Oilsands emissions could be underestimated by current measuring methods, study says
New federal research suggests greenhouse gas emissions from the Alberta oilsands may be significantly underestimated, adding to a growing pile of studies that say our understanding of what is going into the atmosphere is incomplete.
In a paper published last week in a prominent U.S. science journal, Environment, and Climate Change Canada researchers used new ways of measuring oilsands emissions that resulted in figures at least 65 per cent higher than those reported by industry.
“We found that (emissions) are higher than the CO2 estimates that are reported in the greenhouse gas reporting program,” said lead author Sumi Wren of Environment Canada.
The paper, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, describes how the researchers combined measurements from overflights, satellites, and historical data to reach their conclusions.
In 2018, the team made 30 flights over the oilsands region to establish the ratio of nitrogen oxides to carbon dioxide in the industry’s emissions. That ratio matched one derived from similar flights in 2013. They then developed estimates for nitrogen dioxide emissions from 2005 to 2020 by combining satellite data with industry-reported values.
Using that historical record and the constant ratio of those gases to carbon dioxide, the team could then calculate how much carbon dioxide had been released over the years.
Their figures suggest the oilsands could be releasing about 31 million tonnes of unreported carbon dioxide into the atmosphere a year. As well, that potential under-reporting goes back to at least 2018.
Their margin of error is eight million tonnes either way.
But the difference between their numbers and the industry-reported figures is big enough to suggest something is going on.
“The discrepancy is quite large,” said Wren. “It’s large enough to point to the need to understand why we’re seeing this.”
Industry typically estimates its emissions by comparing known inputs against outputs, with allowances for leakage and other fugitive releases — a so-called “bottom-up” approach. The method is considered reliable and accurate, said co-author John Liggio, also of Environment Canada.
“Bottom-up is quite good,” he said.
But when researchers use atmospheric measurement — the “top-down” approach — they consistently get higher readings of whatever it is they’re looking for. That pattern has emerged in papers on emissions of methane, soot, volatile organic compounds and sulphur dioxide.
Mark Cameron of the oilsands group Pathways Alliance criticized the study.
“We strongly caution against interpreting from this study that aerial air sampling … is a better emissions-estimating approach,” he said, adding industry uses standard practices in use around the world.
“Inherent weaknesses in the research methods diminish our confidence in its findings.”
Cameron called the use of a single ratio simplistic. He said the number of flights was inadequate and the study didn’t take into account days when oilsands sites were shuttered for reasons such as maintenance.
But Liggio said the difference between the two measuring systems is big enough to need explanation.
“Bottom-up and top-down both have their inherent uncertainties,” he said. “Top-down is a complementary way to identify if there are gaps.
“We need to start thinking about using atmospheric measurements with the bottom-up approach. It’s coming, but we’re not quite there yet.”
Without reconciling those differences, it’s hard to set targets for emissions reductions or know if they’re being met — a key issue for government and industry climate plans. For example, the 31 million tonnes of unreported carbon is about three times the total amount stored since 2015 through carbon capture and storage, the fix industry hopes will eventually make it carbon-neutral.
More work is needed, said Wren.
“What this work does is point to the importance of having atmospheric measurement to ensure that what is being reported is accurate.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 24, 2023.
— Follow Bob Weber on Twitter at @row1960
Uganda’s president signs into law anti-gay legislation with death penalty in some cases
KAMPALA, Uganda (AP) — Uganda’s president has signed into law anti-gay legislation supported by many in this East African country but widely condemned by rights activists and others abroad.
The version of the bill signed by President Yoweri Museveni doesn’t criminalize those who identify as LGBTQ+, a key concern for some rights campaigners who condemned an earlier draft of the legislation as an egregious attack on human rights.
But the new law still prescribes the death penalty for “aggravated homosexuality,” which is defined as cases of sexual relations involving people infected with HIV, as well as with minors and other categories of vulnerable people.
A suspect convicted of “attempted aggravated homosexuality” can be imprisoned for up to 14 years, according to the legislation.
Parliamentary Speaker Anita Among said in a statement that the president had “answered the cries of our people” in signing the bill.
“With a lot of humility, I thank my colleagues the Members of Parliament for withstanding all the pressure from bullies and doomsday conspiracy theorists in the interest of our country,” the statement said.
Museveni had returned the bill to the national assembly in April, asking for changes that would differentiate between identifying as LGBTQ+ and actually engaging in homosexual acts. That angered some lawmakers, including some who feared the president would proceed to veto the bill amid international pressure. Lawmakers passed an amended version of the bill earlier in May.
LGBTQ+ rights campaigners say the new legislation is unnecessary in a country where homosexuality has long been illegal under a colonial-era law criminalizing sexual activity “against the order of nature.” The punishment for that offense is life imprisonment.
The United States had warned of economic consequences over legislation described by Amnesty International as “draconian and overly broad.” In a statement from the White House later Monday, U.S. President Joe Biden called the new law “a tragic violation of universal human rights — one that is not worthy of the Ugandan people, and one that jeopardizes the prospects of critical economic growth for the entire country.”
“I join with people around the world — including many in Uganda — in calling for its immediate repeal. No one should have to live in constant fear for their life or being subjected to violence and discrimination. It is wrong,” Biden said.
The United Nations Human Rights Office said it was “appalled that the draconian and discriminatory anti-gay bill is now law,” describing the legislation as ”a recipe for systematic violations of the rights” of LGBTQ+ people and others.
In a joint statement the leaders of the U.N. AIDS program, the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief and the Global Fund said they were “deeply concerned about the harmful impact” of the legislation on public health and the HIV response.
“Uganda’s progress on its HIV response is now in grave jeopardy,” the statement said. “The Anti-Homosexuality Act 2023 will obstruct health education and the outreach that can help end AIDS as a public health threat.”
That statement noted that “stigma and discrimination associated with the passage of the Act has already led to reduced access to prevention as well as treatment services” for LGBTQ+ people.
Rights activists have the option of appealing the legislation before the courts. Later Monday, one group of activists and academics petitioned the constitutional court seeking an injunction against enforcement of the law.
An anti-gay bill enacted in 2014 was later nullified by a panel of judges who cited a lack of quorum in the plenary session that had passed that particular bill. Any legal challenge this time is likely to be heard on the merits, rather than on technical questions.
Anti-gay sentiment in Uganda has grown in recent weeks amid news coverage alleging sodomy in boarding schools, including a prestigious school for boys where a parent accused a teacher of abusing her son.
The February decision of the Church of England ’s national assembly to continue banning church weddings for same-sex couples while allowing priests to bless same-sex marriages and civil partnerships outraged many in Uganda and elsewhere in Africa.
Homosexuality is criminalized in more than 30 of Africa’s 54 countries. Some Africans see it as behavior imported from abroad and not a sexual orientation.
Alberta voters await election results as polls close across province
Polls have closed across most ridings in Alberta.
As votes are counted and results trickle in, Albertans must now wait to see who will lead the province through the next four years.
Many have already made their voices heard during last week’s advance polls: 758,550 votes were cast, smashing the previous record of 700,476 in 2019.
If all goes to plan, by the end of tonight Albertans will have elected 87 MLAs to represent them in the province’s 31st legislative assembly. Although Calgary has been cited as the deciding battleground, there are plenty of ridings to watch with every election offering its own surprises.
CBC News will be hosting live coverage throughout the evening. You can watch it here from 7:30 p.m. MT. A comprehensive list on how you can follow the election is listed below.
Although there are many parties from either end of the political spectrum — from communists to separatists — the race is very much a rematch of 2019’s contest between the United Conservative Party and the New Democratic Party.
A lot has changed since the UCP took the province four years ago. The world weathered the COVID-19 pandemic, the governing party chose a new leader, and oil prices have returned prosperity to the provincial coffers.
Danielle Smith leads the UCP, having won the leadership race this fall after Jason Kenney’s resignation. This will be her second attempt at taking the premiership in an election, having led the Wildrose Party into 2012.
Rachel Notley meanwhile leads the NDP for her third election as leader. She won a four-year term as premier in 2015 before losing to Kenney in 2019.
Both offer their own vision of Alberta’s future.
The long campaign
The election officially started on May 1, although campaigning began much earlier.
On that first day, Smith and Notley held Calgary kick-off events singing the refrain to songs that would play on repeat in the coming weeks.
Smith promised to keep taxes low. The UCP has pledged to make its first legislation an amendment so income taxes can only be raised through referendum.
Notley promised she would fix the health-care system. The NDP have committed to offering signing bonuses up to $10,000 to attract doctors, nurses and other health professionals.
Cost of living, health care, public safety and other issues have been as much the basis of attacks as of promises.
The UCP hammered Notley’s plan to return the corporate tax rate to 11 per cent. The NDP lambasted Smith after she was found to have breached the conflict of interest act. And on it went.
Albertans were finally able to see the two leaders go head-to-head in the sole election debate on May 18, although the exchange hardly produced headline-making gaffes or declarations.
For many in the province, politics has been the least of their concerns. Wildfires erupted throughout central and northern Alberta in early May, threatening communities and forcing thousands to evacuate from their homes.
There were unsuccessful calls to postpone the election but Elections Alberta has said it will ensure every eligible Albertan gets to vote.
Here are more ways you can follow the election results.
Here is where to watch the CBC News election special starting at 7:30 p.m. MT:
The Alberta Votes 2023: Election Night special starts at 7:30 p.m. MT, led by CBC Edmonton host Nancy Carlson and CBC Calgary host Rob Brown.
They will be joined by Radio Active host Jessica Ng to break down results riding by riding.
Find your local channel.
CBC Radio’s special election coverage will start at 7:30 p.m. MT. Alberta at Noon host Judy Aldous and CBC Edmonton’s Tahirih Foroozan will deliver immediate results as Albertans select the province’s next government.
Judy will be joined by panellists Tina Faiz, Jeromy Farkas, Monte Solberg and Corey Hogan for instant analysis, CBC’s Scott Dippel for context on swing ridings, as well as guest voices from across the province.
Alberta United Conservatives win majority government, NDP makes inroads in Calgary
Canadanewsmedia has projected a United Conservative Party majority government in Alberta.
Leader Danielle Smith and her party rode a wave of rural support to victory, but the NDP made inroads in the traditional conservative stronghold of Calgary.
UCP Leader Danielle Smith won her seat in Brooks-Medicine Hat and other key cabinet members were also returned, including Education Minister Adriana LaGrange, Agriculture Minister Nate Horner, Indigenous Relations Minister Rick Wilson and Affordability and Utilities Minister Matt Jones.
NDP Leader Rachel Notley won her seat in Edmonton-Strathcona for a fifth time and her party was on track to sweep the capital.
No election winner had been called more than two hours after polls closed at 8 p.m. Elections Alberta said in a statement it was moving as fast as possible.
“We are not seeing any issues at this time, but understand that people are keen to see the results,” said Elections Alberta in a statement.
“Processing the votes takes some time. The hand count of today’s ballot is occurring.”
To win, the NDP needed to flip 20 seats in the 87-seat legislature and early results showed promise in multiple Calgary constituencies outside of traditional UCP core support in the south end of the city.
UCP cabinet heavyweights in the city were facing stiff challenges from the NDP, including Justice Minister Tyler Shandro in Calgary-Acadia and Health Minister Jason Copping in Calgary-Varsity.
Calgary cabinet minister Nicholas Milliken, responsible for mental health and addiction, was defeated in Calgary-Currie by the NDP’s Janet Eremenko.
Smith’s two deputy premiers were also in tough against Notley’s crew: Kaycee Madu in Edmonton-South West and Nathan Neudorf in Lethbridge-East.
The UCP was seeking a second mandate while the NDP was fighting to regain the majority government it lost to the UCP in 2019.
Voter turnout was expected to be strong, given advance polls set a record of 758,540 votes cast, eclipsing the previous record of more than 700,000 in 2019.
The campaign took place alongside a record-breaking spring for wildfires in Alberta. Ten communities were under evacuation orders Monday.
Elections Alberta set up alternate voting locations for those displaced. Evacuation was added as an eligible reason to vote by special ballot and mobile voting stations were placed in evacuation centres.
To win, the NDP would have to continue its dominance in Edmonton, flip the majority in Calgary and hope for some help in smaller cities, while defeating scores of UCP incumbents including cabinet ministers.
The UCP won 63 seats under then-leader Jason Kenney in 2019 to 24 for Notley’s NDP in the 87-seat legislature.
Polls suggested the UCP should continue its near total domination in rural areas and smaller centres, giving it a cushion of up to 40 or so seats to reach the 44 needed to form a majority government.
The month-long campaign was dominated by the economy and health care.
Albertans are struggling with high costs for consumer goods, a shortage of family doctors and long waits in emergency rooms.
Smith promised to keep Alberta the lowest tax regime in Canada.
Her government, she said, would introduce a law to mandate a referendum before any personal or corporate income tax hikes. There would also be tax changes to benefit those making more than $60,000 a year, at a cost of $1 billion annually to the treasury.
The NDP promised to maintain Alberta’s status as Canada’s lowest tax regime. It pledged to end the tax on small businesses and raise the corporate income tax to 11 per cent from eight per cent, which it said would help pay for investments in health and education while keeping the books balanced and maintaining the lowest corporate rate in Canada.
The NDP also promised legislation to counteract UCP policies that hiked the cost of utilities, auto insurance, a range of fees and tuition.
Both leaders promised to preserve the publicly funded health system while creating more primary care teams — physicians accompanied by related specialists such as nurses and therapists — so more Albertans are able to access a family doctor and not clog emergency wards for care.
Polls showed trust was a key issue, with Notley viewed more favourably than her party and vice versa for Smith.
Smith was dogged during the campaign by past comments she made comparing those who took the COVID-19 vaccine to credulous followers of Adolf Hitler. A report also came out mid-campaign from the province’s ethics commissioner that concluded Smith undermined the rule of law by pressuring her justice minister to end the criminal court case of a COVID-19 protester.
The future isn’t clear for Jennifer Johnson, the winning UCP candidate in Lacombe-Ponoka.
During the campaign, Johnson apologized for comments last year comparing transgender students to feces. Smith has said Johnson would not sit in the UCP caucus because of the remarks but later said, when asked about Johnson, that she believes in redemption and second chances.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 29, 2023.
Uganda’s president signs into law anti-gay legislation with death penalty in some cases
Alberta votes in the strangest — and closest — election in its political history
Alberta voters await election results as polls close across province
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