Natural resources are no longer just the “ministry of fossil fuels”: Wilkinson

OTTAWA – In a country trying to help curb global warming without destroying its economy, Canada’s latest minister of natural resources says his department can no longer be thought of primarily as the ministry of fossil fuels.

But Jonathan Wilkinson also says that liberals are not singling out the oil and gas sector to do an unfair amount of heavy lifting in fighting climate change because all the industries that contribute to the problem have to be part of the solution.

Wilkinson is three weeks away from the cabinet shakeup that made him the fourth minister for natural resources in the past six years. Now, after heading the environment department in charge of combating climate change, he is in charge of the department that regulates and promotes many of the products that cause it.

But when the 56-year-old former CEO of cleantech took over control of Natural Resources Canada, it was seen by some as a sign that the department will evolve to prioritize cleantech in ways it hasn’t yet.

“I agree with that,” Wilkinson said, in an interview with The Canadian Press, of his priorities for the new job.

“I think the way we define natural resources in the future has to include renewable energy, it has to include hydrogen, it has to include biofuels. I absolutely believe that the old way of conceptualizing the department, which is only about oil, gas and mining is not the way we think of the future. “

The tug of war between the fossil fuel sectors that the world and Canada have relied on for decades, and the science that blames the burning of fossil fuels for the warming planet and associated climate destruction, was revealed. in the last two years. weeks into the United Nations COP26 climate talks in Scotland.

Environmental advocates strongly argued that the only way to prevent global warming from becoming catastrophic is a large-scale phase out of the use of fossil fuels. The creation of the Beyond Oil and Gas Alliance, an initiative to completely phase out fossil fuels, was one of the most talked about initiatives at COP26.

The Quebec government signed as an associate member, but Canada did not.

Wilkinson, who spent several days at COP26 pushing Canada’s position on phasing out fossil fuel subsidies but promoting hydrogen development, said polarized all-or-nothing positions on oil and gas production are difficult. He said he still sees a role in Canada for some fossil fuels as long as they don’t contribute to greenhouse gas emissions.

Natural Resources is no longer just the “fossil fuel” ministry, says new minister Jonathan Wilkinson. #fossilfuels #naturalresources #cdnpoli

That includes, he said, using bitumen for non-fuel uses like asphalt or carbon graphite, and extracting hydrogen molecules from natural gas, as long as that is done with technology that first reduces and then eventually eliminates greenhouse gas emissions that they come from that process. .

“Those are things that we should consider because at the end of the day, we are interested in good economic results and no carbon emissions,” he said. “So I think that’s the way people should think about it, rather than taking the polar position, which is that no fossil fuel or fossil fuels are going to go on forever.”

Wilkinson is less optimistic about the future of most oil and does not see a way for Canada to continue using coal because the technology and geological formations needed to capture and store its emissions will not be affordable and will be ready for the 2030 deadline. to eliminate all “incessantly” coal power plants.

“On the oil side. I mean, look, it’s primarily a transportation fuel and we’re all committing to really getting to zero net vehicles,” he said. “And so over time, you will see a reduction in the amount of oil that is used, that is burned for transportation purposes. That is just logical.”

Carbon capture technology in general is also not a massive long-term solution to enable the continuous burning of fossil fuels for energy, Wilkinson said, because the geological formations needed to store the gases don’t exist everywhere.

His priorities for the first months of his new job are to work with the oil and gas provinces to develop the cap on emissions from oil and gas production that the Liberals promised in recent elections.

Former Prime Minister Stephen Harper recently accused liberals of targeting oil-producing regions to meet their climate change goals, because those regions don’t vote for liberals. Wilkinson did not reference Harper directly, but rejected the sentiment.

“Some people say that we have pointed to the oil and gas space and actually, I say that is not true,” he said. “If you read the rest of the climate plan, for example, in the transportation space, we said to stop the sale of internal combustion engine vehicles after 2035 for the same reasons.”

He said one of his priorities is working with affected regions to ensure the transition from fossil fuels is positive.

This Canadian Press report was first published on November 16, 2021.

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