Clean air or greenhouse gases: part II

Canadian industries burning fossil fuel produced over 368 million tonnes of emissions in 2003 (see Environment Canada’s 2003 Emission Summaries). Almost all of these emissions consisted of carbon dioxide (CO2), the main greenhouse gas. The remainder included what we call air pollution: substances such as oxides of nitrogen and sulphur, volatile organic compounds, carbon monoxide, and particulate matter

The Conservatives indicate that their made-in-Canada plan will focus on the latter substances.Focusing exclusively on reducing air pollution from industrial fossil fuel combustion means using emission-control devices such as SCRs (for nitrogen), FGDs (for sulphur), and airbags or electrostatic precipitators (for particulate matter).

The trouble is, it doesn’t matter how effective these measures are. As I mentioned above, combustion emissions are mostly CO2, which is the main greenhouse gas. So even if Harper launched pollution-reduction programs that were totally successful and that resulted in major reductions (which is extremely unlikely), critics would point to the still-huge CO2 emissions and say the government has only reduced a small fraction of total emissions. Such rhetoric would be highly misleading, but not incorrect. And I guarantee that Harper’s critics in the environmental movement will not hesitate to attack him on this basis.

This is a no-win scenario. The Conservatives shouldn’t go down this road. Instead they have to reframe their approach. It is true that very few people understand the difference between GHGs and air pollution anyway; therefore, all the more reason to pursue policy that achieves the bigger reductions. The Conservatives have to bite the bullet. They have to reduce GHGs

As I have suggested, hard emission reductions are indeed possible in the power-generating sector (which in 2003 was responsible for nearly two-fifths of the 368 million tonnes from industry). This requires shifting more capacity to low- or non-emitting generation fuels. Ontario is already in the process of doing exactly this, with the plans to rebuild or replace ageing CANDU generating reactors. The federal Conservatives should support this.

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