NEB Rejects Submissions from Leading Scientists Because of Climate Change Mention

The following article was written by Simon Donner, Kathryn Harrison and George Hoberg and published in the National Post on April 10th, 2014. The original article can be accessed here.

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This week, the National Energy Board (NEB) announced plans for its upcoming hearings on the proposal to triple the capacity of Kinder Morgan’s Transmountain Pipeline, which transports oil from Alberta to the Port of Vancouver. The new pipeline alone is expected to lead to 50% more carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions each year than all of British Columbia currently produces. That fact prompted 26 university professors who study climate change to apply to lend our expertise to the NEB’s assessment of whether this project is in the public interest. Every one of us was rejected, because we proposed to talk about climate change.

Last fall, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), speaking on behalf of the international scientific community, expressed greater than 95% certainty that human activity, particularly CO2 emissions, is the dominant cause of recently observed climate change. By comparison, scientists have roughly the same level of confidence that cigarette smoking causes cancer.

At current emissions rates, the IPCC projected that the planet is likely to warm by 2.6 C to 4.8 C by the end of this century — a rate of climate change that is unprecedented in the history of human civilization. In addition, roughly one-third of CO2 emissions will dissolve in the ocean, increasing ocean acidity to a level not observed in millions of years.

Just last week, the IPCC released a follow-up report that concluded that this climate change could contribute to food shortages, damage to coastal cities, the displacement of millions of people and widespread species extinction.

In response to these threats, Canada has joined the governments of the world in agreeing to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in order to limit global warming to less than 2 C. As a first step, Canada pledged to reduce its emissions to 17% below 2005 levels by the year 2020.

How are we doing? Canada’s recent submission to the UN stated that our emissions will be 24% above our international target in 2020. Not only will we miss our target, but our emissions will have increased, not decreased. Fully 78% of emissions growth by 2020 is projected to come from oil sands production.

For eight years, the federal government has promised to regulate emissions from the oil and gas sector. It has yet to do so. Indeed, this fall, just after Canada reported that it was not on track to meet its 2020 target, Canadians were told by Prime Minister Stephen Harper that oil and gas regulations would be delayed, yet again, for “a couple of years.”

The purpose of the proposed Trans Mountain Pipeline expansion is to increase the oil sands’ access to global markets. Whether directly or indirectly, this additional export pathway will increase bitumen production and thus greenhouse gas emissions.

First, additional bitumen production needed to meet the pipeline capacity would increase Canada’s annual CO2 emissions by over 27 million tonnes. This increase in oil sands emissions, which is equivalent to more than twice the expected emissions reduction from the transportation sector, undermines other provincial and federal efforts to meet Canada’s 2020 target.

Second, the carbon embedded in the bitumen transported by the pipeline will add another 93 million tonnes of CO2 to the atmosphere each year when it is eventually burned. Although these downstream emissions will not technically count as Canada’s, they too will counteract our in-country mitigation efforts. The atmosphere does not care where carbon dioxide is emitted.

Nevertheless, the NEB appears to have made the blanket decision to reject any submissions to the hearing process that included the words “climate change.”

That decision might be defensible if the federal government had done its job and developed a comprehensive climate policy to control carbon-intensive industrial operations in the oil and gas sector. Absent such a policy, the NEB hearings are the only process left to consider the impact of Canada’s oil and gas industry on our greenhouse gas emissions targets and climate change.

Canadians are not served when public agencies reject pertinent scientific and expert advice. Nor is Canadian democracy served when our government attempts to evade responsibility for matters as fundamental as our international commitments and responsibility to future generations.

National Post

Full list of signatories:

Simon Donner, Associate Professor, Department of Geography, University of British Columbia; Kathryn Harrison, Professor, Department of Political Science, University of British Columbia; George Hoberg, Professor, Department of Forest Resources Management, University of British Columbia; Laurie Adkin, Associate Professor, Department of Political Science and Environmental Studies Programme, University of Alberta; Phil Austin, Associate Professor, Department of Earth, Ocean and Atmospheric Sciences, University of British Columbia; Kai Chan, Associate Professor and Canada Research Chair, Institute for Resources, Environment and Sustainability, University of British Columbia; Jay Cullen, Associate Professor, School of Earth and Ocean Sciences, University of Victoria; Lori Daniels, Associate Professor, Department of Forest and Conservation Sciences, University of British Columbia; Peter Dauvergne, Director, Liu Institute for Global Issues and Professor of International Relations, University of British Columbia; Ken Denman, Professor, School of Earth and Ocean Sciences, University of Victoria; Erica Frank, Professor and Canada Research Chair, School of Population and Public Health, University of British Columbia; David Green, Professor, Vancouver School of Economics, University of British Columbia; Kevin Hanna, Associate Professor of Sustainability, I.K. Barber School of Arts and Sciences, University of British Columbia; Sara Harris, Senior Instructor, Department of Earth, Ocean and Atmospheric Sciences, University of British Columbia; Milind Kandlikar, Professor, Liu Institute for Global Issues and Institute for Resources, Environment and Sustainability, University of British Columbia; Karen Kohfeld, Associate Professor and Canada Research Chair, School of Resource and Environmental Management, Simon Fraser University; Ken Lertzman, Professor and Director of The Hakai Network for Coastal People, Ecosystems and Management, School of Resource and Environmental Management, Simon Fraser University; Alan Lewis, Professor Emeritus, Department of Zoology and Department of Earth, Ocean and Atmospheric Sciences, University of British Columbia; Jane Lister, Senior Research Fellow, Liu Institute for Global Issues, University of British Columbia; Ian McKendry, Professor, Department of Geography and Atmospheric Science Program, University of British Columbia; Karin Mickelson, Associate Professor, Faculty of Law, University of British Columbia; R. Dan Moore, Professor, Department of Geography and Department of Forest Resources Management, University of British Columbia; Rashid Sumalia, Professor and Director of the Fisheries Economics Research Unit, University of British Columbia; Douw Steyn, Professor, Department of Earth, Ocean and Atmospheric Sciences, University of British Columbia; David Tindall, Associate Professor, Department of Sociology and Department of Forest Resource Management, University of British Columbia; Hisham Zerriffi, Assistant Professor and Ivan Head South/North Research Chair, Liu Institute for Global Issues, University of British Columbia; Kirsten Zickfeld, Assistant Professor, Department of Geography, Simon Fraser University.

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