Canadian Biomass Magazine

Canada’s damning reputation

December 5, 2014
By Gordon Murphy

Global wood pellet consumption will be about 24 million tonnes in 2014. More than 80 per cent will be consumed in the European Union (EU) for heat and power generation.

Global wood pellet consumption will be about 24 million tonnes in 2014. More than 80 per cent will be consumed in the European Union (EU) for heat and power generation. Europeans like wood pellets for home heating because they are cheaper than the alternatives – gas, oil, or electricity. And they use wood pellets to replace coal in power generation because pellets are cleaner and can greatly reduce GHG emissions.

It is the EU power sector that has largely enabled the rapid growth of Canada’s wood pellet exports. Since 2009, that growth has been supported by The Renewable Energy Directive. This is the EU law that mandates the increased use of energy from renewable sources, together with energy savings and increased energy efficiency, and the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions to comply with the Kyoto Protocol to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.

Of course the great irony of this is that Canada – a country with no demonstrated commitment to combating climate change – is benefitting greatly from an EU law mandating reduction of GHG emissions.

We Canadians have to ask ourselves, will Europeans eventually tire of this hypocrisy? Why should the EU continue to improve its GHG emissions performance while Canada continues to emit at a record pace without regard to the negative effects on climate change? Why should EU utilities continue to buy Canadian wood pellets when they can see that Canadian coal power generation (with the notable exception of Ontario) continues unabated?


Consider the differences between Canadian and EU approaches to climate change:

European Union
Preventing climate change is a strategic priority for the EU. Under the Kyoto Protocol, EU member states committed to reduce their total GHG emissions to 8 per cent below 1990 levels by the period 2008-2012 and were successful in meeting this target.

In 2009, the EU adopted the Renewable Energy Directive, a law requiring a 20 per cent reduction of the EU’s GHG emissions compared to 1990; a 20 per cent share of renewable energy in the EU’s gross final energy consumption; and a 20 per cent increase of the EU’s energy efficiency.

As of 2012, the EU had reduced its GHG emissions by 18 per cent compared to 1990 levels and was close to reaching its 20 per cent reduction target, eight years ahead of 2020. The EU is also on target to meet it goals of 20 per cent renewable energy and 20 per cent increase in energy efficiency.

On October 14, 2014, the European Council confirmed even more aggressive legally binding targets for 2030. These include: at least 40 per cent less greenhouse gas emissions by 2030, compared to 1990; at least 27 per cent renewable energy; and an energy efficiency increase of at least 27 per cent.

The Canadian situation couldn’t be more different than the EU. Like Europe, Canada ratified the Kyoto Protocol in 2002, promising to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to an average of 6 per cent below the 1990 level over the period from 2008 to 2012. However, instead of achieving reductions, Canadian GHG emissions continued to rise to record levels and by 2011 Canada withdrew from the Kyoto Protocol.

Peter Kent, Canada’s environment minister, commented, “Canada produces less than two per cent of global carbon emissions, Kyoto doesn’t require major emitters like China and India to cut the amount of greenhouse gases they produce.” Yet on a per capital basis, Canada and the U.S. each emit a whopping 24 tonnes per capita, compared to China at 6 tonnes and India at 2 tonnes (data source: Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency).

At the 2009 Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen, the Government of Canada committed to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions 17 per cent from 2005 levels by 2020. However, Environment Canada’s latest projections show that Canada will again fail to meet its commitment.

On October 7, 2014, Julie Gelfand, Canada’s commissioner of the environment and sustainable development, released a series of environmental performance audits – including one on the federal government’s performance regarding the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. The audit reported that Canada has made unsatisfactory progress in: putting sufficient measures in place to reduce greenhouse gas emissions; assessing the success of the few measures that are in place co-operating with the provinces and territories; and developing plans to achieve the 2020 Copenhagen Accord target of a 17 per cent reduction in emissions below 2005 levels for Canada’s economy as a whole.

The report concludes, “The absence of effective federal planning, including unclear timelines, leaves responsible organizations at all levels without essential information for identifying, directing, and co-ordinating their reduction efforts. It also means that there are no benchmarks against which to monitor and report on progress. For example, industries that may be affected by regulations cannot plan their investments effectively. In our view, the lack of a clear plan and an effective planning process is a particularly significant gap given that Canada is currently projected to miss its 2020 emission reduction target.”

There is little prospect that the Canadian situation will change. On June 9, 2014, Prime Minister Stephen Harper was asked about his approach to climate change. He insisted he won’t be pressured to alter his business-friendly climate-change policies, saying the Conservative government is simply more upfront than leadership in some other countries about its intention to avoid abatement measures that hurt jobs and economic growth.

“No matter what they say, no country is going to take actions that are going to deliberately destroy jobs and growth in their country. We are just a little more frank about that,” the Prime Minister said.

On October 28, 2014, Germanwatch – a sustainable development advocacy group – reported that Canada is dead last among industrialized nations in a new climate change performance index. Germanwatch said, “Canada still shows no intention on moving forward with climate policy and therefore remains the worst performer of all industrialized countries.”

We are indeed fortunate that European customers continue to demand Canadian wood pellets. After all, in the words of Commissioner Gelfand, “If Canada does not honour its climate change commitments, it cannot expect other countries to honour theirs. If countries fail to reduce their emissions, the large environmental and economic liabilities we will leave our children and our grandchildren [will include] more frequent extreme weather, reduced air quality, rising oceans, and the spread of insect-borne diseases.”

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