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Time for Fossils to Pull Their Weight on Canada’s Climate Commitments: CAN-Rac

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With 85% of Canadians on track to meet the country’s 2020 target for greenhouse gas emission reductions, Climate Action Network-Canada (CAN-Rac) and three other major environmental groups are calling on the federal government to get the country’s oil and gas industry to start pulling its weight.

“True leadership in 2018 means having the courage to start a real conversation about the tension between Canada’s fossil fuel production and climate commitments,” said CAN-Rac Executive Director Catherine Abreu. While Environment and Climate Change Minister Catherine McKenna recently restated [1] the country’s commitment to its 2030 climate goal, “one very large and powerful problem stands in the way: the oil and gas lobby that her government should no longer placate.”

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“The free ride given to oil and gas companies on their carbon emissions has gone on for too long,” said Dale Marshall, national program manager at Environmental Defence. “That’s why the gap between Canada’s Paris targets and emissions reductions projected from the country’s climate policies is growing, not shrinking.”

“Like turning the Titanic, it requires time for climate policies to take effect,” said Équiterre Senior Director Steven Guilbeault. “We need to start implementing them now if we want to meet our Paris climate targets. Yet we’ve seen three-year delays for regulations to reduce oil and gas methane emissions, and oil and gas companies asked to pay only a small fraction of the carbon price. Some companies will even be paid to pollute. This must change.”

“Cutting methane emissions is one of the easiest and most affordable actions oil and gas companies can take to shrink their own climate change pollution,” said Ian Bruce, director of science and policy at the David Suzuki Foundation. “Industry has long known about this problem and has the technology to fix it. We can’t afford to delay action any longer. The federal government must ensure that industry takes responsibility now.”

The comments followed Canada’s mandated report [3] to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), indicating that the gap between the country’s emissions trajectory and its 2030 target had increased from 44 to 66 million tonnes in the last 18 months.

“When asked to explain the change by French-language newspaper Le Devoir [4], Environment and Climate Change Canada officials attributed it to an increase in the anticipated emissions from the oil and gas industry, and demographic growth,” Greenpeace Canada climate and energy campaigner Keith Stewart wrote at the time. “It is unlikely that there have been radical changes in demographic projections over the last two years, so the growth is likely primarily due to an increase in anticipated carbon pollution from Canada’s oil and gas sector.”

Late Friday afternoon, a spokesperson for the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP) told The Energy Mix she couldn’t comment on the CAN-Rac release because she hadn’t seen it. A Canadian Energy Pipeline Association spokesperson declined comment.

McKenna Press Secretary Caroline Thériault stated in an email that “oil and gas operations—and the fuels they generate—are included in the price on pollution we’re requiring across the country this year.” But she added that “virtually all carbon pricing systems have a specific approach for heavy industry. That’s because there is no upside for anyone if a price on pollution means that companies leave Canada and move to jurisdictions that don’t have a price on pollution yet. We’re designing a system to manage that risk to competitiveness which applies to all heavy industry sectors, including oil and gas.”

Thériault pointed to methane reductions in the oil and gas sector as “one of the lowest-cost emissions reduction opportunities”, noting that the government “has regulations in the works for reducing methane emissions from oil and gas operations by 40 to 45% by 2025.” But Ottawa announced a three-year delay [1] in those regulations last year, CAPP has been threatening [5] job losses if the government doesn’t accept a watered down plan, and field studies released [6] last year showed methane emissions that were 250% above government estimates in British Columbia and 60% higher in Alberta.

The CAN-Rac release echoes some rare good news from National Observer’s self-described “resident chart geek”, Barry Saxifrage, who reports [7] that 85% of Canadians have joined what might be called a grand, nation-building project to reduce emissions. “Back in 2009, Stephen Harper flew to Copenhagen and pledged that Canada would reduce climate pollution by 2020. And (almost) all of us did,” he writes. “This national super-majority is made up of provinces and territories that are home to 85% of Canadians. Sadly, there’s a catch….”

While the rest of Canada has reduced its carbon pollution 15% since 2005, Saxifrage notes, Alberta and Saskatchewan have increased their emissions by a similar amount. “The overwhelming driver behind our nation’s 2020 climate failure is soaring pollution from Alberta’s oilsands industry,” he adds, with that one province accounting for the lion’s share of the national increase and the tar sands/oil sands “projected to cause all of Alberta’s increase.”

Indeed, “if not for the oilsands industry, Alberta would actually be on track to reduce emissions by 2020,” Saxifrage notes. But the emissions tally from the tar sands/oil sands “erases all those gains, many times over. Alberta’s government allowed this one industry to increase its climate pollution by 54 MtCO2 [million tonnes of carbon dioxide] per year.”

Saxifrage says the tar sands/oil sands are on track to consume 22% of Canada’s carbon budget by 2030, 50% by 2040, and 78% by 2050, and notes that “oilsands climate pollution is also growing wildly out of proportion to its share of Canadian jobs (0.5%) and GDP (2.5%). Those jobs and GDP are certainly welcome. But the climate budget-busting pollution that comes with oilsands expansion isn’t.”

In a report from last week’s CERAWeek oil and gas conference in Houston, GreenBiz Senior Writer Cassandra Sweet notes [8] that some of the world’s most colossal fossils have been “precocious” in their efforts to move beyond oil—but they aren’t the ones based in North America.

“While European oil majors such as Statoil and Total spoke about their long-term plans to shift their focus away from oil, toward natural gas and renewable energy, in line with the global transition to a low-carbon economy, their American counterparts appeared less convinced that demand for oil will diminish in future decades,” Sweet writes. But as climate impacts become more obvious and the level of concern mounts, the industry “is under increasing pressure from investors to take action by adding low-carbon products and services to their businesses.

“The big debate in the industry and among investors is: Is there a role for the industry to play in a low-carbon transition?” said Ceres Oil and Gas Director Andrew Logan. “Do they bring anything other than cash to the table? That’s very much an open question.