Opinion | The Quebec Government made a very unfortunate mistake for the global environment

They cancelled the Saguenay LNG project, a multibillion-dollar project that would have brought thousands of high-paid jobs to where they are very much needed. The decision on the surface was because of global environmental risks but sadly ensures global emissions will be higher.

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Their decision was based on a report from the BAPE earlier this year that drew conclusions that were perhaps technically true in some cases – but fundamentally wrong.  

The BAPE plays an important role to consult the Quebec public on large projects that could impact Quebeckers. The work of the BAPE is so important that it’s imperative to point out when they miss their mandate – as they did on the Saguenay Project 

There have been multiple papers written on the topic of carbon leakage. Carbon leakage occurs when climate-change policies raise domestic costs to the point where companies simply move production to another jurisdiction with less stringent policies.  Carbon leakage describes the emissions that move instead of being reduced.

Ironically, when it comes to production in Quebec, studies have shown that producing energy-intensive products like aluminum in the province is good for the climate. This was ground-breaking research in Canada, and it showed it was possible to reduce global emissions by exporting more Canadian products – if those products were lower emissions intensity than the global competition.

Canada’s global competition for the Saguenay project are countries like Qatar and Russia. These are hardly examples of socially and environmentally progressive countries. Even global competitors like the United States and Australia use natural gas or even coal-fired electricity to produce LNG.

Quebec LNG would be produced with hydroelectricity and quite simply, there are much fewer emissions embedded in Canadian LNG, than in the global competition. It is the cleanest LNG in the world.  If all Canada did was replace foreign LNG with Canadian LNG we would reduce global emissions. This is inconvertible.  

So how did the Quebec BAPE go wrong this time?

  • They said that there was no guarantee that foreign countries would stop using Quebec LNG in the future. Though technically true, the real challenge globally is reducing the use of coal, not the cleanest in the world LNG.
  • They said there was no proof that foreign countries would use LNG to replace coal.  While this defies common sense it is technically true there is no proof of exactly how much coal LNG would replace, However as previously mentioned, we only need to replace foreign LNG to make the project worthwhile environmentally.
  • They said the project did not demonstrate it would reduce Quebec emissions. It is obvious that a new plant would not reduce local emissions but this is completely illogical. Global warming is not a local issue because emissions don’t recognize borders.  The right point is lowest emissions in the world LNG will reduce global emissions.

The BAPE has an important role to consult with the public and report on concerns about environmental impacts. It is not a scientific body; it is a consultative body. Their report probably accurately reflects some of the feedback they received from the public. In this sense, they did their job.

However, the BAPE’s better moments are when it balances the debate and informs the public. In the case of Saguenay LNG, both Quebecers and the planet would have been better off if the BAPE had well informed the public in its report that:  Quebec LNG would be the lowest emissions in the world and the most socially responsible too.

Perhaps the Quebec Government would have been able to come to a better decision for the global environment if they had been informed of those truths.

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