Saskatchewan’s climate change crucible

Saskatchewan’s summer has been a snapshot of our climate future. Massive wildfires exploded across the north of the province, forcing the evacuation of over 13,000 people – dubbed by some as Saskatchewan’s first “climate change refugees.” Smoke from the fires was so intense it caused air quality warnings in Saskatoon and Regina,   choking residents with smoke as far south as Minnesota.  The fires were stoked by intense heat and drought across the prairies. In Saskatchewan, the persistent drought has seen river levels drop to dangerous lows, while the province is set to record its worst harvest in years. Hydrologists warn that such drought may be the new normal, as  run-off from the snow-pack in the Rockies diminishes to a trickle due to the effects of climate change. Despite the ferocity of these events, Saskatchewan’s Premier has been loathe to connect them with climate change, insisting that these events are discrete, one-off events rather than the start of a “new normal.”

Perhaps we should not be surprised by the Premier’s failure to connect-the-dots, given his long record of downplaying Canada’s contribution to climate change, his disdain for hard emission targets and his unrepentant boosterism for oil, gas and coal. With Saskatchewan’s annual per capita greenhouse gas emissions well over 3 times the Canadian average and almost 10 times higher than the world average, it is urgent that we begin to take responsibility for our own contribution to climate change. In order to do this, we will need strong leadership at the federal level. Saskatchewan is highly dependent on coal for electricity generation – half of Saskatchewan’s electricity comes from coal-fired plants which make up the bulk of that sector’s GHG emissions. Rather than transition away from coal and try and match renewable energy leaders like Iowa and South Dakota who currently generate 28.5% and 25.3% of their power from wind respectively, Saskatchewan has hitched its wagon to the promise of “clean coal.” The provincial and federal government has sunk close to $1.5 billion into SaskPower’s Carbon Capture project which will capture carbon from one coal-fired plant and then sell the carbon to assist in the extraction of unconventional oil deposits. As Mark Bigland-Pritchard and Brian Banks outline in their study of the project, the one million tonnes of CO2 captured amounts to only about 7% of all GHG’s created by SaskPower’s coal-fired generation, and less than 2% of the province’s total emissions. Moreover, for each tonne of carbon dioxide used to recover oil, about 2.7 tonnes of carbon dioxide are eventually emitted from combustion of the extra oil recovered. As a climate change strategy, CCS is a bust. However, the absence of federal leadership and the lack of a national climate change strategy has led to a patchwork of different provincial policies, each addressing climate change in its own way – with some more effective than others.

Provinces like Saskatchewan that are particularly dependent on cheap fossil fuels for power generation and revenue will require federal leadership and financial incentives to make the transition to renewable energies more politically and economically attractive. Saskatchewan is actually well-positioned to take advantage of the transition to renewable energy technologies. With the best solar profile in the country and some of the highest on-shore wind speeds, the province could be a renewable energy leader. What we need is a federal government that can put in place the right framework and incentives to make pursuing such a strategy politically and economically viable. Ending subsidies to fossil fuels,  a national price on carbon, improvements to the national electrical grid to facilitate hydro-sharing and a federal cost-sharing program for green energy are just some of the policies that could help move fossil-fuel dependent provinces like Saskatchewan into the green energy future. Sustainable Canada Dialogues—a group of over 60 scientists, engineers and economists—estimate that Canada has the potential to shift entirely to renewable sources of electricity by 2035 and eliminate 80 per cent of its greenhouse gas emissions by mid-century if we put the right federal policies in place. Indeed, as they conclude, the most significant barrier to achieving this shift is not technical or economic, but the absence of federal leadership and lack of political will.

If Canadians want to achieve the goal of a greener Canada, they have until October to determine which party has the requisite leadership and political mettle to move us forward.

Simon Enoch is Director of CCPA-Saskatchewan. Follow Simon on Twitter at @Simon_Enoch.

6 comments

  1. Hey, your rant had accurate facts and a credible storyline until you said something inaccurate(and biased) and that undermined the whole article: “about 2.7 tonnes of carbon dioxide are eventually emitted from combustion of the extra oil recovered”. This is misleading and idiotic.
    Are you going to drive your car more because there’s more oil being produced? Are you going to drive to places you don’t need to be? You get the point, the same amount of oil is going to be burnt no matter what, with or without improved production.
    As for the second part of the article, dismissed. Be more neutral if you want to convince.

    1. I would counter that increased supply (should) reduce price, making oil preferable versus more carbon neutral alternatives. You might drive your car more if gasoline is cheaper. You might use greater amounts of oil as an input if it is considerably cheaper than alternatives. Jevon’s paradox.

    2. Except for the fact that cost has a direct result of use. Note the fact of a slide in Canada’s carbon emmissions during the ’07-08 recession.
      It would lead one to believe that our only real hope is total economic collapse. That is hardly a good enough reason to re-elect the mismanagement team of Harper et al.

  2. Your work is appreciated.
    1.I do not think we should use 2035 as a major date.
    2.Looking at what is already happening with renewals, at public opinion among progressive Canadians and what will likely happen in the federal election – new policies and major expansion by renewals will move forward in Canada well before 2035 in my opinion.
    3. I also expect global meetings this October on climate issues will encourage new policies in Canada relating to climate issues.

  3. Excellent article. The comparisons to Iowa and South Dakota will be particularly useful in countering the arguments of oilfield workers who claim that renewables can never meet our energy needs/wants.

  4. There is another reason that, as you write, “Saskatchewan is actually well-positioned to take advantage of the transition to renewable energy technologies.” We have only 2 energy suppliers in the province, SaskPower and SaskEnergy. Further, they are crown corporations that are able to take a longer-term view to problems.

    So, given that it would take 30 yr to make the transition to renewables, all it would take is a policy directive to the 2 corporations to create a plan to have our all our energy provided from renewable resources in 30 yr. Two organizations that we already own. What an opportunity to be at the forefront!

    It may seem like it would take courage to set that policy, but would it? I think it is clear to everyone that we can’t create electricity by burning fossil fuels forever so let’s start skating to where the puck is going rather than where the puck is.

Join the Discussion

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Before commenting, please read our Comment Policy