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COLUMN: Time for us to show we are true global citizens

'What we should be doing in a world fighting poverty is helping China move off of coal by shipping our natural gas there, not shutting down the supply they are desperate for.'
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Columnist John Liston

David Knight Legg was speaking about Alberta at a recent Bloomberg conference and found significant interest from businesses around the globe. The recent multi-billion-dollar investments by Dow and many other companies into Alberta clearly demonstrate that Alberta is a place to do business, and these businesses were asking why. These European companies had heard the oilsands stories, but never really understood them.

With the COP26 focus on environmental, social, and governance (ESG) and cleaning the world's environment, folks are beginning to realize that Alberta is creating some of the greenest, cleanest fuels and these will be the best substitute for thermal coal, and we are the most proximate resource for those to China. China is currently choking the world with more and more coal-fired capacity, having built more coal-fired capacity in last year than three times the rest of the world combined.

The Energy Information Administration, which is the most authoritative international body on this space, based in Paris, says demand for natural gas in the next 20 years will go from 140 trillion cubic feet per day to 180 trillion cubic feet per day, even with renewables coming on stream.

The current global demand for gas is rising, and the demand for coal is skyrocketing. What we in the West need to understand is that we are the wealthiest one billion people on Earth and we live an incredibly high quality of life compared to the 6.9 billion people in the rest of the world. We are 38 million in Canada, as many as some Chinese cities alone.

Places such as India and China are trying to move billions of folks out of grinding poverty into the middle class — an energy-intensive process which involves providing people with heat and light and cooling and cement, all of which are carbon-intensive processes.

We have been blessed in the West, and are able to look back and cut emissions from fossil fuels, but would it not be better if we shipped our cleaner natural-gas fuels to these developing countries to help displace thermal coal? This is how Europe decarbonized, by trading gas with Russia and Algeria over the last 15 years.

If Canada did this with China and helped replace its coal, we would do more to remove global emissions than any other thing Canada has done in the last 20 years, having only removed 16 megatons of carbon. One operating liquefied natural gas plant would remove between 60 and 90 megatons of carbon a year, displacing thermal coal. The biggest opportunity we have is not to shut down oil and gas, it is to move it to the places where it's most needed so it can replace the dirtier fuels poorer countries must depend on.

What we should be doing in a world fighting poverty is helping China move off of coal by shipping our natural gas there, not shutting down the supply they are desperate for. There's a real disconnect when people who live in privileged places make it sound like it's OK to just shut down the fuels other places would love to have access to, to help meet their goals.

So, we ask this of our federal partners, are we concerned about the world environment, or not?

John Liston is the vice-president of Alberta Enterprise Group, and a St. Albert resident active in our business and charity communities.