Friends of the Earth asks: Is clean fuel a climate solution or environmental disaster?

In 2016, Environment and Climate Change Canada proposed a Clean Fuel Standard, intended to be a technology-neutral performance-based standard to incentivize the deployment of low-carbon fuels and technologies and aims to reduce Canada’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 30 million tonnes by 2030. Together, transportation and fuel production comprise the largest share of Canada’s overall GHG emissions—nearly one-third of the country’s total emissions in 2015.

Friends of the Earth Canada is raising serious questions about the environmental implications of the proposed federal “Clean Fuel Standard”. We have identified significant gaps in the scientific knowledge needed before deciding to increase the amount of biofuel produced in Canada.

Greenhouse gas reductions are critically important and we support a Clean Fuel Standard that delivers this, but there could be many other potential unintended environmental impacts from expanding the use of agricultural crops, waste and other more exotic sources to produce biofuel.

The Clean Fuel Standard will be applied to gasoline, natural gas, heating oil and other fossil fuels. The goal is a moderate reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. Fuel suppliers will have to reduce the lifecycle emissions from fuels which include emissions from production, processing, transportation and use.

Friends of the Earth is concerned that an inadequately designed Clean Fuel Standard might become a cosmetic exercise that merely “sanitizes” the image of the oil industry and, therefore, prolongs the use of fossil fuels for transportation and heating uses rather than supporting a just transition off fossil fuels.

Further, Friends of the Earth believes greenhouse gas emission reductions cannot be the sole determinate of “clean” fuels. Rather, a “clean” fuel definition must address all emissions and other environmental factors associated with the growing or extraction, refining, transportation and combustion of fuel. This should include, though not be limited to, air emissions, land use implications, increased nutrient use and run-of, the prevalence of pesticide applications, impacts on water, uncertain ecosystem health and biodiversity implications and consideration of societal benefits.

Friends of the Earth hopes its discussion paper and petition to the Auditor General will help build an inclusive and transparent ‘science evidence base’ that will provide the basis for decisions on policy and practice.


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