B.C. liquefied natural gas not climate’s saviour, report says

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Dr. Tom Pederson, executive director for a UVic think tank, argues that LNG won’t mitigate climate change without stronger environmental laws.  –Provided (photo)
Dr. Tom Pederson, executive director for a UVic think tank, argues that LNG won’t mitigate climate change without stronger environmental laws.
–Provided (photo)

The Pacific Institute for Climate Solutions (PICS) and Pembina Institute have published a report suggesting stronger environmental policies to ensure liquefied natural gas (LNG) will positively impact the global climate. The provincial government has emphasized LNG extraction as a major part of its long-term economic strategy.

“If natural gas is exploited and used very wisely, it can offer limited benefit in terms of helping to curb emissions. If it is used in the absence of vigorous and aggressive climate policies, it will not offer significant climate benefit,” PICS executive director Dr. Thomas Pedersen said.

“The report delivers a simple message,” he said. “It says that we cannot exploit our natural gas resources and produce liquefied natural gas without recognizing that there is a very serious global climate change context.”

PICS’s report is one of many peer-reviewed documents intended for a broad audience and increasingly viewed by policy makers. “It’s a very constructive report. We don’t throw bricks at people. We’re all looking for solutions. The message is a simple one: it’s not a deep scholarly analysis of an industry. It’s just reminding people of the global context,” he said.

Coal combustion accounts for 40 per cent of global electricity production—a significant imposition on the atmosphere. Compared to natural gas, produces twice as much cardon dioxide, according to Pedersen.

According to the report, natural gas will only be advantageous if accompanied with strict government climate policies. Pedersen suggests the best policy possible is a taxation on carbon emissions. “As soon as you start to tax the impact of CO2 going into the atmosphere, all of a sudden the economics change and the sources of electricity that we need will change accordingly,” he said. Without proper policies, natural gas could contribute to overall energy demand, and emissions will only continue to rise.

“You have to guarantee that B.C.’s natural gas is going to substitute for coal somewhere else—like in China or Korea,” he said. “We can never make that guarantee.” The report refers to the claim that B.C. LNG will offer a climate benefit without the proper policies as inaccurate and incautious.

The document additionally explores methane leakage, a serious concern for LNG use and a powerful source of greenhouse gas, which can also be closely monitored with the proper policies in place.

“World energy demand is growing, and until we get a control on energy demand and the emissions associated with that, we cannot in any reasonable way suggest that natural gas is a climatic saviour,” he said.

B.C.’s Minister of Environment Mary Polak cited PICS’s report in her closing speech for the debate on the LNG tax bill, also known as Bill 2. According to Pedersen, she referred to the report as “an impressive document.”

For Pedersen, “the fact that it was mentioned in the closing speech in the House suggests that the government is well aware of its content and that they are taking it very seriously.”

Natural gas offers limited benefits, but the climate and economy’s future lies in the exploitation of renewable energy. Pedersen refers to this future as the next Industrial Revolution: a push away from a fossil fuel-driven global economy—a possibility within the next few decades. Estimates suggest that trillions of dollars are required for the transition, an economic opportunity that Canada has been laggard to grasp.

“We all face an interesting problem. All of us need energy. The big challenge for society is how we are going to get the energy we need,” he said. “We have lots of options in front of us, and what we need to start doing is actively and aggressively seizing those options that do not emit carbon to the atmosphere.”