Welcome to the Greenest Province
Opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of APEGS.
t is a paradox that far from being a major contributor to global climate change, Saskatchewan actually produces less greenhouse gas (GHG) now than at any time in its history.
Our province’s GHG emissions were 75 million tonnes in 2013, according to Environment Canada. GHG emissions are primarily carbon dioxide (CO2) and minor amounts of methane (CH4) and nitrous oxide (N2O).
The proposed federal carbon tax initiative will hit us especially hard as Alberta and Saskatchewan are considered the largest per capita GHG emitters in Canada and near the top emitters in the world.
What has been overlooked is the reality that the fixed carbon and associated carbon dioxide sequestered in agri-food (grains, oilseeds, etc.) that Saskatchewan exports every year have not been factored into the calculated provincial GHG assessment.
The atmospheric CO2 used by agri-food is fixed as carbon in the food and provides most of the biomass weight (average 45 per cent). The 28 million tonnes of agri-food Saskatchewan exports annually contain 13 million tonnes of carbon . . . all taken from the Saskatchewan atmosphere. The carbon atom in agri-food is converted from 48 million tonnes of CO2 that is absorbed from the atmosphere and used by the crops to produce stalk, grain and roots.
Saskatchewan exports of agri-food per year are equivalent to providing all the food energy for about 60 million people. With a population of just over one million, Saskatchewan imports only a small percentage of agri-food (fruits, vegetables) compared with the tonnage that is exported.
This impact has been largely ignored by the scientists and policy-makers since any plant/food that absorbs CO2 is eventually re-released as CO2 when consumed, for a net zero emission. Most of the carbon in harvested crops eventually ends up as sewage or living tissue that decomposes into CO2 with the remainder released as CO2 by respiration. However, as the new carbon tax will be based on provincial contributions to greenhouse gas, the tax should take into account that by far the majority of agri-food produced in Saskatchewan is consumed outside the province.
The current GHG assessment for Saskatchewan should be reduced from 75 million tonnes to the actual Saskatchewan net GHG emissions of 27 million tonnes CO2 equivalent. The 70 per cent reduction is the equivalent CO2 sequestered into exports, the carbon in exported agri-food shipped in railcars to places outside Saskatchewan where it is ultimately consumed. Instead of penalizing Saskatchewan, the fixed carbon in agri-food and the eventual CO2 released should apply to consumers who actually release the stored energy and carbon dioxide during digestion.
Currently when someone outside Saskatchewan eats Saskatchewan-supplied food, there is zero accounting for carbon to produce and transport the agri-food to the consumer. The energy in food that Saskatchewan derived from the atmosphere should be reported as emissions by the province or country where it is consumed. The same analogy is currently applied to exported petroleum where the countries that consume petroleum products report the corresponding CO2 emissions.
In summary, if we put an imaginary box around Saskatchewan and perform a mass balance, the total amount of atmospheric carbon dioxide leaving this box is not 75 million tonnes annually, but 27 million tonnes with 13 million tonnes of carbon fixed in agri-food (taken from 48 million tonnes of atmospheric CO2) leaving by railcars. The vast agricultural resources of Saskatchewan are the primary asset of this province and through efficient agri-food production, it actually reduces worldwide CO2 emissions.
Additionally, if we look back before humans were here, the CO2 emissions from Saskatchewan’s imaginary box would be about 45 million tonnes annually, primarily from the natural life cycle of carbon and photosynthesis with most of the carbon fixed in the grasslands, forests and wildlife through decomposition eventually returning to the atmosphere within Saskatchewan. The world did not warm significantly as all the excess land-produced carbon dioxide was consumed by the algae in oceans and that eventually ends up as calcium carbonate deposited on the ocean floor where it turns into sedimentary rock. Saskatchewan farmers and everyone helping them (SaskPower, oil and gas companies and all the infrastructure and service businesses) are currently contributing significantly to the reduction of global greenhouse gas emissions.
Congratulations to Saskatchewan for reducing CO2 emissions from 45 million tonnes produced annually for the previous million years to our current annual emissions of 28 million tonnes per year.
Saskatchewan could actually double its coal-fired electricity plant capacity and still produce less CO2 annually than the province did in prehistoric times. If would be ridiculous for Saskatchewan to have to close its coal-fired power plants by 2030 or pay any carbon tax.
Welcome to the greenest province.