China is several years ahead of other developed countries on the migration to a green economy, in clean technology production capacity, massive market penetration and green investments. China already has an extraordinary global green export potential. China leads in renewables, electric vehicles and battery production, incrementally regulating plastic solutions, high-speed rail, private clean tech investment, government environmental support and green bonds. China’s concurrent climate actions are gamechangers destined to have huge global competition impacts on energy, economic, transportation, industrial and other paradigms, perhaps more so than the climate crisis. But there are simultaneous contradictions. China is the world’s largest liquified natural gas importer, once again ramping up coal production and certainly not a leader on human rights.
The environmental footprint of an electric vehicle represents a sectorial industrial revolution, including the first lifecycle end of an EV battery. With existing technologies, 95% of an EV battery can be recycled for inclusion in a new EV battery and/or energy storage. The remaining 5% can be handled by third party recyclers. Because the price of mined lithium is rising exponentially, recycled EV battery materials are set to compete with mined content. The result is massive investments underway and planned for EV recycling, especially in China and Europe. The U.S federal government is supporting EV battery recycling and there is a nascent industry in Canada. But there remains a colossal challenge for the Canadian national and provincial governments to assure Canada is a major player alongside China and Europe.
Putin’s war has created an electroshock for Europe because it depends on fossil fuel imports for 60% of its energy, one-third of which comes from Russia. Organically evolving European Union (EU) plans target 2027 for a massive and rapid transition to a green economy and energy independence. Renewables, electric vehicles, clean technologies and energy efficiency will all play major roles in the creation of fast-forward paradigms for global emulation. For the immediate, by the end of 2022, EU plans entail cutting Russia gas imports by two-thirds, substitution fuel sources plus ramping up renewables and energy efficiency. These EU plans will be devastating for the Russian economy. Russia needs European oil and gas revenues more than Europe needs these fuels.
Canada’s 2030 Emissions Reduction Plan (ERP) was made public March 29, 2022. Since the country’s oil and gas sector with methane included, plus transportation components, together, represent about half of Canadian emissions, one would have thought these sectors would be objects of strong climate initiatives. Yet, for these sectors, the ERP appears to be the product of accommodation of industry lobbies. The action items stupendously lack integrity and are weak. As such, the ERP like all previous government emission reduction targets, will not achieve its goals.
Methane emissions are underrated at one third of global warming gases, largely because fossil fuel sector methane emissions are underestimated by 70 percent. Current data indicates the energy sector accounts for 40 percent of man-made methane. Consequently, the COP26 non-binding pledges of over 100 nations for a 30 percent reduction by 2030 are not only dreadfully inadequate, but also, without standardized measuring, reporting and verification standards, oil and gas industry methane greenwashing is rampant. The draft European Union (EU) plan to reduce methane emissions up to 80 percent by 2030 and establish transparent extraterritorial norms will be complimented by an accelerated transition to clean energy independence to reduce reliance on Russia. As well, existing technologies can capture fossil fuel methane for selling it for a net profit, meaning methane zero-tolerance is possible. By contrast, Canada’s methane ambitions procrastinate and are fuzzy.
Green hydrogen, produced with electrolysers to separate hydrogen from water, uses clean energy as a power source. Green hydrogen will not be with cost competitive with grey hydrogen for some time, perhaps not until 2030. Grey hydrogen, derived from steam reformation of natural gas, represents 98 percent of global hydrogen consumption, and is primarily used for industrial processes. To replace grey hydrogen with green hydrogen would require a doubling of global electricity generation with primarily solar and wind sources, pre-empting the use of renewables for electrical power. This would necessitate more use of natural gas for power production. And there are extraordinary inefficiencies and technological challenges for green hydrogen, while there is no shortage of affordable and efficient clean technologies alternatives. Nevertheless, US$30 billion has been committed to-date for green hydrogen through government stimulus packages. Is green hydrogen a fossil fuel industry trojan horse for gas derived hydrogen and the use of gas for electrical power?
The global natural gas industry, including that of Canada, has high hopes for weaning Southeast Asia from coal dependency. Concurrently, low-cost renewables are swiftly changing the electrical power landscape in this part of the world. Vietnam, caught in the squeeze between the two competing types of power sources, is favouring a clean energy metamorphosis. The country now has the greatest installed solar energy capacity in Southeast Asia. Government policies are both supportive and handicaps. Grid infrastructure is woefully insufficient. International support is critical to solidify the transition to clean energy.
If present trends continue, transportation will be the Canadian largest source of greenhouse gas emissions by 2030. Canada’s objective for a legislated 2035 zero-emission vehicle (ZEV) target for all new light duty models is too little, too late. Canada can adopt incremental legislative objectives between now and 2035, much like what the European Union and China have done. The latter jurisdictions may reach 50% ZEVs, mostly electric vehicles, by 2025. Just as automakers can adjust to safety regulations while offering vast lineups of trendy vehicles, they can do the same with Canadian ZEV regulatory mandates.
Cargo and cruise ships represent 2.6 percent of global emissions and could reach 17 percent by 2050. Nearly all these ships use cheap dirty heavy oil with high sulphur content. International regulations aren’t helpful as they are lax and difficult to enforce. Fortunately, Maersk, the largest container shipping company in the world, has created the conditions for an industry-wide sectoral revolution by setting 2040 as a target to achieve net-zero emissions, requiring all new vessel acquisitions be carbon-neutral and has already ordered 12 green methanol powered ships. Concurrently, many new technological solutions are under development including ones associated with electric, wind and biofuel energy sources. Stringent territorial waters and docking standards, Maersk technological catalysts, financing of emerging remedies, could advance clean technologies quickly. Finally, open-loop scrubbers are widely used as a band-aid to remove sulphur from the exhausts to transfer the pollutants into the sea.
Carbon capture and storage (CCS) technologies are the darling of the fossil fuel industry since CCS offers the opportunity to continue business-as-usual, with the support of foraminous government subsidies, while appearing to be green and gaining carbon price credits. But ALL projects to-date have failed to live up to emissions reduction expectations and are energy intensive. As such, CCS is a greenwashing narrative.