Friday, May 04, 2007

Why "Intensity" Based Targets are Useless

One of the biggest criticisms of the Conservatives' climate change plan is that it relies on "intensity based reductions" in greenhouse gases. In the real world, this means that industry has to use less energy for every unit (ex. one barrel of oil, one car, one tonne of steel etc) it produces. Emissions will go down, but only if production doesn't go up by too much.

As it turns out, we have already been lowering our emissions intensity for decades, and the result has been spiraling greenhouse gases and unchecked global warming.

The latest UN report on climate change was released today, and in the intro of the main report is this handy little factoid:

The effect....of the decrease in global energy intensity (-33%) during 1970 to 2004 has been smaller than the combined effect of global income growth (77 %) and global population growth (69%); both drivers of increasing energy-related CO2 emissions.

In a little over three decades, overall energy intensity has been reduced by 1/3rd. At the same time, greenhouse gas emissions have skyrocketed by 70% - thanks to more people, using a greater total amount of energy, to buy more stuff.

Next to wages, energy costs are one of the biggest liabilities facing many industries. Business people are smart leaders who understand this fact, and that each dollar saved in costs is another dollar in their pockets as profit. So the real reason why industry is so quick to say yes to intensity targets is because they are already using them.

What Environment Minister John Baird and his Conservatives have done is waste tax payers' dollars creating a climate change plan that tells Canada's oil sands industry to keep doing exactly what it is already doing. On top of that, if energy intensity has already decreased 33% in recent decades, what makes Baird think that making a "mandatory" decrease of 26% by 2015 is going to solve global warming, particularly when oil sands production is going to triple by that same year?

It's about the same as someone spending their way out of debt, or eating their way out of obesity.

Canada's oil producers will gladly accept the Conservative's emissions targets, pocket the efficiency gains as increased profits, and leave Canada saddled with more greenhouse gases.


LNeumann said...

You're absolutely right. And Baird's absolutely wrong about his "tough" plan. The "industry leaders" I've heard interviewed about this sounded much too relieved to me.

Kevin Boon said...

Some excellent comments Odiyya and go right in line with an article I was just completing from the Canadian Lung Association.

Simon Donner said...

Terrific post. You should take a look at this graph:

The trend - higher emissions, lower intensity - started all the way back in the early 1900s.