The atmosphere knows no borders, so cutting Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions does little good if larger countries go on increasing theirs. The latest UN data shows that China now accounts for 26.8 per cent of global emissions, double those of the next highest emitter, the United States, at 13.1 per cent, and far more than Canada’s 1.6 per cent. GHG emissions from China have soared 66.2 per cent since 2005. Coal is a major reason why. Coal-fired power generation is the single largest source of emissions in the world at 30 per cent, and China accounts for nearly half the world’s coal consumption.
Natural gas, on the other hand, produces about half the carbon emissions coal does. Shifting power plants from coal to natural gas has helped reduce emissions in the United States — dramatically. Without any government planning or direction, the sharp fall in the price of natural gas following the fracking revolution has led firms to voluntarily switch plants from coal to natural gas. As a result, energy-related carbon dioxide emissions fell by 14 per cent between 2005 and 2017 even as the U.S. economy grew by 20 per cent.
Increasing natural gas exports from Canada to China — as the Coastal GasLink will do — would allow a similar switch from coal to natural gas and a similar reduction in emissions. Getting natural gas to China does itself generate emissions. But, according to Rob Seeley of E3 Merge, “for every unit of GHGs that British Columbia produces to get that LNG to market, the overseas production of GHGs goes down by a factor of 10.” He estimates that shipping LNG from Kitimat to China could reduce global GHG emissions by 60 to 90 million tonnes annually, equivalent to all of B.C.’s GHG emissions in a year and 10 per cent of Canada’s. Look at it another way: it’s equivalent to the total reduction Ottawa claims for the federal carbon tax.