The world is not enough

Wanting to do their part in reducing global GHG emissions, Canadian farmers still can’t catch a break from federal tax fees. But what’s going on around the world?

By Andrew Joseph, Editor

While there are always at least two sides to every argument, Canada’s ag community seems to be coming out more often on the losing side.

Case in point: Bill C-234 to amend the Greenhouse Gas Pollution Pricing Act.

This Canadian federal law sets minimum national standards for carbon pricing in Canada to meet emission reduction targets under the Paris Agreement.

At the UN Climate Change Conference (COP21) in Paris, France, on December 12, 2015, the Paris Agreement entered into force on November 4, 2016. A total of 196 countries, including Canada, agreed to abide by the Paris Agreement.

The overarching goal of the Paris Agreement is to hold “the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels” and pursue efforts “to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels.”

To limit global warming to 1.5°C, greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions must peak before 2025 at the latest and decline by 43 percent by 2030. That 2030 date is why all 196 countries involved have only ever had such a short amount of time to make drastic changes to the way they go about their daily business.

Regardless of one’s view towards climate change, the Canadian federal government and all 10 of the provincial and three territorial governments believe that climate change is real and that Canada, as a global partner, must do its best to reduce its GHG emission output.

And it’s all being done without telling industries how each needs to reduce its GHG emission levels; it’s just a federal government request that they do so by 2030.

As far as we know, there are no global penalties in place for Canada if it doesn’t meet the United Nations 2030 target other than public shaming, but it’s not like we aren’t trying to be good global citizens.

Canada’s agricultural industry is being asked to make sweeping alterations to how it grows its food, and even though how you make those sweeping changes is being left solely up to the individual farmer, Canadian farmers are being asked to ensure that their yield isn’t negatively affected.

Canadian farmers certainly don’t want to grow less. While always looking for a higher selling point—that’s just smart business—it needs to grow or raise its crops or animals in the most cost-effective way possible while still trying to increase yield and making sure it is still a key supplier of global food products.

So. No pressure or anything. Just hurry up and figure it out.

According to Government of Canada data, the country’s total GHG emissions in 2021 were 670 megatonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (Mt CO2 eq). It is a 1.8 percent increase from 659 Mt CO2 eq in 2020.

Now, before everyone has a conniption, keep in mind that in 2020, Canada, along with most of the world, shut down its economic sector because of the global pandemic that was COVID-19.

As such, fewer greenhouse gases were ejected into the air worldwide.

As such, it’s okay that Canada’s GHG emission numbers increased in 2021 over the previous year.

The Government of Canada also acknowledged that between 2005 and 2021, our GHG emissions decreased by 8.4 percent (62 Mt CO2 eq).

Canada had been playing its global stewardship role for years before the UN asked the rest of the world to do a better job.

And still, despite the efforts of Canada, the federal government has figured out a way to be economically harder on the farmers who supply Canadians with their agricultural products.

Back to Bill C-234.

Put forth as a private member’s bill by Benn Lobb, MP for Huron-Bruce, Bill C-234 wanted to remove federal carbon tax costs from propane and natural gas used to heat or cool farm buildings like barns and to use the fuels to dry grain.

And despite all the hoots, hollers, and cries of filibustering, Canadian senators narrowly voted to amend the bill, with the result being that it will most likely end up lost in the parliamentary Twilight Zone.

Canadian farmers know that propane and natural gas have many uses on their farms and that the fossil fuels impact the environment, human health, and the economy.

But all farmers wanted—if there was no acceptable optional fuel source available—was to be able to use propane and natural gas without feeling the burden of a federal carbon tax. It was to be an exemption for those lacking a viable and affordable alternative.

How Green is my Battery?

With the negative outcome of Bill C-234 meaning Canadian farmers will get dinged with an additional carbon tax cost, we can be sure that all those involved in the vote will fly around the country or travel by internal combustion engine vehicle without regard to the cost.

But, even for those who smugly travel by BEV (battery electric vehicle), thinking they are saving the world’s environment, there’s an uglier truth behind the manufacture of a BEV battery.

It involves rare earths, a mined set of 17 metals.

According to Statistica—and these are just estimations—the worldwide reserves of rare earths amount to approximately 130 million metric tonnes. China has the most at an estimated 44 million metric tonnes, followed by Vietnam, Brazil, and Russia. Canada is a major contributor, with about 15.1 million metric tonnes of rare earth oxides.

However, because it has the largest reserves, China has manipulated the market, causing the price of rare earths to plummet and causing other countries to reluctantly close up their mines as being unprofitable. We can be sure that as soon as enough countries shutter a few more mines, China will raise the price of rare earths.

In China’s favour, it takes a while for mines to start up—new or recently shuttered—allowing them to reap the benefits of having high prices and more of the market open.

Why do we care about rare earths?

Rare earths are mined elements that play a prominent role in automation. Rare at the time, these rare earth elements were discovered in 1794—the first found was the element yttrium—by Swedish chemist Johan Gadolin.

As of 2024, these 17 rare earth metals consist of: scandium, yttrium, lanthanum, cerium, praseodymium, neodymium, promethium, samarium, europium, gadolinium, terbium, dysprosium, holmium, erbium, thulium, ytterbium, and lutecium.

Depending on the make and model of your cellphone, there may be up to 16 of the 17 known rare earths in it.

According to www.arnoldmagnetics.com, the automotive industry uses cerium for glass, mirror polishing powder, and UV-cut glass. Cerium, europium, and yttrium are used on LCD screens, and cerium and lanthanum are used as diesel fuel additives and in the manufacture of hybrid batteries.

Lanthanum and either cerium or zirconium are used in the manufacture of catalytic converters, while component sensors use yttrium, and neodymium is used to make headlight glass.

For the hybrid technologies’ electric motor and generator, neodymium, praseodymium, dysprosium, and terbium are used, while neodymium, praseodymium, and dysprosium are utilized in the manufacture of electric motors.

Though not a rare earth element, lithium is a main ingredient in the manufacture of EV batteries. While there is enough of it right now, with the pumping up of the entire automotive industry to go to greener power alternatives to reduce our GHG (greenhouse gas) emissions and EVs touted as the main way to go (for now), within the next 10 years, global demand for lithium batteries used in vehicles is expected to increase sixfold.

If this level of demand is correct, according to EV supply chain market intelligence publisher Benchmark, global markets will need: 59 new lithium mines producing an average of 45,000 tonnes; 38 new cobalt mines producing 5,000 tonnes; 72 new nickel mines producing around 42,500 tonnes; 97 new natural flake graphite mines producing around 56,000 tonnes a year; and 54 new synthetic graphite plants producing an average of 57,000 tonnes each per year.

While that sounds daunting, there is currently a surplus of lithium—but by 2030?

Benchmark suggested that even with all of the existing mines and projects under construction around the world, the mining industry will only be able to produce about half of what’s needed.

Part of the issue is that it takes about 16.5 years for a new lithium mine operation to develop fully. Unless they all ramp up their speed of development—starting right now—we will have a shortage of lithium. Or cobalt. Or graphite. And those are just some of the ingredients needed for EV batteries, for which we could face shortages.

That means that the push to electrify the automotive and trucking industries will shift into neutral and possibly cause the technology to become something less than ideal.

Despite their name, rare earths are somewhat common but are usually not found in large concentrations. Even when they are found in large amounts, they are typically combined with other ores, such as radioactive uranium and thorium.

We’re sure the average person has some knowledge about the uses of uranium.

But thorium is less familiar. It is used in manufacturing ceramics, welding rods, camera and telescope lenses, fire bricks, heat-resistant paint, metals used in the aerospace industry, and in nuclear reactions, with research now being undertaken to use it as a fuel to create nuclear energy.

And wouldn’t you know it? Rare earths are notoriously difficult to separate from other elements because they have strong bonding characteristics.

They are also difficult to purify. These processing issues are all features that contribute to their expected higher value—when China allows it.

When mining, the materials you want are always less readily available than the other stuff you are moving around. It’s why large amounts of ore are required to provide the small amount of rare elements wanted. In the current production methods used by rare earth facilities, much waste is produced—and not just in rocks or the labour and machinery to get to it.

No, we’re talking about harmful-to-human types of waste such as radioactive water, toxic levels of fluorine, and the multiple types of acids you wouldn’t want in your breakfast juice.

We did find a report or two online regarding workers—not in Canada or the US—at rare earth mining sites suffering from above-average instances of cardiovascular, respiratory, and nervous system problems and higher incidences of cancer, especially in places where tailings were dumped in ponds near human settlements. However, we cannot verify the accuracy of this report. It may be 100 percent accurate, but maybe not.

If we are looking at the sustainable footprint of a BEV vehicle, we might also want to consider the factors surrounding the manufacture of components used to make up a “green” car.

It’s like the owner of a product telling everyone that the main ingredient comes from sustainable farming. That may be 100 percent accurate. However, how did the product get shipped to the store? What efforts went into producing the packaging? What about the packaging substrate itself, or the printing process—what powers the printer, and what types of ink does it use? How are those inks made, packaged, and shipped to the consumer? And that’s just scratching the surface regarding printing.

When it comes to a green footprint, being completely green and organic is complex. Where does one draw the lines, even for those using an electric tractor for farming?

But since the Government of Canada and the other 195 countries are trying to appease the rules surrounding the Paris Agreement, doesn’t everything need to be taken into account?

Greenwashing and COP28

On December 3, 2023, the COP28 President, Dr. Sultan Ahmed Al Jaber of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), said that there is “no science” behind the demands for the phase-out of fossil fuels.

Al Jaber also said that a phase-out of fossil fuels such as coal, oil, and gas would not allow sustainable development “unless you want to take the world back into caves.”

While we happen to like caves, we understand his exaggerated point. But phased out or not, coal, oil, and gas are finite, non-renewable fuel resources. We will run out of all three at some point soon enough.

Current oil reserves are 1,650,585,140,000 barrels of oil. At our current rate of consumption—which will slow down as we utilize more alternative fuel sources—crude oil is expected to run dry by 2070, or just 46 more years before we enter a future resembling Mad Max.

The whole concept behind the Mad Max movies is that they revel in the fact that humanity wasn’t smart enough to find alternative fuel sources for its vehicles, especially its V8s.

The 2023 United Nations Climate Change Conference, or Conference of the Parties of the UNFCCC, more commonly known as COP28, was the 28th such climate change conference, this time held between November 30 and December 12, 2023, at Expo City, Dubai, United Arab Emirates.

On the event’s last day, media outlet CNN’s lead online story blared: “World agrees to climate deal that makes unprecedented call to move away from fossil fuels, but ‘cavernous’ loopholes remain.

At first glance, it sounds earth-shattering. Then there’s that part about loopholes. Did OPEC agree to the death of the oil industry, or is that part of the “cavernous loopholes” mentioned?

The announcement from COP28 is that the world will do its best to transition away from fossil fuels, but the language contained within the announcement allowed some countries to take minimal action.

Al Jaber said, “We have language on fossil fuels in our final agreement for the first time ever,” calling it all a paradigm shift that could potentially redefine the global economy.

Some countries claimed the deal signalled the end of the fossil fuel era, but other countries and climate advocates called the whole thing far from enough considering the urgency of the global climate crisis.

Greenwashing?

The Loopholes and the Oil

As it stands, the just-signed-off agreement from COP28 has wording in the agreement that “calls on” countries to “contribute” to global efforts to reduce carbon pollution in ways that the individual country sees as the best way for them.

The COP28 agreement offered several options to reduce carbon pollution, including “transitioning away from fossil fuels in energy systems... accelerating action in this critical decade so as to achieve net zero by 2050.”

While it seems logical to allow individual countries to decide how they reduce carbon pollution, the vague language surrounding the agreement could be considered shameful.

There’s no imposing of a United Nations front whereby all the countries agree to reduce their GHG emissions, as when 196 countries agreed to abide by the climate-altering announcement of the Paris Agreement back in 2015.

Yes, the countries already agreed in 2015, but the COP28 agreement uses wishy-washy language, such as “calls on” and “contribute.”

Where is the language that says every country needs to and must do its part by backing up the language used in the Paris Agreement?

Although not precisely calling Al Jaber’s leadership collusion with OPEC, some people were concerned even before COP28 began that his citizenship with an OPEC country may cloud the climate summit’s true intentions. But forget his citizenship; it’s his day job that is intriguing.

Outside of leading COP28, Al Jaber is the Chief Executive Officer of the UAE state-run oil company, ADNOC (Abu Dhabi National Oil Company). ADNOC is the 12th largest oil-producing company in the world, and Al Jaber has held this leadership position since February 2016.

ADNOC has, as of 2021, an oil production capacity exceeding four million barrels per day (bpd), with plans to increase to five million bpd by 2030.

In other words, it has no plans on slowing down and “transitioning away from fossil fuels in energy systems” any time soon, despite the casual wording of the COP28 agreement.

Between now and 2050, only Saudi Arabia is expected to produce more oil.

Before COP28, ADNOC stated that over the next four years, it was planning to increase its production capacity by seven percent.

To ADNOC’s credit, it acknowledged at that time that even as the supply of oil and gas would be shortened as time rolled on, people and industries were still going to continue to need oil and gas in the coming decades. ADNOC added that it was in the process of making its activities more climate-friendly, even moving into the milieu of renewable energy.

Of course, those concerns would have been better served to query why a climate summit would even consider holding the event in an OPEC country. Of course, the UAE is a beautiful country.

Then again, the country is suffering from increased levels of poor air quality.

As of December 14, 2024, the air quality in the UAE’s most populous city, Dubai, was at PM2.5 concentrations. This is 3.8 times the WHO’s (World Health Organization’s) annual air quality guideline value. The number is also 1.7 times higher than the recommended limit of the WHO 24-hour air quality guideline value. These supposedly up-to-date numbers are from the IQ Air website (www.iqair.com).

The United Arab Emirates is made up of seven Emirates: Dubai, Abu Dhabi (the capital), Sharjah, Ras al-Khaimah, Ajman, Fujairah, and Umm al-Quwain (who issued 3D lenticular stamps back in the 1970s, though Yemen and Bhutan also did in that era).

Besides Dubai bidding on holding the COP28 event and being chosen by the United Nations, even ignoring calls that Al Janer’s leadership was compromised, pundits suggested that outside oil interests were influencing the conference.

A CNN article indicated that fossil fuel industry participation at COP28 quadrupled its registrations at the climate summit compared to 2022.

And while that does seem suspicious, we must also be mindful that the oil and gas industry is concerned about what the United Nations has up its collective sleeve. Increased attendance at COP28 should be expected as the oil and gas industry continues its due diligence and prepares its near-future strategy.

So, How are we Doing?

If you are talking globally, then our attempts to meet the Paris Agreement numbers aren’t stellar.

Although, as noted, many are upset that the COP28 agreements didn’t hammer home a more green global initiative, there were other positives to have come out of the event.

For example, countries agreed to triple global renewable energy capacity by 2030.

Countries also agreed to create a ‘loss and damage’ fund to help developing nations. This fund was first discussed some three decades ago, implying that the wheels of progress move slowly within the UN.

The fund will use the money to pay for damages incurred via climate-driven storms and droughts.

Hopefully, clear and concise language will define just what constitutes a “climate-driven storm.” Even drought is defined differently by different countries.

The United Nations said that the effects of climate change are many-fold:

  • Hotter temperatures mean that GHG concentrations are rising, increasing the global surface temperature;
  • More severe, deadly, and damaging storms;
  • Increased drought;
  • A warming, rising ocean;
  • Loss of living flora and fauna species;
  • Not enough food;
  • More health risks;
  • Poverty and displacement.

And while it’s easy enough to immediately think of countries outside of our North American sphere, since 1980, the US has seen 373 weather and climate disasters with damages over $1 billion, or $2.655 trillion in total cost.

Billions or trillions—that’s a lot of money.

In Canada, we suffer from weather-related disasters such as floods, storms, and wildfires annually. From 2010 to 2019, the cost of weather-related insured catastrophic losses was twice as high as from 1983 to 2009 combined.

Canada’s 2023 was international news as it suffered from the worst-ever wildfire season, with nearly 19 million hectares of forest lost by mid-October.

While countries like the US and Canada are likely not expected to dip into the UN fund, developing countries will.

At COP28, the alphabet countries of the EU, UK, and US immediately announced contributions to the fund of about US$400 million.

According to an August 2023 NPR/PBS Newshour/Marist poll, climate change is a hot-button issue, especially within the US, which is in the process of thinking about a presidential election.

In that survey, 53 percent of respondents said that addressing climate change should be given priority, even at the risk of slowing the economy. This somewhat ringing endorsement included 80 percent of those identifying as Democrats and 54 percent saying they are independents.

But where things remain tricky, 72 percent of Republicans said that the US economy should be given priority, even at the risk of ignoring global climate change. Since 2018, that percentage has increased by 13 points, even as climate-related weather disasters have become more prevalent.

Should a new party-led president take office in the US, it is highly likely that any promises to pay into the UN’s “loss and damage fund” will be revoked.

While many Republicans were likely to toe the party line and agree that climate change is either not real or is not important, the poll continued to back up that sentiment, with 70 percent of Republican respondents saying that climate change is either “just a minor threat” or “no threat at all.”

As for Canada, we are doing alright. Thank you very much for asking.

Checking in with the Canadian Climate Institute (www.climateinstitute.ca), it said that based on 2021 inventory data, Canada’s GHG emissions declined 8.4 percent below their 2005 levels.

There was also the mention of the bad news that Canada’s 2021 GHG emissions rose 1.8 percent above 2020 levels, but the good news is that its 2020 numbers were lower than expected due to the COVID shutdowns of the economy.

It is also important to note that the increase was smaller than the rebound in economic growth that year (+4.6 percent) in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The numbers show that Canada is removing GHG emissions from its economic activities. Better yet, this data is still ahead of what the federal government expects, as more federal policies designed to increase emissions reductions have yet to take effect. This was in April of 2023.

But in September 2023, www.climateinstitute.ca complained that independent research showed that Canada’s GHG emissions increased by 2.1 percent in 2022 from the previous year, 2021.

The 2.1 percent increase is 14.2 megatonnes of carbon dioxide-equivalent (Mt CO2e).

As long as 2022’s numbers don’t continue upward (we are allowed to peak by 2025 per the Paris Agreement), we can revel in the fact that overall emissions were 6.3 percent below Canada’s 2005 levels. Canada’s official emissions target for 2030 is 40–45 percent below 2005 levels. Maybe we should just hope for that 40 percent level.

But, as noted, we have only recently begun looking at ways to use new science or new technologies to reduce our GHG emissions.

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