Ottawa Can’t Predict Emission Cuts from New Methane Controls
The federal government is trying out a revamped set of fossil industry incentives to hit its target of reducing methane emissions 40 to 45% by 2025, but at least three environmental groups in Canada and one in the United States say Ottawa could get better results if it just regulated the companies’ emissions.
The stakes are high, because methane is 84 times more potent a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide over the 20-year span when humanity will be scrambling to reduce emissions and get the climate crisis under control. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau committed to the 2025 target in June 2016, during a summit with then-Mexican president Enrique Peña Nieto and U.S. President Barack Obama. But analysis released by the Pembina Institute in early September concluded the country is only on track for a 29% reduction.
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“The gap to achieving Canada’s 2025 methane reduction target is widening at a time when the federal government should be looking to increase ambition on methane to meet its Paris climate commitment,” said Senior Methane Analyst Jan Gorski. “Canada should act decisively to maintain its position as a global leader both in terms of innovative policy and the application of technology to control methane emissions.”
At the time, The Canadian Press wrote, the latest available data showed methane emissions in 2018 equivalent to 91 megatonnes of carbon dioxide, with almost half coming from the fossil industry.
Last Thursday, Natural Resources Minister Seamus O’Regan announced details of the C$750-million Emissions Reduction Fund the government first set up in late April. He said fossils will have to repay all the money they borrow if they only cut some of their methane output—but will get to keep up to half if they eliminate the emission entirely.
“Any time we are able to help companies reduce emissions, that is a very good investment for Canada and is a very good investment for Canadians,” he said. “It’s an incredibly effective way for us to reach our targets.”
“Methane emission reductions remain one of the most cost-effective ways to mitigate climate impacts and additional efforts, such as this fund, will enable Canada to maintain momentum in reducing emissions from this powerful greenhouse gas,” Gorski agreed October 23. “This program sets the stage for Canadian leadership in methane abatement technology that will be more in demand as the rest of the world increasingly acts on methane,” resulting in “more high-tech jobs in Canada, and further methane reductions world-wide.”
But last week, Ottawa couldn’t say how much methane the new program will actually cut. Dale Marshall, national program manager at Toronto-based Environmental Defence Canada, said that would be a lot easier if the government could bring itself to regulate the industry, rather than offering it incentives.
“That’s the difference with regulations,” he told CP. “The level of reductions doesn’t depend on industry coming forward with proposals. It ensures that every oil and gas facility is doing what is needed, especially given that these are very, very cost-effective.”
Climate hawks and other analysts have long argued that methane controls are a win all around—they curb emissions of one of the most dangerous and damaging greenhouse gases, but also save the companies money.
On Thursday, Environmental Defence joined up with the Clean Air Task Force, the David Suzuki Foundation, and the U.S. Environmental Defense Fund on a joint release urging Ottawa to get its methane regulations in order before it signs equivalency agreements allowing Saskatchewan and Alberta to manage their own emissions. The Canadian Environmental Protection Act allows the federal government to set equivalency agreements with provinces, territories, or Aboriginal governments to avoid duplication of effort, as long as those jurisdictions’ laws include “provisions that are equivalent to a regulation made under CEPA”.
But that’s precisely the concern the four organizations raise in their release. The groups argue the provincial rules “won’t be as strict as the regulations Canada laid out”, CP says, and that both sets fall short of the 45% target.
The equivalency agreements “may be finalized soon, despite the inadequacy of both the provincial regulations and the federal regulations they will replace,” the release warns. Even after Environment Minister Jonathan Wilkinson said he was “committed to strengthening these measures if required,” the groups say his department “is close to finalizing agreements with Alberta and Saskatchewan as written. These are five-year agreements, and revisiting them before 2025 will be politically difficult once they are finalized.”