Comment: Pipelines not the pathway to Paris solutions

Canada’s symbolic signing of the Paris climate agreements Friday was a hopeful and necessary step. Yet symbolism and rhetoric need to be followed by urgent action here at home if we are serious about avoiding a catastrophic four to six degrees Celsius of warming.

Pipelines and fracked gas are not the pathway to Paris solutions; they are the path to increased wildfires, water shortages and other increasingly unmanageable climate impacts.

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It’s dangerous and irresponsible to claim climate leadership while continuing to build fossil-fuel infrastructure that will only accelerate the climate crisis. Building unnecessary, expensive and risky infrastructure such as the Kinder Morgan pipeline or the Petronas liquefied fracked gas terminal would demonstrate that Canada — for all the rhetoric about keeping warming to 1.5 C — remains stuck in old-fashioned, extractive thinking.

New research shows that the fossil-fuel era could be over in as little as 10 years, if governments commit to the right policy measures. As other governments move more decisively, Canada risks being left behind. And let’s not delude ourselves that pipelines will enable a “transition” away from fossil fuels.

If you think workers are suffering in Alberta now, wait until you see what Canada’s economy looks like if we miss the huge opportunities for jobs and prosperity offered in renewable energy and a truly climate-friendly economy.

Being pro-jobs cannot mean doubling down on risky assets whose value threatens to evaporate as the world turns its back on fossil fuels. We owe it to ourselves and to workers to have an honest conversation about the risks that pipelines become derelict monuments to shortsighted thinking.

Clean, green energy and technology now dominate energy-market growth. They, not fossil fuels, are the job creators. For every $1 million invested in oil and gas, two jobs are created. That same $1 million invested in clean energy creates 15 jobs. Governments’ support for the necessary shift to a post-carbon economy is the smart, responsible, profitable choice for lasting job creation, resilient communities and thriving ecosystems across the country.

The federal government is moving in the right direction by taking steps to assess the greenhouse-gas emissions of fossil-fuel project proposals. But Ottawa’s approach amounts to half-measures.

We need true full-life-cycle assessments of climate impacts, which means also counting “downstream” emissions — in other words, emissions when our oil or gas is burned. Whether that’s in Canada, Asia or elsewhere, we are all “downstream” when the pollution hits the atmosphere, further accelerating climate impacts.

Leaving out any assessment of the destructive downstream impacts is a shell game, with Canada trying to export the responsibility of reducing emissions. To pretend otherwise is simply deceptive.

In addition, any horse-trading deal to sell Alberta electricity from the Site C dam to power the oilsands industry in exchange for pipeline access to B.C.’s coast would expose both provinces’ claims to climate leadership for what they are: lies. Site C’s claims to be environmentally friendly are bogus in the first place.

To then make Site C a bargaining chip in backroom deals to force pipelines on an unwilling province would be an obscenity. The same goes for Site C powering B.C.’s fracked-gas industry.

Global temperature records are being broken daily. The past 11 months in a row were the hottest in recorded history. And 2016 is on course to be the first year we exceed 1.5 C of global warming. B.C.’s wildfire season is already in full swing, weeks early. The spring melt is also weeks early, which bodes ill for salmon battling lethal river temperatures this summer.

Climate impacts are here, now. Postponing climate action would be a betrayal of Canada’s economy, of working families and of the natural systems on which we all depend. It’s time to get real, and that means no new fossil-fuel infrastructure, and a massive effort to invest in sustainable energy solutions and green jobs instead.

What B.C. and Canada need is a Marshall Plan for a new, climate-friendly economy, in which the natural world and human beings can prosper together.

Signing the Paris Agreements on Earth Day was just the beginning.

Larissa Stendie is Sierra Club B.C.’s climate and energy campaigner.

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