GHG emission trends in AB and SK – wind energy can bend the curve
September 9, 2015
Climate change is the single most important global environmental challenge facing the world today. This fall, the new Alberta Government is preparing its climate change strategy to respond to this urgent global challenge and its Climate Change Advisory Panel is now working to develop recommendations for the government’s consideration. What role can wind energy play?
Prior to joining CanWEA, I worked for many years as an advocate for action on climate change and I was in Kyoto, Japan when agreement was reached on the Kyoto Protocol in 1997. Eighteen years later, Canada has withdrawn from the Kyoto Protocol and the common perception is that it had imposed a ridiculously unrealistic target on Canada to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions to 6% below 1990 levels by 2012. Indeed, Canada`s GHG emissions were a full 18% above 1990 levels in 2013.
A closer look at the numbers, however, reveals an interesting story. Between 1990 and 2013, six Canadian provinces essentially met or exceeded the Kyoto Protocol target:
- Newfoundland and Labrador`s GHG emissions fell 12%
- Prince Edward Island`s GHG emissions fell 10%
- Nova Scotia`s GHG emissions fell 9%
- Quebec`s GHG emissions fell 8%
- Ontario`s GHG emissions fell 6%
- New Brunswick`s GHG emissions fell 5%
Was Kyoto really an unattainable goal?
Of course, the trends are quite different in Western Canada:
- Saskatchewan`s GHG emissions increased by 66%
- Alberta`s GHG emissions increased by 53%
- British Columbia`s GHG emissions increased by 21% (although they have fallen since 2005)
- Manitoba`s GHG emissions increased by 14%
Canada’s new GHG emissions target seeks to reduce emissions by 30% from 2005 levels by 2030. Since 2005, GHG emissions have grown only in three provinces, led by Alberta (14% increase) and Saskatchewan (8% increase).
Source: Environment Canada (2015)
It is obvious that GHG emission trends like those we have seen in Alberta and Saskatchewan are not sustainable. Climate change science argues for 80% reductions in GHG emissions by 2050 to avoid an increase in average global temperatures of more than 2 degrees Celsius.
What to do?
In many parts of Canada, we are blessed with an abundance of clean, renewable electricity. A key component of any meaningful strategy to reduce GHG emissions must be to clean our electricity grids through significantly enhanced use of wind and other renewable energy sources in provinces like Alberta and Saskatchewan that are highly dependent on coal and natural gas for electricity generation.
A complementary component must be to then use clean electricity to increase the electrification of other energy end uses like transportation, space heating and cooling, and some industrial processes in all jurisdictions.
The Alberta Government has already signalled that it would like to accelerate the phase-out of coal-fired generation and significantly increase the contribution of renewable energy into the Alberta grid as part of its new climate change strategy. SaskPower has suggested that it will be seeking to significantly grow the contribution of wind energy to its electricity supply in the future.
Increased use of wind energy on its own is not the solution to climate change. It is, however, an essential and necessary starting point for Alberta and Saskatchewan as they try to reverse their damaging greenhouse gas emission trends. It makes sense to do so. Wind energy is a cost-competitive source of electricity generation that can help phase out coal-fired electricity generation while providing a wide range of environmental benefits. In addition to greenhouse gas emissions reduction, the addition of wind generation also supports the diversification and strengthening of rural economies.
A key metric to determining the credibility and effectiveness of Alberta and Saskatchewan’s new efforts to address climate change as we approach international climate negotiations in Paris in November will be the extent to which they seek to maximize the use of their enormous wind energy potential. Stay tuned.
Featured Photo ©ENERCON Canada Inc.
President of the Canadian Wind Energy Association