From the Editor: The problem with global climate policy? There is none [Gas in Transition]
In 1992, the Rio Earth Summit begat the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC) and the infamous Conference of the Parties (COP), an annual gabfest intended to bring the nations of the world together to address what was then seen as a troubling increase in global temperatures.
COP1 in Berlin in 1995 was seen as an encouraging start to that process, laying the groundwork in the Berlin Mandate for what would become, two years later at COP3 in Japan, the Kyoto Protocol, the world’s first legally-binding climate treaty.
In today’s terms, Kyoto was a modest achievement at best, targeting a 5% reduction in global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. But major emitters like China and India were not part of the deal, and it essentially collapsed in 1998 when the US withdrew, although it did enter into force in 2005 – with only lukewarm aspirations by a mere handful of countries to reduce emissions.
That should have been the first red flag.
Since Kyoto, a succession of COP gatherings – in Denmark in 2009, Mexico in 2010, Qatar in 2012 – essentially tried to “fix” Kyoto. But COP18 in Doha was the death knell for Kyoto – initially set to expire in 2017, it was extended to 2020, but by then, remaining signatories – Canada had withdrawn, and Japan and Russia were basically ignoring it – represented just 15% of global GHG emissions.
That should have been the second red flag.
Three years later in 2015, COP21 in Paris produced the historic Paris Agreement, under which 196 signatory countries – developed and developing – agreed to set emission reduction targets that would keep the global temperature rise to 2°C and pursue efforts to keep the increase under 1.5°C.
But signatory countries could set their own targets, known as nationally determined contributions, or NDCs, at whatever level they liked, and again, as in past protocols and mandates, there were no enforcement mechanisms to ensure NDCs were actually achieved, although new NDCs were expected to be set every five years.
And there it is, the third red flag.
In 2019, a year ahead of the deadline for the next set of NDCs, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres organised a climate summit for world leaders in New York at which ideas for the next round of targets could be discussed. But major emitters like the US and China shunned the summit, and this latest climate gabfest ended with Guterres asking the world to cut GHG emissions by 45% by 2030 and reach carbon neutrality – net-zero – by 2050.
Which brings us to where we are today: nearly 200 countries, all developing their own reduction targets, and all more interested in how those reduction targets are viewed by the rest of the world than in whether they are actually contributing to reduced global emissions.
Take Canada, for example. The world’s fourth largest oil producer and its sixth largest producer of natural gas contributes less than 1.6% to global GHG emissions. Reducing its own emissions will hardly move the needle on the global climate scale – in fact, the Montreal Economic Institute recently reported that it would take China less than 10 days to emit enough CO2 to cancel out Canada’s reduction targets, and if Canada were to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050 – a target zealously supported by prime minister Justin Trudeau – its emissions reduced every year by that neutrality would be replaced by ever-higher Chinese emissions in just three weeks.
The result of Trudeau’s global-scale virtue signalling may not be apparent in the rest of the world – his primary audience – but it is readily apparent in his own country, especially in Alberta, which produces the bulk of Canada’s oil and gas and, not surprisingly, a large portion of its GHG emissions.
Canada’s latest aspirations, released last summer in its 2030 Emissions Reduction Plan (ERP), call for emissions to be reduced by 40% from 2005 levels by 2030, and to achieve net-zero by 2050. At the same time, it ramps up promises on reducing emissions of methane, the most potent greenhouse gas, by 75% below 2012 levels by 2030.
To achieve these new, higher contributions to the global climate change battle – which as the MEI has said will do virtually nothing to mitigate emissions anywhere else in the world – the ERP pledges to cap emissions “at the pace and scale needed” to achieve its net-zero by 2050 aspirations.
To most ears in the oil and gas community, that equates to nothing more than a threat to cap oil and gas production – a dangerous intrusion by the federal government into matters that are constitutionally the responsibility of Alberta and the other provinces.
And capping emissions in Canada, the MEI suggests, will not impact oil and gas demand in the rest of the world.
“Indeed, if Canada pursues emissions reductions at all costs, businesses are likely to transfer production to a jurisdiction with more lenient standards and emissions constraints, possibly leading to an increase in global emissions,” it says.
The MEI’s final warning, while intended for Canadian ears, offers a lesson the rest of the world should pay attention to: governments need to re-examine their targets through a global lens; as energy insecurity and high energy prices prevail governments everywhere need to realise that the sacrifices of their citizens on the altar of climate change may well be in vain, and in fact are more likely to be counterproductive from a global perspective.