Canada’s carbon reductions: giving credit where it’s due

Last week’s minor bombshell pre-announcement from the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) that mankind, though carbon dioxide emissions from the use of fossil fuel, is very likely to have played a role in jacking up global temperatures, caused a very interesting sea change in Canadian federal government communication on climate change. The feds, by which I mean the federal Conservative party which has since early 2006 been the elected government of the land, went from defense to offence: instead of defending the alleged inaction they are so often accused of, the federal Conservatives claimed credit for the scant progress Canada has made in reducing emissions of the CO2 the IPCC report talked about. Any reduction, they said, compares favourably with the utter lack of progress (they say) achieved by their Liberal predecessors.

The Bruce nuclear refurbishment: what it takes to meaningfully reduce carbon dioxide. Federally owned Atomic Energy Canada Limited (AECL) played a role in this massive project, which resulted in thousands of megawatts of reliable, affordable electricity becoming available in Ontario. It also helped to chop Ontario’s electricity-related carbon emissions by 25 million tons, by far the biggest carbon reduction in Canada since the Kyoto Protocol was signed in 1997. The Canadian federal government, because it owned the part of AECL that worked on the Bruce refurbishment, can legitimately take a significant part of the credit for Ontario’s stunning carbon reduction.

This gambit was met largely with skepticism. Most reportage of the communication switch-a-roo pointed out that most of the meager progress on CO2 emission reductions was the result of provincial, not federal, action. That may be the case in other provinces. But in Ontario, with which I am quite familiar, the feds played a definite role in producing by far the biggest annual CO2 emission reduction in any single sector in Canada. That sector is of course electric power generation (perhaps the most vitally important sector of them all). And the federal role came by way of federal ownership of Atomic Energy Canada Limited, or AECL, the crown corporation that, together with the old Ontario Hydro, developed the mighty CANDU nuclear generating reactor. The CANDU is perhaps Canada’s proudest and most innovative scientific and technical achievement. It powers most of Ontario, and represents 100 percent of the Nuclear contribution to Ontario’s electric power generation, as shown in Tables 1 and 2 in the left hand sidebar of this blog.

What role did the federally owned AECL play in Ontario’s stunning and stunningly downplayed CO2 emission reduction in electric power generation? Well, AECL participated in the return to service of six big nuclear generators over the past decade. AECL had a role as a contractor in the highly complex work that makes up a CANDU refurbishment. Some of these projects exceeded the originally estimated schedules; AECL ate some of the costs associated with those overruns. That was federal money that repaid those costs.

Therefore the Canadian federal government, represented since 2006 by the federal Conservative Party, played a major role in the biggest by far CO2 emission reductions achieved in Canada since the signing of the Kyoto Protocol.

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James Greenidge
10 years ago

Good informative article! The more the public is aware of such, the greater the FUD-busting enlightenment and layperson support. The U.S. nuclear industry pretty much missed the boat hawking its own virtues via mass media and PR campaigns, so I hope Canada doesn’t repeat the same dumb (putting it mildly) mistake.

James Greenidge
Queens NY