Photo: Would exporting BC LNG reduce global greenhouse gas emissions?

The B.C. government has stated that developing an LNG industry in the province will help address global climate change. But would exporting LNG actually result in less coal being burned elsewhere?

By Tyler Bryant and Ryan Kadowaki

In our previous blog we explored how the creation of a liquefied natural gas (LNG) industry and significant increase in shale gas extraction would prevent British Columbia from meeting its 2020 climate change target. The B.C. government has acknowledged that it will be a challenge to hit its target even without the added emissions of increased natural gas production. But in order to justify its support of natural gas expansion, the government is claiming that exporting natural gas will result in global net-benefits because it will reduce coal burning in other nations. This sounds reasonable on the surface but there is no evidence to suggest that an LNG-for-coal switcheroo would occur in nations buying B.C. gas.

First, for LNG exports to reduce net emissions it would need to displace existing coal electrical capacity. This is very unlikely. China's energy demand continues to grow and it is doubtful that any imported LNG would displace existing coal-fired power and would simply add to its existing fleet of fossil fired generation. Japan is the more likely destination for B.C's LNG as it searches for new energy supplies in the aftermath of the 2011 Fukushima nuclear meltdown. This notion is supported by the B.C. premier's recent visit to Japan to meet with prospective investors. From a climate change perspective, the problem with replacing nuclear capacity with natural gas is that it results in GHG emissions increasing over pre-Fukushima levels rather than decreasing. There has been an increase in use of fossil fuels in Japan—mainly oil and natural gas—since it shut down its 50 remaining nuclear stations for maintenance. Coal-generated power has actually decreased because some of that infrastructure also sustained damage in the earthquake and tsunami.

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The following graph illustrates how exports of B.C. LNG would affect Japan's GHG emissions under three different scenarios. The first scenario estimates that 50 per cent of Japan's existing nuclear capacity is replaced by B.C. LNG imports. For the sake of measuring the effect on emissions we assume Japan's existing LNG imports are diverted to other countries such Korea and China (purely hypothetical). The second scenario assumes that Japan replaces nuclear power completely and replaces it with 100 per cent LNG. In the third scenario, Japan keeps 50 per cent of its nuclear capacity and replaces all existing oil- and coal-generated electricity with B.C. LNG. These projections are in-line with scenarios developed by Credit Suisse's outlook for LNG in Japan's power sector which estimated that LNG could replace 45 per cent, 60 percent, or 100 per cent of Japanese nuclear capacity.

Electric power emissions in Japan under LNG scenarios
LNG Blog 2 graph.jpg

None of these scenarios result in Japan's GHG emissions decreasing from the 2010 baseline. In the first scenario, emissions are 100 million tonnes (Mt) higher than the 2010 baseline, in the second scenario emissions are 123 Mt higher and, in the third scenario, even with B.C. LNG offsetting coal and oil, emissions are five Mt higher.

Japan has major decisions to make that will determine the future emissions of its electricity sector. While increased fossil fuel imports are to be expected in the short term, it is disingenuous to suggest that creating an industry to supply Japan for the long-term represents anything but a step backwards in reducing global greenhouse gas emissions.

A summer punctuated by severe heat waves and crop failures serves as a reminder that new energy systems must not continue adding carbon to the atmosphere. Germany's recent solar achievement is further proof that renewable energy is a viable option for all nations. B.C. should invest in its own vast clean energy potential and help other regions make sustainable transitions rather than encouraging other nations to burn fossil fuels.

July 17, 2012

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Feb 14, 2013
4:56 PM

Still drinking the Kool-Aid, Dr. Suzuki? Nobody wants to address the single largest “greenhouse” gas emission on the planet: Methane from livestock.

Why is that?

Aug 05, 2012
8:37 PM

I may be missing something here, but can I ask why the renewable energy industry doesn't get a mention as a part of Japan's future energy mix?

In the aftermath of the Tsunami, some of the only structures still standing in Northern Japan were the offshore wind turbines situated closest to the earthquake's epicenter.

Japan has some big-name solar firms like Sharp and Kyocera, which are right now drawing up plans for a massive deployment of panel farms to take advantage of the incredibly generous feed-in-tariff recently released by the Japanese government. It may also be noted that a feed-in-tariff is precisely what has powered Germany to its unlikely solar dominance.

It's somehow still vogue to discount alternative energy generation as if it were still 2008, but the economic reality of alternative energy has changed drastically in recent years, and disaster conscious Japan will no doubt be looking for durability.

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