A new report argues that unless strict emissions polices are enacted around the world, B.C.’s liquefied-natural-gas (LNG) industry will do nothing to alleviate the onset of climate change and will not help humans transition away from fossil fuels.
“We conclude that natural gas has a role to play in a world that avoids 2°C of warming, but that role is unlikely to materialize unless shaped by strong climate change policies in the jurisdictions that produce and consume the gas,” the document states. “Because these policies are not currently in place, claiming that natural gas, and specifically LNG from BC, is a climate solution is inaccurate. Making more natural gas available is unlikely to change that conclusion, unless the current gulf in international policy is bridged.”
The October 27 report was prepared by the Pembina Institute and the Pacific Institute for Climate Solutions. It explores the validity of claims made in the provincial government's throne speech, delivered by B.C. Lieutenant-Governor Judith Guichon in February.
“LNG is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to create 100,000 new jobs throughout B.C., and a Prosperity Fund to eliminate the provincial debt,” Guichon said. “It's also the greatest single step we can take to fight climate change.”
She added that China accounts for one-quarter of the world’s greenhouse-gas emissions, primarily because it relies on coal-fired power plants. By selling LNG to China, Guichon said, B.C. can help China transition to a cleaner fossil fuel and therefore decrease the amount of greenhouse gases discharged into the Earth’s atmosphere.
The Pembina report says that the world is failing to implement policies required to keep climate change under control by avoiding an increase of more than two degrees Celsius. Furthermore, demands for coal and other carbon-intensive fossil fuels are unlikely to be affected by an increased availability of LNG.
“In the absence of such policies, demand for natural gas (and coal and oil) will almost certainly drive GHG concentrations above 450 ppm and the target of a 2°C limit to global warming cannot be met,” it states.
“In this scenario, natural gas, like other fossil fuels, does not contribute to a transition to a low-carbon economy, but rather reinforces the likely outcome of dangerous climate change,” the report concludes.
The document’s publication comes one week after the provincial government tabled legislation that it describes as a framework for “the cleanest liquefied natural gas facilities in the world”.
The proposed rules provide for an “intensity benchmark” for LNG facilities of 0.16 carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e) tonnes per tonne of LNG produced.
B.C. environment minister Mary Polak stated that benchmark is lower than that of “leading facilities” around the world.
“The export of B.C. LNG is both an economic and an environmental opportunity for the province,” she said, quoted in a release. “As the cleanest-burning fossil fuel, natural gas is part of a global climate solution.”
In an October 27 teleconference, Josha MacNab, B.C. director for the Pembina Institute, took issue with the assumptions on which the B.C. government is basing its statements on LNG greenhouse-gas emissions.
“The reality is, it is actually climate policy, not the production of natural gas or the availability of natural gas, that will determine our trajectory towards dangerous climate change,” she said. “Our research indicates that contrary to the government’s claim, natural gas will not reduce coal use and will not help solve climate change in a world with weak climate policies in place, which, unfortunately, is the world we currently live in.”
Matt Horne, Pembina’s B.C. associate regional director, added that if states continue with a “business as usual” approach to energy production and climate-change policies, LNG will not serve as a tool to transition away from carbon-intensive fuels.
“The B.C. government is missing a key point when it comes to recognizing the value of LNG in fighting climate change,” he said. “Without a global push for low carbon energy sources and efficiency, LNG will likely worsen rather than ease global warming.”
A Ministry of Environment briefing note released in response to a freedom of information request in November 2013 suggests the province is aware of LNG’s potential contributions to climate change. It states that B.C.’s LNG sector emissions could “be comparable to those from Alberta’s oil sands”, and result in a “doubling of B.C.’s total emissions”.