The United Nations Secretary-General did not beat around the bushes in identifying the villains that are holding up efforts to cut greenhouse gases after the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released its latest report identifying pathways to decarbonation.
“Climate activists are sometimes depicted as dangerous radicals, but the truly dangerous radicals are the countries that are increasing the production of fossil fuels,” Antonio Guterres said on Monday, as the IPCC warned overall carbon emissions would need to peak by 2025 and fall by 43 per cent by 2030 to prevent global warming from exceeding 1.5 C.
“Investing in new fossil fuels infrastructure is moral and economic madness.”
For Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and former climate activist turned Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault, the IPCC report complicates the balancing act of meeting Canada’s own climate targets while still allowing oil and gas production to increase.
The long-awaited plan Mr. Guilbeault unveiled last week calls for a 42-per-cent reduction in oil-and-gas sector emissions from 2019 levels by 2030. While it is not the hard cap on oil and gas emissions promised in last year’s election campaign – Ottawa is still working on that – the target amounts to a moon shot bid to make Canadian oil one of the world’s least carbon-intensive.
“Reducing the carbon intensity of Canadian production below the global average is both possible and likely to be increasingly important in order for the Canadian industry to compete in an increasingly constrained global market,” the 2030 Emissions Reduction Plan says.
The Liberals are banking on new technology to accomplish this feat. Mr. Guilbeault’s plan posits that by reducing the carbon intensity of Canadian oil to below the global average of 50 kilograms of carbon dioxide a barrel, Canada can increase crude production by as much as 33 per cent by 2030 and still reduce oil-and-gas sector emissions to 110 million tonnes from 191 million tonnes.
Presumably, increasing oil production entails investing in new fossil-fuel infrastructure, the very endeavour that Mr. Guterres and the IPCC so adamantly decry. He has promised a decision from Ottawa by next week on whether to approve Newfoundland and Labrador’s Bay du Nord offshore oil project. But the bulk of production increases in coming years will occur in Alberta.
As for the promised legislated ceiling on oil-and-gas-sector emissions, the 2030 Emissions Reduction Plan says: “The intent of the cap is not to bring reductions in production that are not driven by declines in global demand. … The sector may also need time-limited flexibilities, for example using domestic or international offsets, to achieve a small portion of reductions.”
Read into that what you may. But it suggests production in Canada would only decline in line with a fall in global oil demand. That could take a while.
In interviews last week, Mr. Guilbeault insisted carbon capture, utilization and storage is just one of the many tools the oil and gas sector could employ to meet its targets. His less-than-full-throated endorsement of this inchoate technology likely has something to do with the fact that most of the climate activists the Liberals seek to court with their emissions-reduction plan consider CCUS a ruse seized on by the oil industry to keep on drilling.
Despite a gusher of profits this year, the oilpatch wants Ottawa to subsidize most of the cost of CCUS projects. Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland is expected to offer more details on a promised federal tax credit for CCUS investments in the federal budget that will be released Thursday.
The Liberals are caught between their own desire to be seen as climate leaders and the stark economic and geopolitical reality facing Ms. Freeland and her cabinet colleagues. Those oilpatch profits are a reminder to everyone in Ottawa of just how much Canada’s economy still depends on natural resources. The tax-revenue windfall from higher oil prices will be the one of the rare bright spots in Ms. Freeland’s budget.
Although released this week, the latest IPCC report was completed before Russia invaded Ukraine and Europe began scrambling to find permanent alternatives to Russian fossil fuels. Regardless of what Mr. Guterres thinks, Canada and other oil-and-gas-producing democracies have a moral obligation to help Europe realize this goal, even if it means new investments in fossil fuels.
The assertion that Europe can replace Russian oil and gas with renewable energy sources exclusively in coming years is a fallacy that only empowers Russian President Vladimir Putin and his fellow petrostate dictators.
Unfortunately, the IPCC makes no distinction between free-world and non-free-world fossil fuels. That is because all emissions, regardless of their county of origin, are bad for the planet. After all, the atmosphere cannot distinguish between democracies and dictatorships.
But back down on earth, that distinction cannot be ignored. Europe is learning that lesson now. So, perhaps, is Mr. Guilbeault.
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