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Erickson: New Fossil Infrastructure Imperils Domestic and Global Climate Goals


New fossil infrastructure like the Trans Mountain pipeline or expanded tar sands/oil sands production “not only cripples the ability to meet domestic emissions targets, but also compromises global attempts due to the continued flooding of the market with cheap oil,” Stockholm Environment Institute Senior Scientist Peter Erickson said, in a recent interview with The Narwhal.

In a conversation just days before the Trudeau government unveiled its decision to buy a pipeline on Canadian taxpayers’ behalf, Erickson argued that that kind of activity “further slows the transition to a low-carbon society”.

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Erickson laid waste to the common but inaccurate theory that a barrel of oil shut down in a jurisdiction like Canada will just be replaced by another supplier: while other countries will “of course” compensate, Erickson told The Narwhal’s James Wilt, his analysis indicates that global oil consumption will fall “by between 0.2 and 0.6 barrels” for every barrel Canada leaves in the ground.

In that light, he declared Ottawa’s decision “to straight-up buy” Kinder Morgan’s pipeline “just crazy”, given the government’s explicit commitment to the goals of Paris Agreement. To square that circle, Canada seems to be “hoping that the world stops using oil,” even as it “keep[s] hitching Alberta to that future.”

While the federal government maintains it will eventually offload the pipeline to another private company—maybe even Kinder Morgan—once it’s built, taking on that risk makes no sense at a time when “to meet climate goals, we need an orderly phasedown of oil consumption and production.”

Erickson stressed that “how Canada manages the oilsands is as important to global climate as what it does on its own emissions”. And he took aim at the notion that downstream emissions from Canadian production can just be attributed to the countries that burn the final product.

“Climate change is a global problem,” he said, which means countries must get away from this illusion that your responsibility as a climate leader is only what happens within your country.” For major oil producers like Canada, addressing climate “is going to have to mean phasing out supply.”

That phaseout will ultimately take place, one way or the other, he warned: It’s “either going to happen in a chaotic, risky way, where Canada plans through negligence on the rest of the countries reducing their car driving and leaving Alberta stranded. Or it can do it in a planned way that ultimately protects Alberta and plans for its future and has a tangible, quantifiable emissions benefit.”