On Friday, December 11, Justin Trudeau released details about a sweeping new legislation, Bill C-12, designed to reduce Canada’s carbon emissions to net-zero in thirty years. Some saw this bill as an important step forward and the first sign of real commitment addressing the climate crisis. Others were more critical, such as Green Party leader Annamie Paul. Disappointed by the lack of precise targets and penalties in the plan, she stated shortly before the bill was announced in detail that it is “not what we need”. On the opposing side of the debate, but equally discontented, are others, such as Ontario’s premier. Always a critic of a carbon tax, Doug Ford did not mince his words when reacting to the Liberal government’s plan, stating that an increased carbon tax would be a “sledgehammer”. But, amidst all this debate over fines, incentives and emission policy, a key aspect of the Canadian effect on the environment has gone almost wholly ignored: pipelines. It may seem counterintuitive, but these transporters of oily and gaseous sludge could in fact hold the key to Canada’s greener future.
To start, we need to look beyond Canada. According to the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions, an independent non-profit organization, the three biggest polluters in the World, by almost six billion tons of CO2, are the US, India and China. China’s, and to a lesser extent India’s, emissions are so high due to their reliance on coal. Even after signing climate accords, China continues to invest in new coal plants both in their country and in developing nations. Climate scientists have concluded that coal is the most harmful fossil fuel we consume as it affects both the safety of the planet and our own health. It is clear that a coal-free world would have immense benefits and undoubtedly help lower total carbon emissions, and pipelines can help achieve this goal.
Canada has established trade agreements with China, but proposed pipelines such as the controversial Coast GasLink would significantly increase trade with Asian Pacific countries. Not only would such pipelines offer massive economic benefits for rural Indigenous communities and the struggling energy sectors of Alberta and Saskatchewan, it would help lower the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. Although research is somewhat mixed about the amount of methane produced by certain types of natural gas extraction, especially those that leave wells open, this type of fossil fuel has decidedly lower carbon emissions than coal. If Canada was to export the vast amounts of natural gas the country possesses to coal-reliant economies like China and India, it could contribute to the global fight against climate change.
However, when discussing pipelines, we must consider their environmental risks. It is a known fact that spills and leaks do occur, notably in oil pipelines. However, these spills can be almost completely avoided if the gas infrastructure is properly maintained. Pipeline maintenance not only creates jobs in the very communities the pipelines run through, but it also ensures that pipelines do not corrode and are properly constructed. This spill protection has also become a whole new sector of innovation, with Canada leading the way in developing cheaper and more advanced pipes. If that wasn’t enough, pipelines can even stimulate environmental innovation. Tariffs and duty paid on gas can be used to fund research into cleaner alternatives that in the future may replace fossil fuels, and yes, even pipelines.
For now, however, a gas-free world is far away. Although renewable energy sources are growing, they still remain expensive for poorer countries, inefficient and even harmful to the environment in the cases of hydro-electric and nuclear power. It is also ignorant to say that pipelines are a perfect solution. They are a temporary bridge to a cleaner world, a bridge that will help reinvigorate Canada’s economy and provide greater financial power to vulnerable groups. Most importantly, they are the caring and empathetic path to take. Canada’s carbon emissions are minuscule compared to China, India and other Asian Pacific countries like Japan. Thirty years from now, it will not matter that Canada achieved net-zero emissions if global emissions have gone up. Thirty years from now, carbon taxes at PetroCanada stations won’t have mattered if those countries formerly dubbed “developing” are still reliant on coal. Thirty years from now, pipelines may be obsolete, but now, natural gas pipelines are Canada’s—and the world’s—future.