Kindzierski maintains that coal plants are not a major contributor of fine particulate matter (PM2.5), the air pollutant that has been most clearly and consistently linked to chronic heart and lung diseases as well as acute health impacts. Kindzierski refers readers to several of his own studies, one of which contains a graph (posted above) that identifies coal combustion (the mustard yellow bar) as a small contributor of ultra fine particles in Alberta’s air (Md. Anul Bari et al., 2015). He fails to explain however, that coal plants are one the most significant sources of sulphur dioxide (SO2), the gaseous air pollutant that is transformed in the air into secondary sulphate (the large brown bar).
Secondary sulphate, as illustrated by the author’s own graph, is the most significant source of ultra fine particles, the most worrisome portion of PM2.5. In 2014, coal-fired power plants were responsible for 40% of the SO2 emitted in all of Alberta and 60% of the SO2 emitted in the Edmonton Region (Pembina 2016a). In other words, coal plants were the largest source of SO2 that is transformed into the secondary sulphates that contribute most significantly to air levels of ultra fine particles and PM2.5 in Alberta.
Air Pollution and Human Health
Kindzierski then goes on to challenge the view that air pollutants other than PM2.5 and ground level ozone are harmful to human health, and even calls into question the health evidence associated with PM2.5. Thousands of studies have been directed at the acute and chronic health impacts associated with air pollution over several decades. In 2013, the World Health Organization (WHO) reassessed the health literature on air pollution and found, among many other things, stronger evidence that short- and long-term exposure to PM2.5 increases the risk of mortality and morbidity particularly for cardiovascular effects; stronger evidence that short-term exposures to ozone can have negative effects on a range of pulmonary and vascular health-relevant end-points; new evidence that short- and long-term exposure to nitrogen dioxide (NO2) can increase the risk of morbidity and mortality, mainly for respiratory outcomes; and additional evidence that exposure to SO2 may contribute to cardiovascular and respiratory mortality and morbidity and asthma symptoms in children (WHO, 2013). These findings are well known and well accepted by public health, environmental, and medical professionals around the world.
Coal Plants, Air Pollution and Human Health
In 2012, using the Air Quality Benefits Assessment Tool (AQBAT) developed by Health Canada, Environment Canada estimated that improved air quality resulting from the current coal regulations would prevent approximately 994 premature deaths and 860 hospital admissions or emergency room visits between 2015 and 2035 (Environment Canada, 2013). These avoided health outcomes were valued at $4.9 billion. In 2016, the Pembina Institute extrapolated these results to determine the additional health benefits associated with a 2030 coal plant phase-out in Canada. It found that a 2030 phase-out date would nearly double the health benefits associated with the existing coal regulations, preventing an additional 1,008 premature deaths and 871 hospital admissions or emergency room visits between 2015 and 2035. These additional health benefits were valued at nearly $5 billion (Pembina 2016b).
It is clear to us: a 2030 Canada-wide phase-out of coal-fired power plants is a public policy that will produce many direct public health benefits for Canadian while simultaneously helping us to meet our commitments under the Paris Climate Change Agreement.
On January 17, 2017, industry think-tank the Fraser Institute released a new report, Did the Coal Phase-out Reduce Ontario Air Pollution? which suggests that coal plants across Canada should not be phased out based on its assertion that Ontario’s phase-out did not significantly reduce air pollution (Fraser Institute, 2017). This report includes a number of statements about pollution, health care benefits, and coal plants that are incorrect or misleading.
The Fraser report focuses on the air pollution benefits of the Ontario coal plant phase-out while ignoring the many co-benefits associated with this action. In 2002, the five coal-fired power plants in Ontario were responsible for
nearly one quarter (23%) of the sulphur dioxide (SO2) emissions and one seventh (14%) of the nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions in Ontario that contributed to air pollution and acid rain,
nearly one quarter (23%) of the airborne mercury emissions which contributed to the contamination of fish with a persistent toxic that is harmful to the brains of humans, and
one fifth (20%) of Ontario’s greenhouse gases emissions that were contributing to climate change (OPHA, 2002).
Over the last 20 years, the public health sector, the Ontario Medical Association, environmental organizations, cottagers’ associations, and labour organizations have been outspoken advocates for the phase-out of coal plants in Ontario. All of these groups shared the common view that many health and environmental benefits could be gained simultaneously by closing Ontario’s coal plants.
While there were technologies that could be applied to reduce emissions of sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, and mercury from these plants, there was no technology at that time that could eliminate emissions of greenhouse gases. Given the age of Ontario’s coal plants, the availability of combined cycle natural gas plants, the promise of energy efficiency, and renewable technologies, it made more sense economically to accelerate the closure of coal plants than to re-invest in them.
The Fraser report and press release suggest that coal plants are not a major contributor of fine particulate matter (PM2.5)—the air pollutant that has been mostly clearly linked to chronic health impacts such as heart disease and lung cancer, and one of two air pollutants responsible for most of the smog alerts that used to be common in Ontario. This is simply not true.
Coal plants emit significant quantities of SO2 and substantial quantities of NOx. Both are gaseous air pollutants that can harm human health directly. When they enter the atmosphere, they can be transformed into sulphates and nitrates—acid particles that contribute to air levels of PM2.5. In fact, this secondary PM2.5 is the major culprit behind high levels of PM2.5 measured in many airsheds and is often more hazardous for human health than other forms of PM2.5 (RIAS, 2011). This PM2.5 does not, however, show up in emission inventories for PM2.5.
The Fraser Institute suggests that Ontario’s coal phase-out had little impact on emissions and air quality. This is misleading. Between 2003 and 2012, SO2 emissions from coal plants were reduced by about 140,000 tonnes (see Figure 1). During that same period, annual air levels of SO2 across Ontario declined by nearly 50% (see Figure 2) and annual air levels of PM2.5 declined by about 25% (see Figure 3) (OMOECC, 2014). While the improvements in air levels of SO2 and PM2.5 cannot be attributed solely to the closure of coal plants, their closure was an important contributor to reductions in air levels.
Air quality is impacted by multiple sources of pollution. The actions to reduce air pollution are intentionally broad-based because the improvements are cumulative. Coal plants are an efficient target for emission reductions because they are stationary sources that emit large volumes of air pollutants. They are also a significant source of air toxics such as mercury and greenhouse gases.
Air pollution is also a transboundary issue. Emissions of SO2 and NOx from coal plants in the U.S. have a significant impact on Ontario’s air quality, while emissions from Ontario’s coal plants have a substantial impact on air quality in Quebec, Vermont and New York (Yap et al., 2005). In recognition of this reality, Canada and the United States committed in 1991 to take action on both sides of the border with the Canada-US Air Quality Agreement. This agreement has proven very successful. Emissions and air quality on both sides of the border have improved because of cooperation between the two countries (Canada-US, 2014).
In 2005, Ontario estimated the contribution of coal plants to air pollution across Ontario and the adverse health impacts associated with that contribution. Because coal plants release air pollutants so high in the air, the pollutants are dispersed over long distances. The impact, therefore, on any one airshed is relatively small, but the impact overall on human health can be significant because so many people can be affected. Using methodologies that were well-accepted in other jurisdictions, Ontario estimated that air pollution from its coal plants were responsible for over 600 premature deaths, 900 hospital admissions, and 1000 emergency room visits, each year, in Ontario. These health impacts were valued at $3 billion per year (OMOE, 2005).
The Fraser report suggests that the $3 billion in health benefits estimated cannot be accurate because it represents too great a percentage of Ontario’s health care budget. This statement reflects a misunderstanding about the health benefits estimated in 2005. The $3 billion per year in health benefits reflect the value of the many lives that are shortened by air pollution, as well as health care costs. They do not reflect health care costs alone. The 2005 report is clear about this point.
An independent assessment conducted by Toronto Public Health in 2014 suggests that improvements in Ontario’s air quality have translated into significant health benefits for Ontario residents. Toronto Public Health found that improvements in Toronto’s air quality from 2000 to 2011 have reduced air pollution-related premature deaths by 23% (from 1,700 to 1,300 per year) and hospital admissions by 41% (from 6,000 to 3,550 per year) in Toronto alone. It attributes the improvements in air quality to a variety of policies implemented by different levels of government including the phase-out of coal plants by Ontario (TPH, 2014).
With the evidence of catastrophic climate change mounting daily, the need to modernize Canada’s electricity sector has never been more clear. With the costs of renewable technologies dropping, the opportunity to transform our economy has never been greater. CAPE stands by its position. We believe that the phase-out of coal plants in Alberta and across Canada is an economically prudent decision that will improve the health of Canadians while taking the steps needed to address climate change.
Prepared by Kim Perrotta, MHSc, Executive Director, CAPE
Canada-US, 2014. Canada-U.S. Air Quality Agreement Progress
Fraser Institute. (2017). Did the Coal Phase-out Reduce Ontario Air Pollution? Prepared by Ross McKitrick and Elmira Aliakbari.
Ontario Ministry of Energy (OMOE). 2005. Cost Benefit Analysis: Replacing Ontario’s Coal-Fired Electricity Generation. Prepared by DSS Management Consultants Inc. RWDI Air Inc. April, 2005
Ontario Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change (OMOECC). 2014. Air Quality in Ontario 2013 Report.
Ontario Public Health Association (OPHA). 2002. Beyond Coal: Power, Public Health and the Environment
Regulatory Impact Assessment Study (RIAS). 2011. Reduction of Carbon Dioxide Emissions from Coal-Fired Generation of Electricity Regulations.
Toronto Public Health (TPH). 2014. Path to Healthier Air: Toronto Air Pollution Burden of Illness Update. Technical Report.
World Health Organization (WHO). 2013. Review of evidence on health aspects of air pollution – REVIHAAP Project.
Yap, David, Neville Reid, Gary De Brou, and Robert Bloxam. 2005. Transboundary Air Pollution in Ontario 2005. Queen’s Printer.
It has been a good week for people and the planet. Last Monday, November 21st, 2016, the federal government announced that it will take steps to phase out pollution from coal-fired power plants across the country by 2030. And on Thursday, November 24th, the Government of Alberta announced that it has signed an agreement with three major power generators to ensure a phase-out of coal plants in Alberta by 2030.
There will be time in the coming days to examine and critique the details surrounding these two new announcements but today we want to acknowledge what they can mean for human health in Alberta, across Canada, and around the world.
A new report endorsed by 15 health and environmental organizations—including the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment, the Asthma Society of Canada, and the Lung Association—estimates that a Canada-wide phase-out of coal power by 2030 would prevent more than 1000 premature deaths, 900 hospital admissions or emergency room visits and nearly $5 billion in health care costs by improving local air quality. In fact, most of these national health benefits will be realized in the Prairies—about $3 billion in Alberta and up to $1.3 billion in Saskatchewan. While the lion’s share of the benefits will happen in the Prairies, there will still be important benefits realized in the Atlantic provinces and in central Canada, making a Canada-wide coal-phase out truly in the country’s national interest.
The 2030 phase-out will also significantly reduce mercury emissions. Mercury is the reason that pregnant women are warned not to eat certain types of fish during pregnancy. It is a persistent substance that accumulates in the aquatic food chain that can harm the brains of children exposed during pregnancy. Reducing this pollution will mean that these harmful effects can be minimized; that we can reclaim fish as a healthy protein source for all.
In addition, the 2030 phase-out will help Canada’s fight against climate change. Renowned medical journal The Lancet estimates that climate change is already responsible for approximately 150,000 deaths each year. People are dying from malnutrition, malaria, infectious disease and extreme heat; conditions made worse by a climate characterized by more frequent and more intense storms, heat waves, and droughts. People in countries that are already struggling to feed their people will experience many of these health impacts, but Canada will not be immune. Over the last 10 years, Canada has experienced an increase in droughts, wildfires, extreme rain and ice storms, floods and extreme heat. We have seen the spread of insect- and tick-borne diseases such as West Nile virus and Lyme disease. And we have seen permafrost and ice roads melting in the far north. Canadians are already being affected by climate change, both in economic and health terms.
By accelerating the closure of coal plants across the country, we will cut Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions by about 8%. This will help Canada to meet its commitments under the Paris Agreement on Climate Change and put us in a stronger position to ask the same of other countries. But more importantly, we will be acting decisively to improve the health of Albertans, Canadians and other people around the world from the ravages of uncontrolled climate change.
We congratulate the governments of Alberta and Canada in their decisions to phase out coal-fired power, and to reap the important health benefits for Albertans and all Canadians. Now the hard work begins: designing plans to ensure this transition happens quickly, in partnership and collaboration with communities most impacted. We look forward to working with all levels of governments throughout this process.
Prepared by Kim Perrotta, MHSc, Executive Director of Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment (CAPE), on November 25, 2016
In collaboration with CAPE and nine other health organizations, energy think tank the Pembina Institute has released a new report titled “Out with the coal, in with the new: National benefits of an accelerated phase-out of coal-fired power”. This report estimates the air pollution-related health benefits associated with a Canada-wide phase-out of coal-fired power plants by 2030.
There are currently 14 coal plants operating in Canada: six in Alberta, three in Saskatchewan, four in Nova Scotia, and one in New Brunswick. These plants are significant emitters of air pollutants, mercury that contaminates fish, and greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change.
In 2012, Environment Canada found that coal regulations, which limit carbon dioxide emissions from these plants or require their closure after 50 years of operation, would produce $4.9 billion in health benefits over a 20-year period by improving air quality in several provinces.
When the Pembina Institute extrapolated those health benefits to a 2030 phase-out date, it found that the health benefits would be doubled producing an additional $5 billion in health benefits over a 20-year period by further improving air quality.
In 2014 alone, the study found that these 14 coal-fired power plants were responsible for approximately 163 premature deaths and 141 hospital admissions or emergency room visits. These health impacts, along with other related impacts, were valued at approximately $816,000,000.
While these health benefits would be realized in the four provinces that operate coal-fired power plants, the provinces downwind of them – Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec and Prince Edward Island – would also experience improved air quality and reduced health impacts. The report notes that greatest health benefits would be realized in the prairies because of the heavy use of coal plants in Alberta and Saskatchewan.
The report notes that substantial health benefits would also result from the elimination of mercury emissions from these coal plants. The 2030 phase-out would also cut Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions by up to 8.5% and make Canada a role model for other countries around the world.
Click here to read the full report or download a two-page summary factsheet.
Prepared by Kim Perrotta, Executive Director, CAPE
Working in collaboration with 15 health organizations from across Canada, CAPE made a formal submission to one of the four Federal/Provincial Working Groups that is collecting ideas to create the Climate Action Plan that will meet Canada’s obligations to the Paris Agreement on Climate Change.
The submission, co-signed by organizations such as Heart and Stroke Foundation, The Canadian Lung Association, the Asthma Society of Canada, and the Canadian Public Health Association, calls for the closure of all coal-fired power plants in Canada by 2025. Our reasons are three-fold:
The closure of coal-fired power plants globally is essential to the slowing of climate change;
The World Health Organization (WHO) has declared climate change to be “the greatest threat to global health in the 21st century” (WHO, 2016).It has estimated that, between 2030 and 2050, climate change will produce at least 250,000 additional deaths each year: 38,000 due to heat exposure among elderly people; 48,000 due to diarrhoea; 60,000 due to malaria; and 95 000 due to childhood under-nutrition (WHO 2014a).
Coal-fired power plants are one of the most significant emitters of greenhouse gases (GHGs) on a global scale. They are responsible 43% of greenhouse gases from all energy-related activities (IEA, 2015). The International Energy Agency has identified the closure of coal-fired power plants as one of the five climate policies essential to international success on climate change (IEA, 2015).
Before 2005, coal-fired power plants were responsible for about 15% of Canada’s greenhouse gases (NIR, 2014). By phasing out is six coal-fired power plants, Ontario has reduced Canada’s GHG emissions by about 7%. In 2014, coal-fired power plants in Alberta, Saskatchewan, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick were still responsible for were responsible for about 8.5% of all GHG emissions in Canada (NIR, 2014). In order for Canada to effectively advocate for their closure globally, it must demonstrate leadership at home.
The closure of Canada’s coal-fired power plants will prevent heart and lung diseases, premature deaths, hospital admissions, and emergency room visits in Canada;
Coal-fired power plants release large volumes of air pollutants such as sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxides and fine particulate matter that have been clearly and consistently linked to increased rates of cardiovascular and respiratory diseases, including lung cancer, and increased rates of asthma symptoms, respiratory infections, emergency room visits, hospital admissions, and premature deaths (WHO, 2013).
In 2005, Ontario’s six coal plants were estimated to be responsible for more than 600 premature deaths, 900 hospital admissions, and 1000 emergency room visits in Ontario each year (OMOE, 2005). These health impacts were valued at $4.4 billion per year (OMOE, 2005). In 2013, the six coal-fired power plants in Alberta were estimated to be responsible for approximately 100 premature deaths, 80 hospital admissions, 700 emergency room visits, and 4,800 asthma symptom days. These health impacts have been valued at approximately $300 million per year or $3 billion over a 10-year period (Pembina 2013).
Coal-fired power plants are one of the most significant sources of sulphur dioxide which is a precursor of fine particulate matter. In 2014, with 736 emitters of sulphur dioxide in Canada, 12 of the top 25 emitters were coal-fired power plants; five in Alberta, three in Saskatchewan, three in Nova Scotia, and one in New Brunswick (ECCC, 2014a).
The closure of Canada’s coal-fired power plants will help protect the mental capacity of our children from mercury.
By closing the remaining coal-fired power plants in Canada, we can help protect the cognitive development of our children, reduce health and social service expenses associated with neuro-developmental health impacts, and reclaim fish as a high-quality protein source that is available as a traditional food source or economic resource.
Coal-fired power plants are a major source of mercury; a persistent toxic substance that accumulates in the aquatic food chain (CCME, 2005). Prenatal and early life exposure to mercury, resulting from the consumption of mercury-contaminated fish, has been linked to adverse developmental impacts such as reductions in cognitive abilities and motor skills (CCME, 2005). Researchers have attributed 3.2% of intellectual disability cases in the United States to mercury exposure and valued these excess cases at $2.0 billion per year (Trasande et al., 2006). Women of childbearing age, pregnant women, children, and populations that depend on fish as a traditional food source, are at greatest risk from mercury (CCME, 2005).
In 2014, nearly 2,400 kilograms of mercury were emitted into the air from 269 sources across Canada (ECCC, 2014). Coal-fired power plants were the single largest source of those emissions; responsible for nearly 35% of mercury emissions nationally (ECCC, 2014). Two of the plants operating in Saskatchewan were the two highest emitters in the country; responsible for approximately 16% of all mercury released across Canada (ECCC, 2014).
The submission from CAPE and its partners can be viewed here.
Ontario Ministry of Energy (OMOE). Cost Benefit Analysis: Replacing Ontario’s Coal-Fired Electricity Generation. Prepared by DSS Management Consultants Inc. RWDI Air Inc. April, 2005
Pembina Institute, Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment, Asthma Society of Canada and The Lung Association Alberta and NWT (Pembina). 2013. A Costly Diagnosis: Subsidizing coal power with Albertans’ health.
More than 300,000 doctors, nurses, public health professionals and public health advocates represented by 82 organizations from 30 countries have released a Global Health Statement on Coal Plants today, in anticipation of next week’s G7 summit. The statement calls on the G7 leaders to discuss the phase-out of coal plants as a key health issue when they meet on May 26 and 27.
In Canada, 12 organizations have signed the statement including the Canadian Public Health Association (CPHA), the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada, the Registered Nurses’ Association of Ontario (RNAO), the Canadian Lung Association, the Ontario Public Health Association (OPHA) and the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment (CAPE).
“The World Health Organization (WHO) has declared that “climate change is the greatest threat to global health in the 21st century,” said Dr. Courtney Howard, emergency room physician in Yellowknife and Board Member of CAPE. “The WHO estimates that climate change will claim the lives of 250,000 people each year by 2030 unless we take dramatic steps to reduce emissions today.”
Canada can be a global leader on this issue, building on momentum from the provinces. Ontario no longer burns coal for electricity and Alberta intends to follow suit by 2030. Accelerating the transition away from coal creates immediate health benefits: the avoided health impacts from Ontario’s phase-out alone are valued at approximately $3 billion per year.
“We want our leaders to understand that they can produce significant air pollution health benefits in their home countries by phasing out coal plants,” said Ian Culbert, Executive Director of the CPHA. “The air pollution from coal plants has been clearly linked to increases in heart disease, strokes, lung diseases including lung cancer, and asthma symptoms.”
“Ontario’s six coal plants produced approximately 600 premature deaths and 900 hospital admissions each year back in 2005” said Kim Perrotta, Executive Director CAPE. “With their phase-out, levels of air pollution in Ontario have declined dramatically along with air pollution-related health impacts.”
“In Alberta, the phase-out of 18 coal-fired generators is expected to produce health benefits worth about $300 million per year,” offered Dr. Joe Vipond, emergency room physician in Calgary and CAPE member. “Imagine what we could achieve if we phased out the 16 coal-fired generators in Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Saskatchewan as well”.
Prepared by Kim Perrotta, Executive Director, CAPE , March 29, 2016
Climate change is no longer a distant problem. It is happening. And we only have a few decades to make the dramatic changes needed to avoid impacts that could be devastating (Carrington, 2016). This is the declaration of some of the world’s leading climate scientists.
A Flooded World
In March, nineteen climate scientists released a new study that indicates that climate change is happening much more quickly than previously predicted. This study, which combined modern observations, modelling, and the examination of geological formations created thousands of years ago, is predicting that global sea levels could rise by several meters within 50 to 150 years if greenhouse gas emissions continue to grow (Hansen et al., 2016). The lead author, former NASA researcher James Hansen, maintains that this multi-meter increase in sea levels could occur even if we manage to limit global temperature increases to the 2 degree C target set by the United Nations Framework on Climate Change (UNFCC) (Milman, 2016). He and his colleagues are pushing for a more aggressive target.
Another study, released in February, predicted that 20% of the world’s population will have to migrate away from coasts swamped by rising oceans unless we can halt climate change in the very near future (Clark et al., 2016). Under this scenario, cities such New York, London, Rio de Janeiro, Cairo, Calcutta, Jakarta and Shanghai would all be submerged (Carrington, 2016). These changes, which would be devastating at a social and economic level, are expected to last for thousands of years (Hansen et al., 2016; Clark et al., 2016).
These researchers are making a clarion call; they are calling for immediate action to save the world for future generations. They say that this future may still be avoided if fossil fuel emissions are rapidly phased out and agricultural and forestry practices are improved (Hansen et al., 2016). But time is running out.
Action Needed in Canada
To keep the global temperature increase below 1.5 degrees C (relative to pre-industrial times), the International Panel on Climate Change has indicated that greenhouse gas emissions must be cut by 70 to 95% by 2050 relative to 2010 (IPCC, 2015).
In 2010, Canada emitted 707 megatonnes (1 million tonnes or MT) of greenhouse gases; 23% from the oil and gas industry, 24% from the transportation sector, 14% from the electricity sector, 12% from buildings, 11% from energy intensive industries, 10% from the agricultural sector, and 7% from waste and other sectors (Canada, 2016). In order to meet our obligations to slow climate change, we will need to transform our society. We will need to cut our reliance on fossil fuels. We will have to revolutionize our transportation sector and redesign our communities to support walking, cycling, and public transit. We will need to invest in renewable energies, increase the energy efficiency of our buildings and industries, and change the practices in our agricultural sector.
While the electricity sector is responsible for only 14% of all Canada’s emissions, it is seen as the sector from which reductions can be made most quickly. Since 2005, Ontario has reduced its emissions by close to 20%. Almost all of these reductions can be attributed to the closing of its six coal-fired power plants (Canada, 2016). In 2015, Alberta announced its decision to accelerate the closure of its coal-fired power plants. By doing so, it can cut its emissions by 17% by 2030 and reduce Canada’s total emissions by 6%, while producing air quality-related health benefits worth $300 million per year for its residents (Pembina et al., 2013).
Canada. 2016. Canada’s Second Biennial Report on Climate Change.
Carrington D. 2016. Sea-level rise ‘could last twice as long as human history’. The Guardian, Feb 8, 2016
Clark P et al. 2016. Consequences of twenty-first-century policy for multi-millennial climate and sea-level change. Nature Climate Change. February 8, 2016
Hansen J et al. 2016. Ice melt, sea level rise and superstorms: evidence from paleoclimate data, climate modeling, and modern observations that 2 degrees C global warming could be dangerous. Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics. March 22, 2016.
International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). 2015. Climate Change Synthesis for Policy Makers.
Milman O. Climate Guru James Hansen warns of much worse than expected sea level rise. The Guardian. March 22, 2016.
Pembina Institute, CAPE, Asthma Society of Canada, Lung Association of Alberta and Northwest Territories. 2013. Costly Diagnosis: Subsidizing coal power with Albertans’ health.
Prepared by Kim Perrotta, Executive Director, CAPE, February 24, 2016.
There are huge changes in the field of climate change:
1. There is a common understanding now that climate change is happening and poses a significant threat to the environment, human health, and economies around the world. The International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has estimated that, if all trends stay the same, the world is headed towards a 2°C increase in the average global temperature by 2050 and more than a 4°C increase by 2100, relative to the pre-industrial times (i.e. 1850-1900) (1).
At the Paris Climate Conference late in 2015, people learned about the calamitous outcomes that would be associated with these temperature increases, and nearly 200 countries agreed to work towards goals that would “keep the temperature rise well below 2°C“. Some, including Canada, offered to work toward goals that would keep temperatures below a 1.5° rise (2).
2. It is now understood that a huge transformation is needed to slow climate change. To keep the temperature rise below 2° over the 21st century, the IPCC estimates that global emissions of greenhouse gases (GHGs) must be cut by 40 to 70% by 2050 compared to 2010. To keep the temperature rise below 1.5°, emissions will need to be cut by 70 to 95% by 2050 compared to 2010 (3).
3. The energy sector IS changing! Fossil fuels are giving way to renewable energies and energy efficient technologies. The International Energy Agency (IEA) has noted that renewable energies are growing quickly in response to climate supportive policies. In fact, the IEA reported that, collectively renewables became the second largest source of electricity, with coal in the lead, in 2014 (5). It
is forecasting that global demand for electricity will grow by 70% by 2040, but coal`s share of total electricity will drop by 30%, while renewable-based electricity will provide about 50% of Europe`s electricity, 30% of China and Japan`s electricity, and 25% of India and United States` electricity (5).
Improvements in energy efficiency restrained energy demand in 2015 to one third of what it would have been without them according to the IEA (5). It notes that energy efficiency regulations doubled their coverage of industry, buildings and the transportation sector from 14% of the world`s energy consumption in 2005 to 27% in 2014 (5).
4. Renewable technologies are becoming cost competitive. The International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) reports that solar photo-voltaic (PV) module prices have dropped by 75% since 2009 and that residential solar PV modules now cost 65% less than they did in 2008 (4). The Climate Group predicts that the production costs of solar panels will drop by an additional 40 to 50% by the end of the decade (4).
Vestas Wind Energy reports that it has now installed 55,000 wind turbines in 74 countries on six continents (4). It notes that the real cost of wind energy has dropped by 58% over the last five years putting wind in the same cost range as coal and natural gas in many jurisdictions (4).
5. The investment sector is targeting energy efficient and low carbon technologies. The United Nations Environment Program’s (UNEP) Finance Initiative reports that investors are forming coalitions to identify investments that do not involve fossil fuels (i.e., decarbonize their investments). He reports that the Signatories to the Principles of Renewable Investment now represent over $50 trillion in investments worldwide and that green bonds, worth US$60 billion, were issued in 2015 (4).
6. The energy transformation is expected to produce significant health benefits. Dr. Margaret Chan, the Director General of the World Health Organization (WHO), has identified the Climate Agreement sought in Paris as “the most important health agreement of the century“. She identified it as “an opportunity to promote actions that can yield large and immediate health benefits, and reduce costs to health systems and communities“(6). For example, the closure of the six coal-fired power plants in Alberta is expected to produce air pollution-related health benefits worth approximately $300 million per year or $3 billion over 10 years (7).
7.The energy transformation can produce economic opportunities and jobs! Estimates indicate that Canada’s clean energy generation sector brought in CAD$10.9 billion in 2014; up 88% from 2013 (CEC, 2015). Estimates also suggest that the clean energy sector provided 26,900 jobs in Canada in 2013; up by 14% from the previous year (8).
8. What does Canada need to do? In 2013, Canada emitted 726 mega-tonnes (1 million tonnes or MT) of greenhouse gases: 25% from the oil and gas industry, 23% from the transportation sector, 12% from the electricity sector, 12% from buildings, 11% from energy intensive industries, 10% from the agricultural sector, and 7% from waste and other sectors (9). Canada is committed to reducing GHG emissions to 622 MT by 2020 and 524 MT by 2030 (9). Where are these emission reductions going to come from? This will be the focus on negotiations between the federal government and the provinces over the coming months beginning this week.
International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). 2013. Climate Change 2013: The Physical Science Basis.
Watters, Haydn. 5 Key Points in Paris Agreement on Climate Change. CBC. Dec 12, 2015.
International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). 2015. Climate Change 2014 Synthesis Report Summary for Policy Makers.
Prepared by Kim Perrotta, Executive Director, CAPE, February 17, 2016
In 2015, the International Panel on Climate Change (Panel) reported that: greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) from human activity are now higher than any other period in human history; the concentration of GHGs in the atmosphere is now higher than at any other time in the last 800,000 years; and it is “extremely likely” that emissions from human activity, along with other human activities such as deforestation, have been the dominant cause of global warming since the mid-20th century (1).
The Panel reported that, in 2010, approximately 49 Gigatonnes (Gt) of GHGs were emitted from human activity, and that fossil fuel combustion and industrial processes were responsible for more than three quarters of those emissions (1).
According to the Panel, there is fairly strong to very strong evidence that climate change has: more than doubled the occurrence of heat waves in some locations; increased heat-related deaths in some regions; increased extreme precipitation and the risks of flooding in some regions; increased extreme sea levels (e.g., storm surges) since 1970 as a result of increasing sea levels; and significantly increased the vulnerability of some ecosystems and human populations to heat waves, droughts, floods, and cyclones (1).
The impacts of climate change on human health and the environment are expected to become more extreme as we move through the 21st century. Under a number of different scenarios, it is predicted that climate change will: increase the frequency and intensity of heat waves and extreme precipitation; increase ocean temperatures, ocean acidification, and sea levels; continue to melt permafrost and glaciers; increase the risk of extinction for many plants and animals; undermine the security of food and water supplies; and increase the displacement of people (1).
The severity of these risks, however, will vary significantly depending upon the actions taken to reduce emissions and protect carbon sinks. The risks are expected to be severe if global temperatures increase by 4 degrees relative to pre-industrial times. They are expected to be moderate to high if global temperatures increase by 1 to 2 degrees. While some of the risks of climate change are now unavoidable, the risks of climate change can be substantially reduced by aggressively cutting emissions of GHGs in the very near future (1).
In order to keep the global temperature from increasing by 2 degrees, models suggest that annual GHG emissions around the world must be reduced by 40 to 70% of 2010 levels by the year 2050. To keep the global temperature from increasing by 1.5 degree, annual GHG emissions must be reduced by 70 to 95% of 2010 levels by the year 2050 (1).
In order to meet these aggressive goals, the Panel has identified a number of key measures: moving away from the use of coal and other fossil fuels for the generation of electricity; enhancing energy efficiency to reduce energy demand; and encouraging behavioural changes to reduce energy demand. In the majority of the models that support a stable climate future, the share of low-carbon electricity supply (e.g., hydro electricity, solar energy, wind turbines) increases from current levels of about 30% to more than 80% by 2050 (1).
The Panel notes that many of the actions needed to reduce GHG emissions are associated with co-benefits or adverse side effects. It notes, however, that the co-benefits associated with “energy end-use measures” outweigh the potential for adverse side effects (1). For example when coal plants are phased out with investments in energy efficiency and renewable energies, significant health benefits can result from improvements in air quality (2). Likewise, when public transit and bike lanes shift commuters out of their vehicles, significant health benefits can result from improvements in air quality and increases in the levels of physical activity among residents (3).
Prepared by Kim Perrotta, MHSc, Executive Director, CAPE, December 2015
On Saturday December 12th, nearly 200 countries signed an agreement in Paris committing themselves to cutting greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change! This is huge news. For the first time in 18 years, there is a new global accord on climate change. Canada, the United States, China and India are all on side. And this protocol, unlike the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, requires emission reductions from developing nations as well.
The Paris agreement includes a commitment to cap the rise in global temperatures “well below” 2 degrees C, while aiming to limit the increase below 1.5 degree C. This is incredibly important because climate scientists believe that anything above a 2 degree rise could be catastrophic from a climate perspective.
The Paris Agreement also commits developed nations, that are disproportionately responsible for climate change, to collectively give $100 billion per year to developing countries by 2020. This fund will be used to help developing countries to combat climate change and foster green economies.
Signatories to this agreement are required to develop their own greenhouse gas targets, publish them, and update them every 5 years. They are also expected to create a carbon-neutral world, where humans release no more greenhouse gases than nature can absorb, before the end of the century.
CAPE Board member, Dr. Courtney Howard, who was in Paris with the Global Climate & Health Alliance over the last two weeks, described this agreement as a real win for human health. “The Paris agreement signals a fundamental shift towards a low-carbon society and provides a framework for protecting health from the worst impacts of climate change” she explained.