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Canada’s Carbon Capture and Storage Pipe Dream

By June 11, 2015 No Comments

Photo credit: Adopt a Negotiator

Climate change is real.

It is deeply being felt around the world, particularly in frontline communities.

As young people, we know it is an issue that must be dealt with today.

We must agree on immediate greenhouse gas reductions to stay within a total 2 degree Celsius average global warming and avoid the thresholds for dangerous feedback loops that scientists tell us may be catastrophic.

We are running out of time.

But fear not, ladies and gentlemen – the Canadian government has the solution to all our problems: Carbon Capture and Storage!

Carbon Capture and Storage, or CCS, is term used to define some kind of “technology” we will develop that will magically make all our nasty carbon dioxide disappear into the ground somewhere (we think). It involves pumping or “sequestering” carbon into the ground rather than releasing it into the atmosphere. I can only imagine what I would say as a country negotiator advocating CCS: “Don’t worry, we haven’t got all the kinks figured out yet, but we’ll find a way to make CO2 go ‘poof’!”

The Canadian government’s Intended Nationally Determined Contribution (INDC) states that a significant portion of its intended greenhouse gas emissions reductions would come from “innovative technologies” including CCS. Putting aside the fact that Canada’s emissions reductions goals – a measly 3.6% based on 1990 levels by 2030 – are woefully lacking in ambition, relying on CCS to reduce your greenhouse gas emissions would be equivalent to going outside in a downpour and expecting not to get wet because you are hoping some “innovative technology” will greet you at your door and keep you dry.

CCS isn’t so simple. While the thought of sequestering carbon sounds appealing (and may be necessary, to some extent), it cannot be relied upon as the solution to carbon emissions reductions. The technology simply isn’t that developed yet, and relying on CCS throws the power to act on climate change from the present far into the future. Besides, we might not know if CCS will work, but we do know what does: phasing out fossil fuels and shifting towards an economy that is powered by renewable energy. Why don’t we move towards the solutions we know are possible?

South African delegates pointed out earlier in these negotiations that Canada indicates over 90 measures to reduce its greenhouse gases as part of its INDC – but that at least 60 of these don’t have any quantifiable impacts attached to them. Canada stated that it was “still considering accounting approaches” for its emissions reductions, saying that they “are investing heavily in technology development and CCS”. Relying on CCS to make up for a lack of ambition will not save us from climate change.

Let’s be real, here: Canada’s CCS pipe dream is rooted in a reluctance to stop the problem at its source. The tar sands industry is one of the largest and most polluting worldwide, but regulating it – a no-brainer to pretty much every intelligent, compassionate Canadian – has proven to be too much for a government that is electing to put its polluters before its people.

Relying on some technology that doesn’t exist yet to save our planet isn’t just unwise, it is dangerous.

We know what the solutions look like. We know what we need to do to get there. Let’s make sure we don’t distract ourselves with false ones.


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