By Kim Perrotta and Ronald Macfarlane, September 28, 2022
Reprinted from The Hamilton Spectator with permission. https://www.thespec.com/opinion/contributors/2022/09/28/were-out-of-time-on-greenhouse-gas-emissions.html
While the oil and gas sector is important for Canada’s economy, we cannot let this sector undermine the healthy ecosystems are needed to sustain human life. Humanity has little time to significantly cut its greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions if we are to leave our children a livable planet.
With the 2021 heat dome claiming hundreds of lives in Canada, 13 million people facing famine in the Horn of Africa, 33 million displaced by floods in Pakistan, and lakes and rivers shrinking from heat waves and droughts in Europe, China and the United States, we can no longer deny that climate change poses an existential threat to humanity.
If we are to prevent millions of climate change-related deaths, humanity must limit global warming to 1.5 C. To accomplish this, GHG emissions must be halved by 2030. As a wealthy country that is one of the top 10 emitters of GHGs, it can be argued Canada has an obligation to make deeper cuts at a faster pace than other countries.
The oil and gas sector is the largest source of GHGs in Canada; responsible for 27 per cent of emissions. These emissions have increased steadily from 35 million tonnes (MT) in 2005 to 81 MT in 2020 and are expected to increase for decades. For this reason alone, it is essential that Canada establish ambitious emission caps.
This sector poses immediate health risks for residents in Canada as well. An air monitoring study found that the Alberta oilsands creates 45-84 tonnes of airborne particulate matter (PM) each day; a quantity that rivals the 67 tonnes per day created by the Greater Toronto Area as a whole. A study has found that these emissions are responsible for a large portion of the PM in Edmonton’s air and can travel as far as Ontario. With air pollution producing 15,300 premature deaths per year in Canada, these emissions represent a significant health concern.
The production, distribution and use of oil and gas also releases methane, a GHG 84 times more potent at global warming than carbon dioxide. Methane also contributes to the formation of ground-level ozone, a component of smog that causes a host of negative health effects.
There is also mounting evidence that hydraulic fracturing (fracking) presents health risks to local residents. A recent review of the literature found that 25 out of 29 studies linked adverse health outcomes, such as adverse birth outcomes, to the fracking of oil and gas.
Health Canada has noted that reductions in GHG emissions can produce large health co-benefits that can offset the costs of climate change mitigation. While it may take many years to realize the climate-related health benefits of GHG reductions, the health co-benefits resulting from reductions in air pollution would be realized immediately.
The federal government needs to set ambitious limits on oil and gas emissions that will produce immediate health benefits and health care savings for residents within Canada, while ensuring that Canada does its fair share to fight global climate change.
At minimum, the oil and gas emissions caps must: reduce emissions significantly by 2025 and by 60 per cent by 2030; be applied to all emissions from the production and use of oil and gas; and be supported by a Just Transition Strategy that creates decent, low-carbon jobs, builds strong communities, and respects Indigenous rights and sovereignty.
We have run out of time. While the oil and gas sector is important for Canada’s economy, Canadians cannot let this sector undermine the stable climate and healthy ecosystems that are needed to sustain human life. We must take rapid steps to dramatically reduce emissions from all sectors across this country, and this must include Canada’s oil and gas sector.