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Quebec industries still pollute more than before the pandemic

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GHG emissions from the Jean-Gaulin refinery (Énergie Valero), in Lévis, increased by 4.6% in 2022 for reach 1.28 tonnes of CO2 equivalent, making it the second most polluting establishment in Quebec after the Ciment McInnis cement plant in Port-Daniel-Gascons. (Archive photo)

  • Louis Gagné (View profile)Louis Gagné

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If greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions have started to plateau in Quebec, as suggested by the Minister of the Environment, Benoit Charette, this will not is certainly not thanks to large industrial emitters, whose pollutant releases continued to increase in 2022 compared to their pre-pandemic level.

Preliminary data from the Ministry of the Environment, the Fight against Climate Change, Wildlife and Parks (MELCCFP) reveal that GHGs from Quebec's main emitters reached 23.12 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent ( t CO2 eq) in 2022.

This represents an increase of 3.07% compared to 2019, the last year before the pandemic, and 0 .21% compared to 2021.

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Note that the comparison with 2019 makes it possible to avoid the distortions caused by the slowdown of the economy during the first two years of the pandemic (2020 and 2021).

The GHGdata cited in this report excludes CO2 emissions attributable to biomass. The MELCCFP does not count them in its annual inventory of GHGs, because it It is assumed that the CO2 released during the decomposition or combustion of biomass is recycled by forests, in particular through photosynthesis. However, there is no consensus among experts on the exclusion of biomass.

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The increase in GHGs is even more marked among the 10 companies that pollute the most in Quebec. In 2022, their emissions totaled 10.28 million t eq. CO2. This is an increase of 4.02% compared to 2019 and 1.46% compared to 2021.

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These data are taken from the register of GHG emissions declared by companies subject to theRegulation respecting the mandatory declaration of certain contaminant emissions in the atmosphere. The latter brings together establishments that emit 10,000 t eq. CO2 and more per year.

We currently do not know the total sum of GHGs that were produced by all sectors of activity in Quebec in 2022. If preliminary data from large industrial emitters are available, those concerning transport, the main source of emissions of GHGs, have not yet been accounted for.

This is also the case for data from other sectors such as agriculture and residual materials.

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Actual emissions levels are counted and released two years after a given year. This is why the Quebec inventory of GHG emissions for the year 2021 was not published until December 2023. The 2022 inventory should be revealed at the end of 2024.

For the head of the Climate-Energy campaign at Greenpeace Canada, Patrick Bonin, the increase in GHG emissions from the industrial sector in 2022 does not bode well for the next provincial inventory.

It is very worrying that not only are emissions in transport not reducing, but emissions from the second largest sector are In terms of pollution, industry is also increasing, while it should be reduced drastically, says Mr. Bonin in an interview with Radio-Canada.

Clearly, a poor record is coming from the Quebec government in terms of greenhouse gas emissions, he predicts.

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Patrick Bonin maintains that the Quebec government must “tighten the screws” on large polluters.

According to Patrick Bonin, the increase in GHG emissions from large emitters demonstrates that the government must increase its carbon pricing and reduce the pollution rights granted free to businesses.

In 2022, free allocations to large emitters reached nearly $20 million.

To reduce its GHG emissions by 37.5% below their 1990 level by 2030, Quebec, insists Mr. Bonin, will have to be more demanding towards polluters.

This is far too permissive, which is granted. The government is not tightening the screws quickly enough and continues to ensure that companies have less incentive to reduce their emissions because they receive too many free polluting rights, deplores the spokesperson for Greenpeace Canada.

It is not a high-performance system currently, far from it. The industry continues to pollute and pays almost nothing for its pollution. This is a recipe for disaster.

A quote from Patrick Bonin, Climate-Energy Campaign Manager, Greenpeace Canada

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If we rely on the data published in the latest GHG inventory, Quebec released 77.6 million t eq. CO2 in the atmosphere in 2021.

This represents an increase of 5% compared to the year 2020, which was marked by a slowdown in economy attributable to the pandemic, but a decrease of 5.6% compared to 2019.

During the unveiling of the 2021 inventory in December, the Minister of the Environment, Benoit Charette, indicated that the forecasts for 2022 suggest a capping of GHG emissions.

Forecasts suggest that GHGs, all sectors combined, increased by 1.4% in Quebec in 2022 compared to 2021, but that they decreased by approximately 3 million t eq. CO2 compared to 2019.

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Despite a drop in its emissions of 2.47% compared to 2021, the Port-Daniel-Gascons cement plant is the establishment that produced the most GHGs in 2022 in Quebec. (Archive photo)

In this context, must we conclude that major polluters, whose GHG emissions increased in 2022, not only compared to 2021, but also compared to 2019, are part of an opposite trend? For Patrick Bonin, there is no doubt.

Emissions are not decreasing among Quebec's major polluters. So, we have to bring them into line. The government must stop favoring the carrot approach [by giving] subsidies. [It must] strengthen regulations [and] force these companies, using the stick approach, to reduce their emissions because clearly, they are not doing the work and we cannot let them go like that, insists the head of the Climate-Energy campaign at Greenpeace Canada.

The Ministry of the Environment, the Fight against Climate Change, Wildlife and Parks does not perceive things in quite the same way.

He maintains that the increase in GHGs from large industrial emitters observed between 2019 and 2022 is more attributable to one-off situations than to a generalized increase in emissions of GHGs.

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In an interview with Radio-Canada, the general director of carbon regulation and emission data at the MELCCFP, Jean-Yves Benoit, mentions that particular circumstances contributed to the increase in the balance sheet of large emitters during this period. .

For example, the Bécancour Aluminum Works was on strike in 2019. So, it resumed production and only [for] this establishment – there, that's around 700,000 tonnes more GHGs [which were emitted in 2022 compared to 2019], he underlines.

To assess the progression of releases from major polluters since 2019, Mr. Benoit calls for taking into consideration the emissions covered under the cap-and-trade system for greenhouse gas emission rights (SPEDE), more commonly referred to as the carbon market.

This covers nearly 80% of GHG emissions in Quebec. It includes industries as well as energy distributors in the transport and building sectors which emit 25,000 t eq. CO2 and more per year. Companies emitting 10,000 t eq. CO2 and more can register on a voluntary basis.

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If the emissions of companies subject to the carbon market, expressed in absolute number, increased between 2019 and 2022 in Quebec, the quantity of GHGs per establishment has decreased, notes Jean-Yves Benoit.

SPEDE data shows that emissions from companies subject to the carbon market reached 59.56 million t eq. CO2 in 2022, up 1.4% from 2021, but down 3.5% from 2019.

When we only look at the data concerning industrial emitters participating in the SPEDE, we see that their GHGs even decreased by 0.2% in 2022, while those of energy distributors increased by 2.2%.

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Jean-Yves Benoit says that we must also take into account the increase in the number of industrial establishments subject to the carbon market between 2019 and 2022.

In 2019, we had 104 establishments. We had 124 in 2022, so almost 20% more. The increase in the emission level is [4.3%]. So, we can still consider that there is an improvement on average per establishment.

A quote from Jean-Yves Benoit, general manager, carbon regulation and emission data, MELCCFP

If the SPEDE data differ from those on large emitters, it is because the companies covered by theRegulation on the compulsory declaration of certain emissions of Not all contaminants in the atmosphere are subject to the carbon market.

Thus, in 2022, 302 emitters were subject to the Regulation, while 124 participated in the carbon market.

The MELCCFP expects that GHG emissions from companies subject to the SPEDE will continue to decrease compared to their 2019 level and that this trend will even go further. accelerating.

Jean-Yves Benoit mentions that starting this year, the level of free allocation given to industrial companies will decrease even more quickly.

He adds that part of the free allocation will be reserved, on behalf of the issuers, for the Green Fund, and that they will only be able to use this money to invest in GHG reduction projects.

If businesses don't improve, they will have a bigger and bigger shortfall. And with carbon costs increasing annually, the cost will become such that they will have no choice in deciding to invest to reduce their GHG emissions, argues Mr. Benoit.

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Jean-Yves Benoit mentions that the consumption of combustible fuels in the transportation and construction sectors has started to decrease in Quebec and is expected to accelerate in the coming years. (Archive photo)

He would like to point out that the industrial sector has so far managed to reduce its GHG emissions by 22% under their level in 1990. By comparison, transport costs increased by 20% during the same period.

The MELCCFP says it is staying the course on its GHG target for 2030. It notes that its GHG reduction projections are increasing year after year.

In 2021, it was estimated that the measures defined and financed by the government of Quebec would make it possible to achieve 42% of the 2030 target. Projections reduction reached 51% in 2022 and 60% in 2023.

It should also be noted that these projections of greenhouse gas reductions (42%, 51%, 60%, etc.) do not take into account exchanges on the carbon market. These exchanges contributed to achieving the 2020 target and also contribute to achieving the target of -37.5% [below 1990 levels] in 2030, specifies the MELCCFP in an email to Radio-Canada.

As part of this report, we tried to obtain an interview with the Minister of the Environment, Benoit Charette, but received no response to our request.

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