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

OTTAWA – Two liberal cabinet ministers appointed this week to handle key climate policies for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government say they are targeting Canada’s emissions-heavy oil and gas sector as conservatives yell badly and environmentalists call for more action aggressive.

Ahead of the upcoming annual series of summits on climate change organized by the United Nations, which begins Sunday in Glasgow, the Trudeau government continues to bet on a middle ground among climate activists eager for rapid cuts in gas emissions. Greenhouse and Canadian Oil Defenders. and gas industries that want to protect a lucrative economic sector with hundreds of thousands of jobs.

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

For Jonathan Wilkinson, the North Vancouver MP who went from the environment portfolio to become minister of natural resources in this week’s cabinet change, the goal is to show the world that Canada, as a major oil-producing country, you can make a successful transition to a clean country. economy in the coming years.

“The biggest challenge is really working with the energy sector in this country to make sure that we are thoughtful about how we move forward in the coming decades in a way that allows Canada to remain prosperous while reducing our emissions,” Wilkinson told the Star.

Meanwhile, his replacement 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 of your department.

“The mere fact that we are committing to such an ambitious measure on the platform shows that we recognize the problem,” Guilbeault said.

“We are not putting a cap on emissions from the cement sector or the steel sector or aluminum or forestry. We are putting a limit on oil and gas because it represents 25 percent of our emissions. ”

Guilbeault added that the government intends to eliminate “inefficient” fossil fuel subsidies by 2023, and that Ottawa must also devise a timeline for Crown corporations such as Export Development Canada, responsible for $ 62 billion of support. to oil and gas companies since 2015, stop financing fossil fuels.

“We will have to provide a timeline for that second group of subsidies, if you wish, in the very near future, and a process and timeline for eliminating them as well,” he said.

Guilbeault and Wilkinson’s appointments to their new portfolios were widely noticed when Trudeau changed his cabinet on Tuesday. Guilbeault in particular has drawn attention, given that he was a prominent environmentalist before entering politics in 2019. He was once arrested as a Greenpeace protester in Toronto and later led Équiterre, a green organization in Quebec.

That story stung Alberta Prime Minister Jason Kenney, who called Guilbeault’s appointment “very problematic” and expressed concern about a “radical agenda” by the federal government that would lead to job losses. Federal conservatives also objected to Guilbeault, and Calgary MP Michelle Rempel denounced him in a statement Friday for his past as “an ideological anti-energy activist.”

In his interview with The Star, Guilbeault dismissed those concerns, saying he has a history of working with oil companies, as well as cleantech companies, and has also been criticized by green activists for not being “tough enough.”

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

“There will be high expectations of meeting climate commitments in the short term,” Bernstein said. “I think it will be critical that … they do so in a way that shows they are going to balance the need to move fast on the climate with an understanding of what it takes to keep Canada and our industry competitive.”

But that sector, particularly oil and gas production, is one of the main reasons Canada has failed to reduce emissions by more than one percent since 2005. Between 2005 and 2019, emissions increases from production Oil and gas and transportation offset declines in other sectors such as heavy industry. and electricity production, according to Canada most recent count of greenhouse gas pollution.

Canada’s emissions have 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 United States, the United Kingdom and the European Union, to the summit in Glasgow.

At the same time, calls for countries like Canada are growing louder to show how they will move away from high-emitting fossil fuels, said Catherine Abreu, founder and CEO of the nonprofit, Destination Zero.

A report this week from a group called Oil Change International also found that Canadian fossil fuel producers get more public funding than their counterparts in any other G20 country. Other publication Groups such as the United Nations Environment Program concluded that government projections for fossil fuel production in the coming years would ruin the world’s chances of limiting global warming to 1.5C this century, which is the goal of the international Paris Agreement that Canada has signed.

And earlier this year, the International Energy Agency declared that the world can no longer afford investments in the production of new fossil fuels, while the UN Secretary General, Antonio Gutteres, announced the “death sentence” of the fossil fuels.

“That question will land squarely in the laps of Minister Guilbeault and Wilkinson,” Abreu said.

In a statement to the Star this week, the Canadian Petroleum Producers Association said it wants oil and gas companies to sell more fossil fuels in the coming years, and that the industry will require “substantial collaboration” from Ottawa to ensure that emissions decrease. while that happens.


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