Wednesday, June 25, 2014
Northern Ontario Could Be Canada’s Biggest Loser from Northern Gateway Decision
The recent federal government approval of Enbridge’s Northern Gateway pipeline may prove to have far reaching consequences for Northern Ontarians, and ultimately may shape the development of the Ring of Fire.
There is little current need for Northern Gateway and other proposed pipelines such as Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain and Keystone XL . These pipelines are proposed to facilitate the expansion of the tar sands industrial enterprise, something Stephen Harper’s Conservative government, and previous Liberal governments, have been pushing.
Successive federal governments have failed to develop a national climate change strategy. Canada doesn’t even have a national energy strategy. Instead, we have a highly politicized Economic Action Plan which puts all of our eggs into a bitumen basket, while ignoring the economic perils which lie ahead when the carbon bubble bursts.
Harper’s Plan calls for a rise in tar sands production from 1.9 million barrels per day (2012) to more than 5 million barrels per day by 2035. In this scenario, Canada’s bitumen will be exported to refineries in Asia and the U.S., where value-added processing will take place. Pipelines must be built to move the bitumen to tidewater ports.
The Joint Review Panel, which recommended approval of Northern Gateway, subject to 209 conditions, didn’t bother to assess greenhouse gas emissions in its report, deeming climate change issues to be beyond its scope of review. The Panel’s report, which the Harper government relied on to approve Gateway, trumpeted the perceived economic benefits of tar sands expansion, while ignoring associated climate-related costs. The Enbridge decision was based on both bad science and bad economics.
At Copenhagen in 2009, the global community, including Canada, committed to holding global warming at 2 degrees Celsius, the threshold at which the best available science has warned we dare not exceed. Stephen Harper further pledged to reduce Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions 17% from 2005 levels by the year 2020.
Environment Canada data shows that we’re not on track to achieve our emissions reductions target, despite some pretty heavy lifting done by Ontario by ending coal-fired power generation. All of the Canada’s “wins” at reducing emissions have been wiped out by uncontrolled tar sands growth.
Although Stephen Harper doesn’t take the climate crisis seriously, other nations are. Canada’s day of reckoning for our lack of action on curbing emissions is just around the corner. Recently, in Montreal, Christine Lagarde, head of the International Monetary Fund, rebuked governments, saying, “We are subsidizing the very behaviour that is destroying our planet, and on an enormous scale” (see: "IMF's Lagarde praises Canada's energy sector, calls for a carbon tax", from canadianmanufacturing.com, June 9, 2014)
When that reckoning comes, regions such as Ontario may be forced to do more than their fair share to reduce emissions in order to offset the tar sands. Energy-intensive industrial projects, such as the Ring of Fire, may be jeopardized in a last-ditch bid to live up to our international commitments. Northern Ontario’s dream of a value-added stainless steel industry built around Ring of Fire chromite may need to be sacrificed so that we can continue shipping raw bitumen to Asia.
A smarter idea would be to slow the growth of the tar sands as part of a national economic and climate strategy. Generous public subsidies to rich multinational oil companies need to come to an end. A real national energy strategy should promote Canada’s long-term energy security, rather than making a quick buck by exporting raw resources.
In a world which finally gets serious about the climate crisis, all of Canada’s regions will find themselves at risk should we continue along our present, dangerous path. Northern Ontario could end up being the biggest loser from Canada’s so-called Economic Action Plan.
(opinions expressed in this blog are my own and should not be interpreted as being consistent with the views and/or policies of the Green Party of Canada)
Originally published in the Sudbury Star, Saturday, June 21, 2014 online as "May: North Could be Loser in Gateway Approval", without hyperlinks.