Response to Newfoundland & Labrador Public Discussion Document: “Responding to Climate Change in Newfoundland & Labrador”

Publication Date: 
July 31, 2010

Executive Summary

The existing greenhouse emission targets are weaker than required according to the latest science and the existing strategies did not deliver the expected results.  We make a number of specific policy recommendations to change this:

Five directions of action:

1. Education– take advantage of the educational capacity at MUN and in environmental NGOs – in the latter: urgent need for project and base funding.

2. Research–need to “localize” the general knowledge and global models of climate change; need for project and base funding.

3. Putting price on carbon– best: carbon tax; must be revenue-neutral.

4. Financial incentives:

-  distributed renewable energy generation: should be supported with feed-in-tariffs, loan guarantees and improvements to the transmission lines; a viable alternative to spending $600 million to install scrubbers at Holyrood power plant;

- energy efficiency for homes and vehicles;

- can be sustained politically and financially in the long term by recognizing all spin-offs (financial and social) of energy efficiency and renewable energy.

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Submission to the Office of Climate Change, Energy Efficiency and Emissions Trading, Government of Newfoundland and Labrador     Response to Newfoundland & Labrador Public Discussion Document:    “Responding to Climate Change in Newfoundland & Labrador”

 

 

 

by Sierra Club Canada, Atlantic Chapter. 

 

 

 

July 31, 2010

 

by Piotr Trela, Ph.D.

Climate Change and Energy Coordinator

Sierra Club of Canada, Atlantic Chapter,


Environmental Gathering Place
172 Military Road, P.O. Box 5125, Stn. C St. John's, NL A1C 5M3
ph: 709-753-7848; fax: 709-726-2764; piotr@sierraclub.ca

Executive Summary

 

The existing greenhouse emission targets are weaker than required according to the latest science and the existing strategies did not deliver the expected results.  We make a number of specific policy recommendations to change this:

Five directions of action:

1. Education– take advantage of the educational capacity at MUN and in environmental NGOs – in the latter: urgent need for project and base funding.

2. Research–need to “localize” the general knowledge and global models of climate change; need for project and base funding.

3. Putting price on carbon– best: carbon tax; must be revenue-neutral.

4. Financial incentives:

-  distributed renewable energy generation: should be supported with feed-in-tariffs, loan guarantees and improvements to the transmission lines; a viable alternative to spending $600 million to install scrubbers at Holyrood power plant;

- energy efficiency for homes and vehicles;

- can be sustained politically and financially in the long term by recognizing all spin-offs (financial and social) of energy efficiency and renewable energy.

5. Regulation:

- stricter regulation of major industrial polluters;

- energy efficiency codes for buildings, ships, vehicles and industry;

- implementing new energy efficiency technologies a condition of operating permits;

- more effective regulation of the offshore oil industry.

 

Specific issues and strategies:

 

Offshore Flaring (3.1) wasteful, unnecessary, a major source of greenhouse emissions; the easiest of the major emissions to fix.

Land use (3.2) affects carbon sequestration by ecosystems; therefore, land use decisions should have a greenhouse emission component:

- forests:  cheaper to preserve an old-growth forest than make equivalent cuts in industrial emissions. Additional benefits (soil erosion, tourism value, salmon rivers and game habitat);

- agriculture: different forms of agriculture will have different effects on greenhouse emissions. Also, only 10% of our food produced here – food insecurity. Promote local  agriculture, protect the good soil for agricultural use.

Burning biomass (3.3) uncut forests are much better sinks of atmospheric carbon than the harvested forests, which are often net emitters of greenhouse gases,

Peat mining for fuel (3.4) - not a good idea: peat is a very inefficient source of energy; also a large disruption of ecosystems.

Intensity-based targets (3.5) – to be avoided: mainly a public-relation exercise: allow to portray an increase in emissions as a “reduction”.

Fishery (3.6) some fishing methods are much more destructive than others.  This fact should be considered when allocating fishing quota between different fishing methods. Fishery is very vulnerable to climate change; needs more research.

Transportation (3.7) we drive more vehicles and they are less fuel-efficient.  Needed: fuel-efficiency standards, tax incentives and penalties, and (revenue-neutral) fuel-tax to account for the societal costs of greenhouse emissions.  Also needed:  support for public transportation (buses) and alternative  transportation (cycling, carpooling).

 

1. Introduction

Sierra Club Canada for a long time has been concerned about climate change and its impact on species, ecosystems, and society. Therefore, we welcome the opportunity to comment on the discussion document “Responding to Climate Change in Newfoundland and Labrador”.

Overall, we find the Discussion Document good in its description of climate change, useful in reviewing the past and current climate change framework in the province, but falling  short in specific strategies needed to achieve the promised cuts in our emissions:  the strategies described in the document do not seem to deliver the expected results.  Therefore, we make a number of specific policy recommendations that hopefully might change this.

 

Emission targets we need:

The last 10,000 years, the period in which all human civilizations have blossomed, has been

also a period of unusually stable climate. This is not a coincidence - without a stable and predictable climate there is no productive agriculture, and without agriculture there is no surplus food, needed to support all the societal structures and people not directly involved in food production: culture, technology, state, laws, religion. As the history shows, take away the surplus food and civilizations collapse. Unfortunately, in the last few centuries, our species seems to be bent on undermining the very foundation of our evolutionary success.

 

To stabilize the climate we need to reduce our emissions of greenhouse gases. How much? The best estimates provided by the science is that we need to cut our greenhouse emissions by 25-40% by 2020,  and 80-95% by 2050, from the 1990 level (IPCC, 2007) just to limit the heating to below  2o C warming,  a threshold beyond which the risk of a catastrophic runaway global  warming [Lenton, 2008] increases strongly. Simply put:  push the climate system too far and you will open the Pandora's box, triggering forces beyond our control: at that point even if we reduce our emissions to zero it won't matter  [see also Appendix 3].

Emission targets we have:

 

Reductions in emissions are a responsibility of all levels of society and governments, but given the limited resources at the municipal level, and the failure of leadership at the federal level, it is up to the provinces to step up to the plate and make the difference.

 

How has Newfoundland and Labrador fared so far? We do have our set of emission reduction targets, stemming from our commitment made at the 2001 Conference of New England Governors and Eastern Canadian Premiers (NEG-ECP) Climate Change Action Plan.  Signatories of the plan undertookto bring down their greenhouse emissions to 1990 levels by 2010 and reduce them 10% by 2020.  These targets fall short of what the science tells us now is necessary (see the previous section), and we are not on track to meet even these limited targets.

 

 

Why us?

 

Why should we do anything, if Canada is responsible for a mere 2% of global greenhouse emissions, and Newfoundland and Labrador for a fraction of that?  Several reasons:

 

The historic reason:most of carbon dioxide present today in the atmosphere got there long before the increases in emissions from developing countries: the today’s atmosphere contains as much CO2from Canada as CO2from India.

 

The ethical reasonthe fundamental fairness:  the only honest measure of our impact on the global climate are the per capita emissions and, even after recent increases, an average Chinese and average Indian emits 4 and 11 times less greenhouse gases, respectively, than an average Canadian (2005 data). To accept this disparity as normal is to imply that a Canadian is 4 times more deserving than a Chinese and 11 times more deserving than a citizen of India. Is this the argument we really want to make?

 

The political reason:how are we going to convince China or India to cut their emissions if we are not willing cut our own? Do what I tell you, not what I do?

 

Does our climate change strategy work?

 

The answer is in the data. In years 2004 – 2008, the most recent emission statistics available [Environment Canada, 2010], emissions by Newfoundland and Labrador oscillated around 7% above our 2010 target.  What is even more troubling, the more honest measure of our performance, our per capita emission, was up 21%.

 

The lack of a declining trend in the emission data tells us also something about the effectiveness of the government's policies: if they were effective we would have seen a sustained decline in greenhouse emissions toward our 2010 target. Instead, our emissions go up and down from year to year, shaped not by the government's actions, but by factors beyond government's influence: a warmer or colder winter, prices for crab or  shrimp, shutdown of paper mills, or  even a maintenance stoppage at one of the oil platforms – all affect our emissions more than our climate action plan. This pattern indicates that in greenhouse emissions the provincial government is more a passenger than a driver.

 

This is not to say that we have accomplished nothing. The government has to be commended on doing a good job within its own operations: it increased fuel efficiency of its vehicle fleet and holds the buildings built, or renovated, with government's money to a high energy-efficiency standard.  Thus, the government has shown the leadership by example. However, now is the time to move beyond government's own operations: to make the same difference where the vast majority of emissions do take place: in industry, on public roads and in households.

 

Five Directions of Action

There is no single silver bullet to reduce our greenhouse emissions. Therefore, the province needs a coordinated, multifaceted action. We suggest here 5 directions in which progress should be made:

  1. education;
  2. research;
  3. putting prince on carbon;
  4. financial incentives; 
  5. regulation.

 

2.1 Education:

 

We need a sustained effort to educate on climate change, on its effects to our province, and on possible choices to reduce our carbon footprint. The education has to be universal, directed at all levels of society: at government departments and agencies, schools and university, general public, corporations, trades-people and industry

 

The provincial government and its corporations (like Nalcor) have already been engaged in this education, to a degree.  However, we argue that the province does not have enough capacity to do it on its own, and should avail itself of the underutilized capacity elsewhere, namelyat Memorial University and at the environmental non-governmental organizations (Env. NGOs) engaged in the public education on these issues

 

The main source of funding for climate change initiatives in the province has been the Green Fund, but it stopped accepting application in June 2009 and has no clear successor on the horizon. We need one.  Furthermore, we would suggest that any new funding program should separate large and small projects - in the Green Fund, most of the funds went to a few large projects, which meant that many small projects did not get off the ground for the lack of funds.

 

Furthermore, the systematic cuts by the federal government have eroded the base funding available to Env. NGOs, which in turns limits their capability to deliver education and research on issues of climate change.  We argue that the provincial government should lobby the federal government to reverse  this troubling trend, and in the meantime, provide both base and project funding to fill the gap and, therefore, to protect the climate change educational and research capacity in the province.

 

 

2.2 Research:

 

The province needs more research on the threats of climate change, on ways to reduce our emissions, on adaptations to changes, and on the opportunities for green jobs stemming from it. There has been a lot of work on these issues internationally, but preciously little on “localization” of general the climate change knowledge, that is, onadapting general principles and models to the conditions and issues specific to this province.  More specifically, all the 7 areas listed in section 3 are among good candidates for more research.

As indicated in the previous section, the government should take advantage of the expertise available in the academia and in Environmental NGOs:  we need to ask the right questions and provide funds to find the answers.

 

 

2.3 Putting price on carbon:

 

The most cost-effective way to achieve reductions of pollution is through market mechanisms. The problem is that for the neoclassical economic theory, environmental, health, social, and inter-generational costs of economic activities are considered “externalities”, i.e. outside of market purview, and, consequently, assumed to have a zero value in the cost-benefit analysis. We need to correct this blind spot of the market theory, by putting a price on carbon emissions, to reflect all impacts of these emissions.

 

The reason we have to do it is because by allowing dumping carbon into the atmosphere for free, we provide an unfair advantage to fossil fuels industry and through this, we corrupt the market by supplying it with distorted information about true costs of economic activities. Wrong inputs, wrong answers.  “Garbage in, garbage out”.

 

  • Among the mechanisms that try to utilize market mechanisms, carbon tax seems to be the best solution: it is more transparent, more fiscally responsible, more market-based, less subject to the government choosing the winners and to exemptions than its cap-and-trade alternative.

 

  • To be politically acceptable – the carbon tax would have to be revenue-neutral and transparent: every dollar collected should be paid back to the public and be seen as being paid: a cheque sent to every household is much preferable than lowering the income tax rate (delayed and hidden from view).

 

2.4 Financial incentives:

Until we have the carbon priced, the market will not automatically reward reductions in carbon emissions.  To compensate for this, we should provide financial incentives to toward the same goal. Tax incentives, loan guarantees, and grants would be particularly important in several areas:

 

2.4.1 Support for distributed renewable energy generation (locally-owned wind and/or small-hydro projects).

We discuss this in more detail in Appendix 1. The main point is that energy generated this way is renewable and has multiple benefits to the local communities (listed in section 2.4.3).

 

The incentives to support distributed energy generation can be delivered through establishing feed-in tariffs (a long-term promise to buy energy at the predetermined prices) and/or through help with initial capital costs (loan guarantees?). Also needed is upgrading and/or extending the transmission lines on the island.

 

The action in this area not only would reduce greenhouse emissions, but should be a financially viable alternative to spending $600 million to install scrubbers at the Holyrood power plant to reduce local pollution, whichhad been promised if the Lower Churchill project did not get the go-ahead by 2009.  There is more than enough wind power potential on the island to fully replace the Holyrood plant, and, therefore, remove the corresponding pollution, instead of throwing the money at the old technology, a plant that will have to be shut down in a short order anyway, if we are serious about meeting our greenhouse emission targets.

 

To take full advantage of our renewable energy potential on the island, we will need at some point a connection to the mainland to sell the surplus power, particularly in summer, when our local demand is low. The proposed Lower Churchill project may provide such transmission lines, but even if it is delayed, the undersea connection between the island of Newfoundland and Nova Scotia should go ahead, as it would remove the main obstacle for developing the renewable power on the island and, through connecting to the North American grid, make renewable energy generation more cost-effective and the power system in the province more reliable (capability for energy back-up from mainland in case of catastrophic (e.g. ice storms) blackouts). See also Appendix 2.

 

2.4.2 Energy efficiency (EE) incentives:

We should reward the good choices and discourage the wrong ones:

a) Incentives for home energy efficiency

  • the program for homeownershas suffered a blow in April 2010 when the federal government canceled its energy-retrofit program. The province should respond in two ways:  lobbying the federal government to restore the funding and, in the meantime, increasing its existing contribution to make up for some of the losses;
  • the EE program for low-income home owners needs more money:  in the pastthere  have been more people interested than funds available;
  • we need to address “the tenant gap”: home EE programs have been geared toward home owners, which leaves out people who rent:  since costs of energy are usually paid by tenants, landlords have no incentive to make their rented property energy efficient.

 

b) Incentives for transportation:

  • Vehicles: reduce taxes on buying fuel-efficient and increase taxes on fuel-wasteful vehicles;
  • Public and alternative transportation: subsidies to public transportation (buses); infrastructure, operation and promotion of alternative transportation (cycling, car-pooling).

 

 

2.4.3 The full cost-benefit analysis

 

In past, many “green” incentives were unfairly hindered by an incomplete cost-benefit approach: incentive-granting departments see all the costs, but only a fraction of the benefits. Therefore, a program that might be in the “red” when only the benefit of reduction of greenhouse emissions is counted, would be in the “black”, if additional spin-off benefits were also included in the analysis.

 

For instance, when calculating a “return-on-incentive” for the community-owned distributed energy generation (described in section 2.4.1) we should include not only the reductions in greenhouse emissions, but also the resulting “collateral benefits” - support for the struggling rural communities, creation of  local jobs and green-economy know-how,  and last, but not least: reductions in the provincial expenditures on social support payments, make-work projects,  and grants and subsidies to municipalities.

 

Accounting for all benefits of “green incentives” is not likely to be done by a single government department, but rather an agency able to take into account benefits accrued in many departments.  This makes OCCEEET a good candidate to fulfill such a role.

 

2.5 Regulations:

 

Regulations have to be comprehensive, effective, and enforced:

 

  • regulation of pollution, including the greenhouse emissions, of major industrial polluters;

 

  • energy efficiency codes forbuildings, ships, vehicles and industry;

 

  • making implementation of the new energy efficiency technologies  a condition of operating permits – for instance, mandating taxi-fleets to be hybrid and/or electric;

 

  • more effective regulation of the offshore oil industry:  since it is regulated by C-NLOPB, the provincial representatives on that board need to be more aggressive in promoting provincial greenhouse emission measures (the urgent issue of flaring is discussed below).

 

3. Specific issues and strategies

 

3.1 Offshore Flaring: burning our resources

 

if there is one specific area, where stricter regulations could result in huge reductions in greenhouse emission, it is offshore flaring: the practice of burning gas that accompanies crude oil: not only is this an indefensible waste of our non-renewable resources, but also a major source of greenhouse emissions in the province: much larger than all personal cars, and almost as large as manufacturing, mining and oil extraction combined. In many jurisdictions flaring is banned, so the gas is collected and used as a fuel, or re-injected into the seabed. Not so here.

 

3.2 Land use: affects carbon sequestration by ecosystems

 

The government has maintained detailed inventories of greenhouse gasses emissions, but there is an important omission – the statistics all but ignore the indirect effects of human activities, such as the alteration of carbon fluxes due to changes in land-use that alter the ecosystems. Different ecosystems are different sources or sinks of atmospheric greenhouse gasses, so land use proposals should have a greenhouse emission component included in their evaluation: 

 

3.2.1 Forests:

protecting existing forests is not only good for biodiversity, but may help us with limiting our greenhouse emissions. In fact, it may be cheaper to preserve an old-growth forest than to make equivalent cuts in industrial emissions.  Yet it seems that this fact does not enter the decision processes of Dept. of Natural Resources, which aggressively promotes cutting of new forest areas (for instance, on the West Coast), even though there is hardly any pulp and paper industry left in the province. Again, the only reason such activity could appear to make any economic sense is that it is made in a  skewed decision environment, in which the economic benefits of the forest cutting are fully recognized, while all the downsides: greenhouse emissions, soil erosion, negative impact on tourism, salmon rivers and game habitat, are ignored.

 

3.2.2 Agriculture:

different forms of agriculture have different effects on greenhouse emissions – for instance, raising cows can be a substantial source of methane, a potent greenhouse gas. Therefore, greenhouse emissions should be a part of consideration by the provincial bodies responsible for agriculture.

 

Furthermore, the agriculture is an area of large vulnerability. As shown by Battisti and Naylor [2009] global food production is likely to diminish as a result of climate change, while the demand will increase, due to growth in human population. This is recipe for skyrocketing food prices at best, and, possibly, widespread food shortages and famine destabilizing countries and entire continents. In Newfoundland and Labrador we import 90% of food we eat and we are at the very end of the supply lines, making us uniquely vulnerable to any climate-induced disruptions to food production and trade. Therefore, we should be protecting whatever little good agricultural land we have left, instead of converting it into subdivisions (see also Appendix 1).

 

 

3.3 Burning biomass: a very questionable source of “green” energy:

 

The usual argument for biomass is that burning wood and other biomass is a greenhouse-neutral operation: amount of carbon released is equal to the amount of carbon absorbed during the tree growth. In reality, it is rarely, if ever, the case:  cutting trees unavoidably disrupts the soil, exposing the carbon accumulated in the soil over centuries to erosion and oxidation. As a result, the recently-cut forest releases more carbon from its soil and harvesting debris than it absorbs in the newly growing biomass [Law et al., 2001]. Therefore, growing and harvesting trees for energy generation is a net source of greenhouse emissions. It makes environmental sense only in these places where the biomass has to be removed from the forest anyway (for instance, to reduce excessive fuel for forest fires).

 

3.4 Peat mining: not a good idea

Peat contains large amount of old organic carbon. It is one of the dirtiest sources of energy – it releases more greenhouse gasses per unit energy than other sources of energy (worse even than coal). Furthermore, disrupting peats may affect ground waters and release methane, a potent greenhouse gas.

 

3.5 Intensity-based targets: smoke and mirrors

Intensity-based reductions are not absolute reductions, but reductions per unit GDP - which allows portraying an absolute increase in emissions as a “reduction” (as long as GDP rises faster than emissions). Intensity-based targets allow also to take credit for things one did nothing about:  the most famous proponent of these targets was George W. Bush, whose climate “action” plan consisted of targets that were identical to the increases in energy efficiency that historically had been achieved by the economy on its own (as a result of competition and improved technologies). In other words, intensity-based plans can be summarized as: “do nothing and claim credit for what the economy would do on its own anyway.”  See also Appendix 2.

 

3.6 Fishery: different fishing methods are not created equal

Fishery is a considerable source of greenhouse emissions: directly, through using fuel by fishing boats, and indirectly, through affecting ocean ecosystems, which, in turn, changes the ability of the ocean to take up atmospheric carbon.

 

It is often said that there are no fishing method without impacts. This is a half-truth, used to obscure a more important fact that fishing methods are not created equal – some are inherently more destructive than others. For instance, bottom trawling requires more energy and causes more damage to the ecosystem per unit of seafood caught than other methods. Furthermore, by ploughing over big swaths of bottom sediments, bottom trawling seriously affects the ability of the ocean bottom to sequester carbon. Therefore, greenhouse emissions should be a part of consideration when allocating fishing quota between different fishing methods.

 

Fishery is not only a source of the greenhouse emissions, but also an area that may be very vulnerable to climate change. Climate-related threats to the ocean ecosystems are: ocean acidification, warming of surface waters and increased stratification, which limit the supply of nutrients and, thus, productivity of oceans. An article published last week in Nature suggests that phytoplankton, the basis of life in the oceans, decreased by 40% since1950 [Boyce et al.  2010].We need more research on the both the impact of fishing on climate change and on the impact of climate change on fishing.

 

3.7 Transportation: a long way to go

Transportation is a major source of greenhouse emissions.  Between 1990 and 2008, the population of this province decreased by12%, yet the number of vehicles on our roads increased by 28%. This means that an average family has now almost 50% more cars.  More troubling still, most of this increase was in least fuel-efficient category (vans, pickups, SUVs). Tellingly, most of these increases have happened in recent years, that is, in the period when we had the provincial Climate Action Plan. Obviously, the good example set by the province with respect to its own vehicles did not filter down to the population. This underlines our call for more effective actions, including some or all of the following measures:

  • implement fuel-efficiency requirements for new vehicles;
  • lower provincial taxes on fuel-efficient vehicles and raise them on low-efficiency vehicles;
  • increase gasoline taxes to account for the societal costs of greenhouse emissions; as was the case with the carbon tax, the gasoline taxes should be revenue-neutral: the collected taxes could be paid back in form of lowered vehicle registration fees;
  • regulate fuel efficiency of off-road vehicles (ATVs, snow-mobiles);
  • regulate and/or provide incentives for fuel efficiency for commercial transportation (trucks, ships);
  • subsidize public transportation, on condition that the recipients increase ridership through lowering fares and/or  increasing the number of routes;
  • invest in the infrastructure for alternative transportation (bike lanes, bike paths);
  • promote and support carpooling;
  • Increase fuel efficiency in the fishing fleet (see 3.6).

 

Concluding remarks

We hope that our comments and specific suggestions will be taken into account when further developing the climate change policies and programs of Newfoundland and Labrador. We would be happy to provide any further information on the arguments presented above and hope that the government will continue the engagement with the public on these issues, crucial to the future of this province, this country, and this world.

                                                                       Piotr Trela, Ph.D.

 

References:

 

Battisti, D. & Naylor, R.  2009. Historical warnings of future food insecurity with unprecedented seasonal heat. Science 323: 240–244.

 

Boyce D.G. M.R. Lewis and B. Worm,  2010. Global phytoplankton decline over the past century. Nature, 466, 591–596

 

Environment Canada, 2010. National Inventory Report 1990-2008: Greenhouse Gas Sources and Sinks in Canada. http://www.ec.gc.ca/Publications/default.asp?lang=En&xml=492D914C-2EAB-4...

 

IPCC, 2007. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change: Fourth Assessment Report: Climate Change 2007 (AR4)

http://www.ipcc.ch/publications_and_data/publications_and_data_reports.htm

 

Law, B.E., P.E. Thornton, J. Irvine P.M. Anthoni, and S. van Tuyl. 2001, Carbon storage and fluxes in ponderosa pine forests at different developmental stages. Global Climate Change, 7, 755-777.

 

Lenton, T. M., H. Held, E, Kriegler, J.W. Hall, W. Lucht, S. Rahmstorf, and H. J. Schellnhuber, 2008. Tipping elements in the Earth’s climate system. PNAS,  vol. 105 no. 6: 1786–1793.

 

 

Editing comment:  There is an error on page 8 of the Discussion Document (line 15):  Kyoto protocol has legally binding targets for “developed”, not “developing” countries as stated there.

 

Appendices

 

Appendix 1. Impacts of climate change on Newfoundland and Labrador communities.

 

Because of our cold climate, the negative implication of climate change are often unrecognized or underestimated by the public (in mid-February or in a cold April we often feel we could use some warming ...)

  • The problem is that the climate change won't limit itself to merely making our winter more bearable. Here are some of the potential impacts:
  • intensity of storms will increase: the warmer waters – the more energy to create and sustain violent weather systems;
  • it is likely to affect disproportionally Newfoundland – at the moment we are sheltered from the worst of the hurricanes by a belt of cold water “sucking” energy from the approaching hurricanes and downgrading them before they reach our shores. But if the surface waters warm up as result of the climate change – this cold-water buffer will be weakened and so will be our shelter;
  • stronger storms will affect the safety of anybody depending on the sea (fishing boats, ferries, oil platforms)
  • stronger storms, coupled with increased sea-levels and  will damage coastal infrastructure (wharfs) and  causecoastal erosion in all areas that are not protected by rock cliffs (e.g., CBS, Placentia, any place with sand or gravel beaches)
  • increased sea level + increased storm surges + increased storm/hurricane precipitation would cause more catastrophic flooding of low-lying areas and estuaries (e.g. Waterford River – overflowing with water from a torrential rain and having at the same time outflow to the Narrows blocked by both the increased sea-level and the higher storm surge)
  • changes in marine ecosystems caused by warming, change in currents and acidification of the ocean by CO2(impact on fisheries)
  • changes in terrestrial ecosystems (e.g. forests) – changes in temperature and precipitation; possibility of catastrophic pest invasion (see the crisis in B.C. forestry caused by pine beetle infestation as the beetle population is no longer controlled by cold winters)
  • health issues – in general, warmer climates provide better conditions for survival and propagation of human pathogens

 

Finally, one critical and largely unrecognized in our province threat is potential disruption of food supply and our unique vulnerability to it:

it is widely expected that a much warmer Earth will mean crop failures, which, coupled with the ever increasing population, would lead to wide-spread food shortages. During the heat wave in Europe in 2003 not only up to 50,000 people died, but the crops in the most affected are fell between 20% and 40%. Most of commercial crops have been developed by domestication of temperate-climate plants (even rice have been developed in northern China) so they do not fare well in extreme heat. Furthermore, it is expected that heat and decreased precipitation would affect disproportionally hard these areas of the world which today are world’s bread-baskets. All this points to a real possibility of a permanent food crisis: our unique vulnerability; 60% years ago we produced 60% of our food. Today we produce 10%. Not only we are not able to feed ourselves, but also we are at the end of the supply lines.

 

Appendix 2.

Advantages of community-owned distributed renewable energy generation.

 

The potential of small-scale distributed energy: wind, small-hydro and wave/tidal, on the island portion of Newfoundland and Labrador is, at least, several times larger than that of the proposed Lower Churchill 3000 MW project, with fewer environmental problems and with more economic and social spin-offs. The best way to develop this potential is a distributed network of locally-owned renewable energy generation. For this to occur, a few things need to come into place:

 

1. recognition of its potential by the provincial government:  the great potential of the small, distributed wind and small hydro has not been fully recognized and appreciated (not much space given in the provincial  Energy Plan) and is in the danger of being overshadowed by mega-projects like the Lower Churchill Hydro, which can absorb most, or all, of the provincial government's attention and resources;

2. recognition of the multiple benefits to the province: locally-owned small renewable energy generations would help the provincial government to meet its greenhouse emission commitments, strengthen its position as the green energy exporter, re-invigorate struggling rural communities, increase the tax base, reduce money the province currently spends in social support to individuals, make work projects, grants to the municipalities ( since the local renewable energy projects would provide the employment and source of income to the communities), build up the green-job work force and expertise.

The investment in the sustainable local energy generations is also an opportunity to save the $600 million that would cost putting the scrubbers on the bunker-oil power plant in Holyrood (promised by the province should the Lower Churchill project didn't get a go-ahead by 2009). The wind and other distributed energy sources could easily reduce or entirely replace the need for the power currently generated by the Holyrood power plant, thus removing the need to waste a huge amount of money for an upgrade of the plant that will have to be scrapped in the near future anyway, if we are to meet our provincial emission targets.

3. interest by rural communities– needs to be recognized as a new economic and social opportunity: creating local jobs and countering out-migration, building skills in expertise for the new green economy, providing source of stable income for the rural communities;

4. improving the transmission lines:

  • within the island (you will not get financing for a wind power turbine if you have no way to send the energy to the consumer), and later:
  • between the island and the mainland: we could easily produce more energy on the island than we consume; the connection to the North American grid would increase the economic viability of the NL renewable energy, provide the other jurisdictions with a source of “green energy”; increase the energy security of the province and allow a higher proportion of the wind and other renewable energy in the NL energy mix – smoothing out the peaks and lows in wind energy generation and customer demand;

5. creating an integrated provincial and/or regional energy system in which different forms of energy generation would be used in the way that takes advantage of their individual strengths and minimizes the overall vulnerability of the energy system: e.g.: an easily-mobilized hydro energy on the island and/or from the Lower Churchill hydro would be best used when applied to smooth out the more variable and less flexible wind power (when the wind blows: use the wind, stop the hydro, store the water behind hydro dams; when the wind stops: run the water through the turbines);

6. “Feed-in tariffs”- potential green energy investors would not get a bank loan if they cannot show the bank that you can sell the product. Feed-in Tariffs are a way to do it. Following the example of Ontario – implement a system of Feed-in Tariffs in which the provincial power generations agrees to buy energy generated by local producers (individuals, communities) at the predetermined rates. The prices will be guaranteed for a long-term period. Without this, securing private funding for the capital investment from would be practically impossible. Furthermore, by setting different feed-in tariffs for different sources of renewable energy, the province gets the ability to promote these forms of energy that are least damaging to the environment and have most economic and social spin-offs (e.g. job creation in rural NL, income for struggling rural communities, diversification of local economies);

7. Initial investment capital: banks may be reluctant to deal with small customers and financially-struggling communities – so the low-interest loans and/or loan guarantees by the provincial government to the community-owned renewable energy generation may be needed to secure the high initial capital investment (unlike the fossil fuel power plants, in which fuel continues to be a big part of the costs throughout the lifetime of the plant and is being paid by the current cash-flow, the renewable energy projects have a vast majority of the costs borne up-front, before a single megawatt-hour is sold to the grid).

If we are serious about reducing our greenhouse gas emissions, about saving of our dying rural communities, about stopping the outflow of our best resource, our people, out of this province, and about creating new green economy - we have to start moving in the direction of the community-owned distributed energy generation and do it now.

Appendix 3:

Why we have to keep the climate system from overheating: tipping points of the climate system.

 

The higher the increase in temperatures caused by anthropogenic emissions, the higher the chance that we will cross one of the several possible climate tipping points [Lenton et al., 2008] beyond which we may release positive-feedback mechanisms resulting in for a runaway climate change: once we set these large processes in motion we will not be able to stop them even if we reduce our emission to zero.

 

To illustrate how thetipping points work- let us have a closer look at one of them: 

  • there are large amounts of methane locked in permafrost  as well as methane kept frozen by cold waters of the ocean - between 60 and 300 times more carbon than the entire human emissions in a year;
  • methane is much more efficient in trapping heat than CO2-  60 times over 20 years, 22 times over 100 years;
  • to release this methane into the atmosphere it does not take much – a slight warming to start melting permafrost and to warm enough the ocean waters to make the methane crystals destabilized. We are well under way of doing it – the global temperatures have already increased by about 0.8oC since the per-industrial time, several times more than that in the Arctic;
  • to get an idea about the size of the genie we are about to release from the permafrost/ocean bottle - multiply the numbers from a) by the numbers from b). The result: heating potential of all that locked methane is between 1,200 and 18,000 of what the entire humanity puts in the atmosphere in a year. In other words, even if we cause a release of 1% of that methane per year – this would be as if we increased our “normal” human emissions by 12 to 180-fold. It is like starting a bonfire in a dry forest – you can put out the bonfire, but once the sparks ignited the bushes and trees around –  putting down the bonfire won't help -  nothing you can do at this point would stop the wildfire;
  • The same applies to other tipping points - a relatively small initial change in temperature caused by humans may release forces which are far beyond our control.

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