OTTAWA —Environmentalists who believe a massive global investment in renewable energy is the answer to future demands are “smoking dope,” says the deputy executive director of the International Energy Agency.
Richard Jones was responding to Greenpeace Canada accusations that the IEA was taking an “intellectually and morally inconsistent” stand by supporting pipelines and the oilsands sector while scolding world leaders about climate change inaction.
Pipeline megaprojects, and the oilsands bitumen that would be carried by proposed energy arteries from Alberta to B.C.’s west coast and to Texas, are important components of global energy security, Jones said.
He was commenting on his organization’s annual report that warns of stark consequences if the world doesn’t take far tougher action to reduce carbon emissions.
“We don’t have any inhibitions in saying we support the development of the oil sands because it’s an important resource,” Jones said.
The world is going to need energy from all sources in coming needs to meet rising demand, he said. He also noted that coal-fired power plants are the main source of global warming because they are “much dirtier” than the oil sands.
“Obviously we think over time fossil fuels should be phased out, but we recognize that for the foreseeable future there’s going to be major demand for oil and gas. And some of that demand might as well be filled by oilsands because of the security benefit.”
While he wouldn’t comment on the current debate over whether Canada’s oil can be considered “ethical,” the former senior U.S. diplomat and ex-ambassador to Kuwait agreed with the Canadian industry’s defenders that Canada represents a secure oil source.
“As an American I’d rather send my dollars to Canada than to Kuwait, even though I have a lot of friends in Kuwait. They’re in a pretty volatile part of the planet and who knows where that money might end up?”
He wouldn’t comment specifically on whether the IEA supports two controversial proposed megaprojects advanced by Calgary firms: TransCanada’s Keystone XL pipeline from Alberta to Texas, and Enbridge’s Northern Gateway project linking Alberta bitumen to Asian markets via Kitimat, B.C.
The Keystone proposal is now awaiting a politically-charged decision from President Barack Obama on whether it can proceed. The Northern Gateway proposal, widely criticized by B.C. aboriginal and environmental groups, is before the National Energy Board.
Greenpeace Canada analyst Keith Stewart said the IEA, funded by 28 member countries including the U.S. and Canadian governments, is being influenced by a political agenda.
He said the IEA’s endorsement of the oilsands and pipelines contradicts its warning Wednesday against allowing the buildup of a carbon-heavy infrastructure that raises the risk of catastrophic temperature increases later in the century.
“Allowing pipelines like Keystone XL or Gateway to go forward, along with the expansion of the tar sands necessary to fill them with high-carbon oil, is intellectually and morally inconsistent with stopping global warming,” Stewart said in a statement.
Greenpeace also slammed the IEA for proposing solutions that rely far too heavily on nuclear energy and unproven carbon capture and storage technology.
Instead, governments should focus on energy efficiency and renewable energy as replacements for coal, nuclear energy, and high-carbon sources like Canada’s bitumen, according to Greenpeace.
Jones said there’s no realistic way renewable energy sources can expand so dramatically by 2035.
“We think the people who just say, ‘you can wave a magic wand and replace all of these other technologies with renewables’ are smoking dope.”
Jones said the IEA’s decision to advance a less-ambitious plan to reduce carbon emissions, compared to a more aggressive proposal in 2009, is based on the failure at international gatherings to come to an agreement on putting a price on carbon.
Only the European Union, New Zealand and, as of this week, Australia have established carbon pricing systems. The IEA projects that South Korea will have its own system in 2015 and China in 2020.
Neither Canada nor the U.S. are expected to establish carbon pricing at the national government level during this period, according to the report.
“Canada can’t do it because the Canadian market is linked to the U.S. through NAFTA (the North American Free Trade Agreement), and so Canada won’t do it unless the United States does it. And in the U.S. politically it looks pretty much dead in the water.
“There’s just unfortunately a lot of demagoguery on the issue in the U.S. right now.”