Emission goals need to take global viewpoint

Question: How do you cut carbon dioxide emissions worldwide? Answer: Not by reducing them in every country, especially in those places where oil and gas exploration and extraction occur.

This reality - that some countries have the energy and others mostly don't - is the conundrum facing the NDP government in B.C.

Recall that the NDP came to power last year promising to reduce carbon emissions in the province. That was a continuation of B.C. Liberal policy that pledged to chop emissions by 33 per cent by 2020, measured against 2007 levels.

Problem: While B.C. did reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 2010, emissions rose again after that year.

An additional problem: The NDP government wants B.C.'s nascent liquefied natural gas export sector to flourish. Of course, if that happens, overall provincial carbon emissions will likely rise. And it must push such policy over the objections of some in the more extreme wing of the province's environmental movement, where some activists take a utopian, purist position instead of a reasoned one that recognizes trade-offs.

That's unhelpful because such chronic just-say-no obstinacy ignores how resources have improved the human condition over the centuries. That includes everything from how a mining product such as copper is used in MRI scanners to how natural gas can replace more polluting and carbon-intensive sources such as coal in power production.

Thus, the B.C. government's LNG export position is laudable and Premier John Horgan and Energy Minister Michelle Mungall apparently recognize that not every British Columbian is rich, or selling real estate to those who are, or works for government.

In other words, other British Columbians also need to work, eat, buy their kids clothes and pay a mortgage. The NDP is thus more than justified in breaking a few utopian hearts.

Back to the conundrum: the promises to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions.

Those commitments were highlighted in a recent OECD report, released just before Christmas. The OECD was critical of Canada for not reducing carbon emissions further. (Canada's emissions have been reduced by 1.5 per cent since 2000 compared with an average OECD reduction of 4.7 per cent.) As expected, emissions in Alberta rose, given the province is home to the largest share of Canada's energy sector.

The criticism of Alberta and the conflicting goals of the NDP government in B.C. - more natural gas but fewer greenhouse-gas emissions - makes clear the core problem: the promise that every country should reduce emissions, signed on to by successive federal Liberal governments in the Kyoto Protocol in 1997 and renewed in 2017 in the Paris climate agreement.

Such all-in promises have long been folly. They're based on the assumption that every jurisdiction should do its part rather than recognize that some places are resource-rich, while others, obviously, are resource-poor - but that everyone uses such resources daily.

One could argue against the use of Alberta, Saskatchewan and Newfoundland and Labrador oil and B.C. natural gas, but that's a nonsensical position. It would require much more expensive and inefficient winter-heating sources, the end of driving and an endless list of other cessations: plastics including those used in surgical procedures, smartphones, Aspirin, bicycle tires, clothing, shower curtains, contact lenses and so forth. That is an impossible, silly demand.

Insofar as carbon emissions are the concern, the international goal should be reductions in some countries such as China, where both particulate pollution and greenhouse-gas emissions could be lowered through the use of relatively inexpensive substitution products, such as replacing coal with natural gas.

Except B.C. would receive no applause from activists and utopians, or even international bodies such as the OECD, because B.C.'s emissions would rise even as the province contributes substantially to a decrease on the other side of the Pacific Ocean.

A modest proposal: B.C.'s NDP government and the federal government should ignore the domestic and international critics, and even cancel their own unrealistic goals for carbon emission reductions. It's preferable to match up truth with reality: B.C.'s natural gas, if it finds its way to Asia, will help reduce carbon emissions worldwide.

~Mark Milke, Vancouver Sun, A11, January 25, 2018

Mark Milke