Canada should proceed with the Trans Mountain Pipeline in order to safeguard its economy and reinforce ongoing efforts at climate mitigation, writes Arthur Hoole.

By Arthur Hoole, April 20, 2018

The Trudeau government must act deliberately and quickly now to build the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain Pipeline Expansion. The full force of Canada’s constitutional mandate should be brought to bear to make this happen.

The project’s support and approval is a key element in advancing Alberta’s Climate Leadership Plan, Canada’s contribution to reduce global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions under the Paris Agreement, and the government’s intention to fully implement the Pan-Canadian Framework on Clean Growth and Climate Change. Canada will suffer an immense blow to our national prosperity and severe setbacks in our efforts to fight global warming if the project is abandoned.

The UN Paris Agreement aims to hold global temperature rise below 2 degrees Celsius relative to pre-industrial levels. Canada has committed to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 30 percent below 2005 levels by 2030. We’re still a long way from meeting that goal amid the acrimonious ‘pipeline politics’ that has materialized. All of this is playing out against the backdrop of relentless growth in global fossil fuel consumption.

Progressive Policies and Actions  

All jurisdictions in Canada are adopting GHG emission reduction measures to varying degrees but it is the actions of Alberta and Canada in the past three years that are especially noteworthy.

Rachel Notley’s government has led the pack on climate change mitigation, much welcomed since Alberta produces 39 percent of Canada’s total GHG emissions and the oil sands are the single fastest growing and largest source of GHGs in Canada. Under Alberta’s Climate Leadership Plan, the province has phased in a $30 per ton economy-wide price on carbon, capped oil sands emissions at 100 megatons/annum, committed to eliminate coal-fired plants by 2030, and is reducing especially harmful methane gas emissions by 45 percent by 2025.

Alberta has also actively invested in renewable energy. An example among many is its recent auctioning of four wind power generation projects that will generate 600 megawatts of power at low cost to consumers by 2019. These are the most robust collective actions in Canada to date to achieve meaningful reductions in GHGs and demonstrably transition to renewable energy.

Substantial federal funding is earmarked to support the actions of provinces, territories, First Nations and municipalities.

The Trudeau government, in turn, actively contributed to and then ratified the Paris Agreement. The government has also spearheaded the adoption of the Pan-Canadian Framework on Clean Growth and Climate Change by all First Ministers, committing to carbon pricing, reducing GHG emissions, adapting to global warming and achieving clean economic growth across all sectors. Substantial federal funding is earmarked to support the actions of provinces, territories, First Nations and municipalities.

The Trudeau government also made several key strategic decisions on pipelines. Enbridge’s Northern Gateway pipeline proposal was rejected. The government placed a moratorium on oil tanker traffic along the north BC coast to protect sensitive marine and coastal ecosystems, while supporting Indigenous and local community demands to protect the Great Bear Rainforest.  Concurrently, the government approved Enbridge’s line 3 pipeline replacement from Alberta to Wisconsin and the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain pipeline expansion from Alberta to Vancouver.

Accompanying the approval of the Kinder Morgan project, the government announced a $1.5 billion national ocean protection plan aimed at marine safety, protection of marine ecosystems and active engagement of Indigenous and coastal communities. And, it suspended the National Energy Board (NEB) review of TransCanada Corporation’s Energy East pipeline proposal, preferring instead to overhaul the NEB process entirely. TransCanada subsequently withdrew its application for an environmental license, shelving that project in favor of gaining approval in the USA for the Keystone XL pipeline.

These actions by the Alberta government and the Government of Canada represent major strategic policy achievements well beyond ‘project-level’ environmental impact assessments. On one hand, Alberta’s Climate Leadership Plan accounts for the ‘upstream’ environmental effects of increased bitumen production associated with expanding the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain pipeline. On the other hand, the federal government created a strategic framework addressing the ‘downstream effects’ of the project on the coastal and marine environment of BC’s Lower Mainland.

Moreover, the Kinder Morgan approval was prioritized over other pipeline proposals, deliberately weighing necessary socio-political, economic and environmental trade-offs regionally and nationally. These combined actions by the Alberta government and the federal government have demonstrated strong leadership and governance, exacting real costs in political capital.

These actions by the Alberta government and the Government of Canada represent major strategic policy achievements well beyond ‘project-level’ environmental impact assessments.

Pipeline Politics

Recent polling reveals both strong support and opposition for the Kinder Morgan project. Yet it is the vociferous opposition that attracts the most media attention – especially street protests and confrontations with authorities.

Every pipeline proposal has faced such tactics to date. Ardent fossil fuel opponents want nothing short of shutting down the oil sands. They ignore the fact that closing down the oil sands completely would have very limited effect on global GHG emissions, but would seriously harm our national economy. The oil sands account for less than 10 percent of Canada’s overall 1.6 percent share of global GHG emissions. And, if it was scrapped, Canada would forfeit thousands of jobs and billions of dollars in investments, business opportunities and public revenues to re-invest in sectors such as renewable energy, health care, education and infrastructure.

Global demand for fossil fuels is not forecast to slacken anytime soon. The International Energy Agency reports that the share of fossil fuels in global primary energy demand would be reduced only slightly — from 82 percent in 2011 to 64 percent in 2035 — if countries adopted all the policies needed to stay below 2°C of warming. For example, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) expects 7.2 billion passengers to travel in 2035, nearly doubling the 3.8 billion air travelers in 2016. Canadian new-vehicle sales will top two million units in 2018, narrowly missing record annual sales for the sixth consecutive year, according to Scotiabank Economics.

The Notley and Trudeau governments have taken deliberate, openly consultative and politically courageous steps to address human-caused climate change and to ensure environmentally responsible oil sands production and pipeline development. Yet the increasingly vocal opponents of the Trans Mountain pipeline, and indeed of the oil sands more broadly, are ill-inclined to recognize either the important political compromises evident in such policy choices or the political capital that both governments have spent to achieve them. Instead, they are unlikely to be satisfied until pipelines and the oil sands are a thing of the past, irrespective of the modest impact on global GHG emissions and the far greater consequences to the Canadian economy.

If the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion is not built, these recent actions by the Notley and Trudeau governments will be seriously undermined – to the point that questions would be raised on the value of expending political capital for future climate change mitigation efforts. Deliberate decisions must be taken swiftly now to protect Canada’s economic prosperity and our climate change mitigation agenda.

Arthur Hoole has diverse experience in environmental planning over a 40-year career in Canada and overseas. He holds a doctorate in natural resources and environmental management.