The Saskatchewan White Paper on Climate Change

Last week (on Oct. 18, 2016) Brad Wall at last announced his climate policy… sort of.  It turns out that there is nothing new in the White Paper as regards actual policy – but there are some new twists in the demands that he is making of the federal government.

It is encouraging to see that there is no overt climate science denial in the document – indeed it explicitly acknowledges the reality of climate change and the human role in its causation.  However, there are other sorts of denial.

There is the ideologically convenient denial of the effectiveness of carbon pricing – whether a carbon tax or cap and trade.  To do this Mr Wall’s researchers have needed to quote economists out of context and leap to conclusions on the basis of scant cherry-picked evidence.  (What was that about “grim leapers”, Mr Wall?)  For a more detailed treatment of this, I recommend Brett Dolter’s economic analysis.

And then there is the attempt to claim that Saskatchewan isn’t really such a high emitter after all.  There are two talking points here.  Firstly, the authors direct our attention away to China and India – countries which, because of their much larger population, have higher total emissions (but whose per capita emissions are a small fraction of ours).  Secondly, they argue for adjustment of our own emissions figures by introducing effective credits for legume production, for agriculture generally, and even for uranium mining.  The claim is that legume nitrogen-fixing and zero-till agriculture provide effective carbon sinks, and that uranium supply reduces fossil fuel use elsewhere in the world.  We will address this separately in other blog posts, but let’s just say for now that it amounts to creative carbon accounting – and that the sheer chutzpah of these claims took me by surprise.

Denial can take other forms, too, and one of them is fantastical thinking.  At the centre of Mr Wall’s supposed strategy is the assumption that SaskPower’s experience of retrofitting a carbon capture and storage facility to the Boundary Dam 3 power station will give the province some ability to market this technology in Asia.  Firstly, it isn’t working to specification – and as a result they’ve had to reduce their annual target from 1 million to 800 thousand tonnes of carbon dioxide captured.  Secondly, it is expensive – the Boundary Dam installation cost of about $1.5 billion works out at about 15 cents per kilowatt-hour generated.  Wind power typically works out at between 5 and 8 cents per kilowatt-hour, and solar photovoltaics at 12 (and rapidly decreasing).  And, thirdly, SaskPower doesn’t even own the patents for the adsorption unit – the key element in the CCS facility.  Perhaps, when he talks about “more research and development” to produce “next generation” CCS, Mr Wall is hopeful of overcoming that last hurdle.  But it’s all speculative, the timescale is unspecified, and it is difficult to envisage what changes would merit the label of “next generation”.  There is no grounding in reality.

And maybe it is this naive faith in expensive big technology that lies behind the truly poisonous suggestion that the $2.65 billion federal money pledged to the Global Climate Fund be diverted into research and development for projects like this.  That money is earmarked to help the poorest in the world to adapt to the inevitable impacts of climate change (for which high-emitting wealthy societies like ours bear the bulk of the responsibility) and to enable them to pursue their own low-carbon path to development.  Mr Wall’s proposal amounts to stealing from the poor to give to wealthy corporations.

There is more to be said.  I have said some of it here. We will be publishing further responses on this blog to some of Mr Wall’s favourite talking points – not so much to show how wrong he is as to present the reality. We will also be posting some positive proposals which make more scientific sense – and more economic sense – than anything that the present government has come up with so far.


The Husky oil spill should be seen as a warning


As I write, a relatively small spill of oil (250000 litres) is threatening the water supply of thousands along the North Saskatchewan river, causing damage of as yet unknown scope to the aquatic and riparian ecosystems, and most likely contaminating traditional First Nations medicines.  We do not know the detailed composition of the oil, but there is now confirmation that it contained dense fractions (API<10) which have sunk to the bottom of the river and will create dead zones and ongoing ecological damage.  (Because of these denser-than-water components, certain heavy oils and bitumen carry extra risk – it is virtually impossible to clean up, as was discovered at the much larger Enbridge leak at Kalamazoo Michigan six years ago).  As for the floating portion of the oil, neither Husky nor the provincial government was capable of containing the slick, and others have had to bear the consequences.

Clearly Husky should take full financial responsibility for restitution of all that its oil has damaged.  But successive provincial governments bear moral responsibility, on account of weak regulations and inadequate enforcement.  The present government’s shift towards letting industry report its own emissions can only make the situation worse.

This smacks of inverted priorities.  If we need to (and within the next few decades we will need to), we can find a way to live without fossil oil.  We cannot live without water.

Meanwhile, premier Brad Wall is reported in the media as concerned that this leak should not increase opposition to proposed new diluted bitumen pipelines such as Kinder Morgan’s TransMountain expansion or TransCanada’s Energy East.  Any concern he may have for the victims of the spill is apparently secondary.

This leak was an accident, but Saskatchewan people should read it as a warning.  Devastating forest fires and virtually-unprecedented floods of cities and agricultural land warn us that the climate is changing, and we must move away rapidly from dependence on greenhouse gas emitting fossil fuels.  The sudden drop in the international oil price, together with the weak potash market, warns us of the volatility and instability of an economy based on extractive industries – as shown in the rising provincial deficit figures.  And now this accident warns us that economic dependence on oil can threaten the very basics of life even at a local level – a lesson which First Nations in northern Alberta have been telling the world, out of their own painful personal experience, for decades.

Unfortunately, premier Wall’s ideologically-driven commitment to Big Oil – reinforced by substantial infusions of Calgary petrocash to his party – ensures that he is incapable of reading such signs of the times.  There are none so blind as those who will not see.

Edited 2016:Jul:26 to take account of the fact that it is now known that some of the heavy oil has sunk

Brad Wall risking being left behind

This week Premier Brad Wall has embarked on a tour out east to promote the Energy East pipeline, a project which demonstrates his dangerously poor understanding of climate change and of 21st century economics. A new report this month from the CCPA definitively shows that Canada cannot meet its emissions reductions obligations if it builds new pipelines, and also highlights the erosion of the economic argument for new pipelines – low prices are unlikely to recover soon, and bitumen will always be the costliest product in an inundated oil market. This latest report adds to a wealth of evidence warning against the project, joining a mountain of opposition that continues to grow. This week the Assembly of First Nations of Quebec and Labrador announced their opposition to Energy East, adding to already strong Indigenous resistance to new pipelines. All this comes on the heels of the Premier warning oil executives that the industry is facing an “existential threat” and losing the “PR battle” to activists across the country; it is surely no coincidence that the fossil fuel industry is losing the scientific and moral battles in the fight to address climate change. The facts are clear – there is no economic and surely no environmental basis for the Energy East project, making it one the country would surely come to regret if it’s not ultimately rejected.

Wall also got himself into hot water this week as he attempted to mock the Leap Manifesto on Twitter. Wall posted a video of himself scoffing at the more than $1.5 trillion in capital costs required for a transition to 100% renewable energy but, as it turns out, badly misrepresented research in the process. Naomi Klein called him out, and Mark Jacobson, Stanford professor and author of a widely-cited study offering a map for Canada to transition to 100% renewable energy by 2050, highlighted the error of Wall’s ways. Jacobson pointed out that the projected savings in health and climate-related costs of more than $10 trillion clearly dwarf the upfront capital costs, and explained that those capital costs are meant to be spread out over more than 3 decades anyway. Further, Jacobson has estimated that such a transition will be a net creator of 130,000 jobs in Canada, so delaying in the name of employment makes little sense. The exchange can be seen here.

Jacobson’s work isn’t Saskatchewan specific and many of the specifics still require more work. But, Brad Wall’s oversimplifications and misrepresentations are holding this province back from having the necessary and nuanced discussion it deserves. Saskatchewan needs more research to gain a better understanding of specifics in the provincial context so that we can plan with clarity and intention. Because one thing is certain: climate change and 21st century economics dictate that we must transition away from our dependence on fossil fuels. Fortunately, Saskatchewan has a lot to gain in such a transition, including in the jobs department. Although a new report shows that Saskatchewan is lagging behind the rest of the country in renewable energy investment, that certainly leaves a lot of potential to tap into.

Speaking of jobs and the transition, Iron & Earth will be in Saskatoon on Sunday to discuss the Workers’ Climate Plan, a new initiative they launched this month in an effort to offer industry workers a platform to advocate for strong climate action that protects Canadian workers. Come and find out more at 7pm at The Stand Community Organizing Centre!

The Stand is hosting two other great events next week – Delivering Community Power on Monday at 7pm, and the Climate Solutions Books Club, breaking down Gordon Laxer’s After the Sands, Wednesday at 7pm.

Please help us challenge Brad Wall’s climate denial

If you live in Saskatchewan, please sign on to our letter to premier Brad Wall (below)

(But also if you live in the Saskatoon area, please come to the climate Town Hall on Wednesday)

When the Saskatchewan legislature opened for business again on May 17th, Brad Wall’s Speech from the Throne included the following paragraphs:

But it is troubling that today, there are some in this country who, given the opportunity, would shut down major parts of Saskatchewan’s economy and put thousands of hard-working Saskatchewan people out of work, all in the name of some misguided dogma that has no basis in reality.
There are those who are not comfortable with and even oppose much of what we produce in Saskatchewan and how we produce it – oil and gas, coal and uranium, livestock and grains.
They would prefer that those sectors did not exist and that the thousands of jobs in those sectors did not exist.
They look at those jobs like they are somehow harming the country and the world.

Quite apart from the general tone of paranoia, this looked very much like denial of the science of climate change. In response to a national petition and some national media coverage, Wall’s spokespeople said that no, it was only criticising the Leap Manifesto.

Given that the Leap Manifesto is itself based on scientifically understood climate reality – and Brad Wall’s policies aren’t – we think this makes no difference. So we need to keep up the pressure – and push Brad Wall to tell us what he really believes about the climate crisis, and stop blocking real climate action. To do that we are asking people to sign on to the following letter.

If you are happy to sign, please email us your name and town of residence.

An open letter to premier Brad Wall from concerned citizens

Premier Brad Wall
226 Legislative Building
Regina, Saskatchewan
S4S 0B3


Re:  climate change

Dear Mr Wall

In your Speech from the Throne you referred to “some in this country who, given the opportunity, would shut down major parts of Saskatchewan’s economy and put thousands of hard-working Saskatchewan people out of work, all in the name of some misguided dogma that has no basis in reality”.

This is a serious accusation, and the people of Saskatchewan deserve a full and detailed explanation.  As a public servant, it is your duty to tell us: (i) who are the people about whom you are making this accusation, and (ii) the nature of the alleged “misguided dogma”.

We are not clear whether you are insulting and misinterpreting (a) climate scientists, (b) the renewable energy and energy efficiency industries, (c) informed citizens who are calling for an orderly decades-long transition to clean energy, or (d) Indigenous people protecting the land and water with which they have been in relationship since time immemorial.  Or, indeed, some combination of the above.  Whichever is the case, it seems an extraordinary step for a premier to take.

It would help us all if you were to answer a few questions as to your understanding of the climate crisis.  These are not merely rhetorical questions:  we want answers from you as our chief public servant:

  • Do you accept the scientific consensus that the earth is warming, that consequently the climate is changing in diverse and potentially devastating ways, and that this results primarily from human activity in the form of greenhouse gas emissions?
  • Do you acknowledge that our dependence on fossil fuels is responsible for the majority of greenhouse gas emissions?
  • Do you agree or disagree with the well-established findings of climate science that global warming results in more frequent and more extreme weather events, including droughts, floods, heat waves, forest fires, etc, as well as sea level rise?
  • Do you accept the detailed research on these climate change impacts which resulted in the key commitment of the Paris Accord to “holding the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2 °C above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 °C above pre-industrial levels, recognizing that this would significantly reduce the risks and impacts of climate change”?
  • Do you accept that Saskatchewan, like all jurisdictions worldwide, has a responsibility to take action commensurate with that ambitious but necessary goal?
  • Do you accept the finding of climate scientists that, in order to remain below either of these temperature limits, total future emissions must be limited to a strict global “carbon budget”? – and that the best scientific estimates for the size of this budget mean rapid reductions starting now, and an end to the fossil fuel economy worldwide around mid-century?
  • Are you aware that, if the budget for the (higher) 2 °C limit were shared out equally worldwide, Saskatchewan would blow through its share in about 4 years at its current rate of emissions?
  • Are you aware that Saskatchewan has the best solar resource and the best inland wind resource in Canada, and is one of the few places in the world where significant quantities of biomass energy could be produced in a sustainable way?
  • Are you aware of the enormous potential for job creation in clean renewable energy industries? – according to one recent report, between 6 and 9 times as many jobs per unit of investment than the oil industry. Canada already employed more people in greentech than in the Alberta bitumen sands even before the price volatility of oil precipitated mass lay-offs last year.
  • Do you recognize the right of Indigenous people to say no to development proposals which threaten their land and water?

We look forward to hearing your answers.

Yours sincerely


Sask. Sticking with Status Quo… For Now

You might not have known it, but Saskatchewan held a provincial election this past week, which turned out to be largely a re-hash of its last election in 2011. The Saskatchewan Party, led by Premier Brad Wall, maintained a strong majority government. For what it’s worth, in the run-up to election day we sent out a questionnaire to candidates of all parties in multiple ridings and attended as many candidates’ fora as we could in order to get a sense of where each party stood on issues related to climate change and climate justice. You can see our highlights on the graphic below. As the graphic makes clear, Saskatchewan has re-elected a government with an abysmal record on climate change and seemingly little concern for an issue of grave importance to this province, to Canada, and to the rest of the world. Disconcertingly, though, while the Sask Party clearly scored lowest among all parties in this year’s election, no one party stood out in viably addressing this critical issue. The highest grade we were able to bestow was a middling C+.

CJS Report Card

If you would like to see candidates’ answers in more detail, along with greater analysis from CJS, please take a look at our PDF here: Election grades. A big thanks is owed to Mark Bigland-Pritchard, who led this effort.