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Study: BC’s fossil fuel exports have huge hidden carbon footprint

BC must stop exporting fossil fuels if the province is serious about dramatically cutting greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, according to a new Climate Justice Project brief from the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives.

Peddling GHGs: What is the Carbon Footprint of BC’s Fossil Fuel Exports? reviewed emissions from BC’s production and export of fossil fuels and found some glaring contradictions between climate action targets and the province’s industrial policies. One example is the recent approval of an EnCana natural gas facility in BC’s Northeast, which, when completed, will be the single largest emitter in BC, adding 2.2 million tones of CO2 to BC’s greenhouse gas inventory.

“BC is considered a North American leader when it comes to climate action, but we also need to take responsibility for our exports,” says study author and CCPA-BC Senior Economist Marc Lee. “Official inventories of GHG emissions only count those released within the borders of a jurisdiction – the combustion of BC coal, oil and gas outside the province is not counted.”

The study found that the greenhouse gas emissions from BC's exported fossil fuels to be more than double the combustion of fossil fuels by households and businesses within BC. It also found that BC’s (in the ground) reserves of coal and natural gas are equivalent to more than three years of global CO2 emissions.

The study argues that carbon capture and storage (CCS) is the only practice that could make continued extraction and export environmentally sustainable. However, this technology is expensive and may never be able to capture 100% of emissions.

Lee recommends that BC impose a moratorium on new fossil fuel extraction (and associated export) unless CCS can be effectively implemented. And since such a policy would impact workers in the coal and natural gas sectors, the provincial government should also commit to a “green social contract”, including income supports, retraining provisions and mobility allowances.

“Confronting GHG emissions from the oil and gas sector, and emissions from fossil fuel exports that are combusted in other jurisdictions, is perhaps the biggest challenge BC faces, and the most glaring contradiction when it comes to climate policy,” says Lee. “This challenge, and its social justice transitional issues, must be acknowledged if BC is to be a real climate action leader.”

Peddling GHGs: What is the Carbon Footprint of BC’s Fossil Fuel Exports? is available for download from www.policyalternatives.ca. This study is part of the Climate Justice Project, a five-year research initiative of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives and the University of British Columbia.