
have either more or less levelled off or are only marginally
increasing in every sector of the economy except one: oil and
gas. The oil and gas sector is now the largest source of
carbon emissions in Canada and emissions from oil and gas
activities have been growing faster than in any other sector.
The following table sets out Environment Canada's summary of
carbon emissions in Canada by sector, as at the base year (2005)
and projected for the target year (2020) for measuring carbon
emissions under the Copenhagen Accord.
Virtually all of the growth in carbon emissions from the oil and
gas sector comes from increased activity in the oil sands.
That growth effectively offsets all of the reductions made in the
other parts of the oil and gas sector as well as all of the
reductions made in the other sectors of the economy.
The following table breaks down the sources of carbon emissions
from oil sands activities as at 2005 and projected in 2020.
According to Environment Canada's Emission Trends Report for
2013 and 2014, this increase in carbon emissions from the oil sands
is tied principally to past and projected increases in
production. To at least some extent, the growth in emissions
as at 2020 from the oil and gas sector may be lower than projected,
due to recent declines in global demand and the cancellation or
deferral of a number of oil sands projects. But the overall
trend is likely to remain broadly consistent with the projections
from Environment Canada.
Environment Canada also suggests there may also have been some
levelling off of historical trends that have traditionally led to a
steady decline in the carbon intensity of the oil sands. This
could be due to some technical factors, such as a gradual decrease
in reservoir quality in the traditional mining facilities around
Fort McMurray and increased use of natural gas to produce steam at
the growing number of in situ facilities.
A few broad conclusions suggest themselves:
In every economic sector – other than oil and gas -
carbon emissions in Canada have either more or less levelled off or
are declining. In some sectors - like electricity, the declines
have been material.
In the oil and gas sector, carbon emissions have either
levelled off or are actually declining in almost every category
other than the oil sands, as conventional oil fields are depleted
or as decreases in the demand for Canadian natural gas reduces
In the oil sands, growth in carbon emissions is linked
principally to a growth in production itself and while there are
good opportunities to decrease the carbon intensity of the oil
sands, it is not immediately apparent how we can materially
decrease carbon emissions while materially increasing oil sands
More reductions of carbon emission will be required in every
economic sector if Canada is to meet its current and anticipated
commitments. One of the most significant challenges in this
process will be to determine how carbon emissions from the oil
sands can be mitigated without impairing the viability of the oil
sands generally and while continuing to enjoy their current and
future economic benefits. While oil and gas producers have
always been innovative, it will also take innovation on the part of
our policy and law-makers to achieve an appropriate balance in the
interests of all Canadians.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general
guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought
about your specific circumstances.
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Canada is a constitutional monarchy, a parliamentary democracy and a federation comprised of ten provinces and three territories. Canada's judiciary is independent of the legislative and executive branches of Government.
The Government of Alberta recently announced a number of policy changes that will impact the Alberta Electricity Market, composed of its generators, transmitters, distributors, retailers, electricity consumers and wholesale electricity market.
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