This site is about climate change.
My specific focus is on the sources of information available to Canadians from our own governments (the Federal Government and our various provincial governments) about the current growth of greenhouse gas emissions in Canada, the future path of our emissions over the next fifteen years to twenty-five years, the impact of rising emissions levels, and the steps we are taking to respond.
I write in particular about a recent series of inquiries and reports released to the public by the Government of Canada and its agencies, including the National Energy Board (NEB).
I believe it is profoundly mistaken to believe that because the assessment of carbon dioxide emissions and its long-term effects in the atmosphere is based on complex science we, non-experts, cannot make informed judgments on what is to be done. It is useful and sobering to keep in mind that whatever happens, it will not be the experts who will make the decisions. It will be the elected politicians. My approach is that we should have access to the same information they have, so that we can test the soundness of the decisions they are making.
The decisions they make now – and that they will make during the next four or five years – will largely determine the outcome of Canada’s carbon reduction efforts to 2030.
The first essay on this site is an examination of the Kinder Morgan “upstream emissions” assessment report released on May 19, 2016, entitled the Trans Mountain Expansion Project: Review of Related Upstream Greenhouse Gas Emissions Estimates (I will refer to it as the “Kinder Morgan report”). The Liberal Government promised that the Kinder Morgan assessment would “discuss” the project’s potential impact on Canadian and global emissions. The Kinder Morgan pipeline expansion, if built, will have the capacity to transport an additional 590,000 barrels per day (bpd) of oil sands bitumen from Alberta to Vancouver – which will account for 25% of the proposed total increase in oil sands production between now and 2040. Increased oil sands production over the next twenty-five years will increase Canada’s emissions. So the Kinder Morgan decision is important. The Liberal Government says it will make a final decision on the Kinder Morgan project in December 2016.
My aim is to provide a bit of a roadmap that might be helpful in thinking about the significance of pipeline expansion (and hence expansion of oil sands production and emissions in Canada) in the context of the larger global emissions picture.
My professional background is law. I practiced in civil litigation in Vancouver B.C. for 35 years, between 1975 and 2012, when I retired from practice. My interest is the adequacy of the process followed by the Kinder Morgan assessment, the sources of evidence it considered, how the evidence was selected, whether the evidence was subject to any questioning or cross-examination, the way the assessment framed the questions it asked, the answers provided by the assessment – and the questions it did not ask.
In December 2015 in Paris the Liberal Government made a commitment to cut the annual level of Canada’s total emissions 30% by 2030, below the 2005 level. In the case of the Kinder Morgan project, an emissions assessment must tell Canadians whether the proposed production expansion is compatible with our reduction commitments. Without that information, Canadians cannot possibly make an informed decision.
The importance of process
In our efforts to understand these interrelated subjects of climate science, carbon emissions, energy economics, and technology, we are of course very dependent on expert opinion to accurately point us to the relevant evidence, and to guide our understanding of the evidence.
In our society we long ago developed processes that, in a transparent way, routinely bring expert evidence into decision-making on the most complex issues of public importance. Civil judges daily make findings and hand down decisions in complex medical and engineering cases (and in cases of chemical contamination, aviation disasters, mine collapses, and so on) where the issues can only be understood and weighed in light of expert evidence – and where the evidence is often massive and exceedingly complicated.
We have done the same in public inquiries and environmental reviews. If we want to do it effectively, the procedures and basic principles are no mystery: the process must be public, because that is our guarantee that the evidence will not be pre-selected or “cherry-picked”; there must be a record of what the witnesses have said, so we know exactly who is giving the evidence and that relevant evidence has not been brushed aside; there must be a chance to cross-examine the experts, and an opportunity to call other experts witnesses who may disagree with those who have been selected, for example, by the government; the integrity of the process must be protected by basic principles of judicial independence, so that we can be confident that the panel or decision makers are not, in their decision, being influenced by pressures, discussions, or other sources of information that have not been “tested” in the hearing room, in public view.