‘We recognize the problem’: Canada’s new environment and natural resources ministers keep the oil and gas sector in the spotlight

OTTAWA – Two Liberal cabinet ministers appointed this week to deal with key climate policies for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government say they are focused on Canada’s emissions-heavy oil and gas sector, while conservatives are crying disgustingly and environmentalists are calling for more aggressive action.

Ahead of the next in a series of UN-sponsored annual climate summits starting on Sunday in Glasgow, the Trudeau government continues to strike a middle ground between climate activists eager for rapid cuts in greenhouse gas emissions and defenders of Canada’s oil and gas industries. who want to protect a lucrative economic sector with hundreds of thousands of jobs.

But in separate interviews with Star this week, the new environment and natural resources ministers made it clear that they intend to focus on this sector – which is responsible for more than a quarter of Canada’s annual greenhouse gas pollution – as they strive to cut emissions that cause climate change by at least 40 percent over the next nine years.

For Jonathan Wilkinson, the North Vancouver MP who moved from the environmental portfolio to become Minister of Natural Resources in this week’s cabinet mix, the goal is to show the world that Canada, as a major oil-producing country, can successfully transition to a clean country. economy in the coming years.

“The biggest challenge is really working with the energy sector in this country to ensure that we think about how we move through the coming decades in a way that will enable Canada to remain prosperous while reducing our emissions,” “Wilkinson told the Star.

Meanwhile, his successor as environment minister, Montreal MP Steven Guilbeault, said he has already discussed the Liberals’ promise to impose a cap on emissions from Canada’s oil and gas sector – starting in 2025 – with officials in his department.

“The very fact that we would commit to such an ambitious action in the platform shows that we recognize the problem,” Guilbeault said.

“We do not set a ceiling on emissions from the cement or steel sector or aluminum or forestry. We set a ceiling on oil and gas because it is 25 percent of our emissions.”

Guilbeault added that the government intends to eliminate “inefficient” subsidies for fossil fuels by 2023, and that Ottawa must also draw up a timeline for crown companies such as Export Development Canada – responsible for $ 62 billion in aid to oil and gas companies since 2015 – for to stop funding fossil fuels.

“We’ll have to provide a timeline for the second bucket of subsidies, if you will, in the near future – and a process and a timeline to eliminate them as well,” he said.

The appointments of Guilbeault and Wilkinson in their new portfolios were widely noticed when Trudeau shuffled his cabinet on Tuesday. Guilbeault in particular has attracted attention as he was a prominent environmentalist before entering politics in 2019. He was once arrested as a Greenpeace protester in Toronto and later led the Équiterre, a green organization in Quebec.

That story teased Alberta Premier Jason Kenney, who called Guilbeault’s appointment “very problematic” and raised concerns about a “radical agenda” from the federal government that would lead to job losses. Federal conservatives also protested against Guilbeault, and Calgary MP Michelle Rempel condemned him in a statement Friday for his past as “an ideological anti-energy activist.”

In his interview with Star, Guilbeault dismissed those concerns, saying he has a track record in working with oil companies as well as clean tech firms, and that he has also been criticized by green activists for not being “hardcore enough.”

Still, for Michael Bernstein, CEO of the organization Clean Prosperity, it will be important for this new climate duo in the cabinet to “balance” their intention to increase environmental policy with concerns from oil-producing regions.

“There will be high expectations to meet climate commitments in the short term,” Bernstein said. “I think it’s going to be crucial that … they do it in a way that shows they want to balance the need to make rapid progress in the climate field with an understanding of what it takes to keep Canada and our industrial sector. competitive. ”

However, this sector – particularly oil and gas production – is a major reason why Canada has not been able to reduce emissions by more than one percent since 2005. Between 2005 and 2019, emissions increases from oil and gas production and transport offset declines in other sectors as heavy industry. and electricity generation according to Canada’s latest greenhouse gas pollution inventory.

Canada’s emissions have actually risen since the Liberals took power in 2015, while Guilbeault and Trudeau will bring a weaker emissions target than many key allies – such as the US, UK and the EU – to the Glasgow summit.

At the same time, calls are getting higher for countries like Canada to show how they will move away from high-emission fossil fuels, said Catherine Abreu, founder and CEO of non-profit, Destination Zero.

A report this week from a group called Oil Change International also found that Canadian fossil fuel producers receive more public funding than their counterparts in any other G20 country. Another publication from groups, including the UN Environment Program, concluded that the government’s projections for fossil fuel production in the coming years would reduce the world’s chance of limiting global warming to 1.5 C in this century, which is the goal of the international Paris agreement signed by Canada.

And earlier this year, the International Energy Agency stated that the world could no longer afford to invest in the production of new fossil fuels, while UN Secretary-General Antonio Gutteres warned of the “death blow” of fossil fuels.

“That question will land directly on Minister Guilbeault and Wilkinson’s lap,” Abreu said.

In a statement to Star this week, the Canadian Association of Oil Producers said they want oil and gas companies to sell more fossil fuels in the coming years and that the industry will require “significant cooperation” from Ottawa to ensure emissions falling. while it is happening.


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