Climate change is a threat to the entire North Atlantic ecosystem, and the province of Newfoundland and Labrador won’t be able to do its part to confront the crisis without abandoning plans to double its oil and gas production, Memorial University professor Sean McGrath told a conference audience in St. John’s last weekend.
“From ocean acidification, to the loss of plankton, to the migration of fish to colder waters, to the loss of ice coverage in Labrador…there is no aspect of the North Atlantic ecosystem that is not currently being affected by climate change,” said McGrath, a philosophy professor and director of the non-profit For a New Earth (FANE). “And if trends continue, the effects will be far, far more devastating for us in the future.”
He was speaking at a Future of Oceans symposium sponsored by FANE that drew speakers like Iceland’s Aslaug Asgeirsdottir, who studies the world’s fisheries. “That was something that was I think an eye-opener for many,” he told CBC. “We know the facts of climate change, but not many of us spend three hours listening to climate scientists talk about how it’s affecting the oceans.”
McGrath contrasted the sense of urgency at the conference with government policy in Newfoundland and Labrador, where Environment Minister Graham Letto recently released plans to reduce the province’s greenhouse gas emissions from 10.8 to 6.9 megatonnes by 2030. The catch: the government of Premier Dwight Ball also plans to open more than 100 new exploration wells and double its production of oil and gas to 650,000 barrels per day or equivalent by the same year.
“It’s virtually impossible for Newfoundland and Labrador to reduce its emissions and double its oil production at the same time,” McGrath said. “We’ve got to get off this fossil fuel. It’s just incompatible with a sustainable fishery. It’s incompatible with a healthy North Atlantic. It’s even incompatible with civilization.”
Earlier this month, The Newfoundland and Labrador Independent published an analysis by community energy planner Nick Mercer that critiqued the provincial climate plan.
“You could almost mistake its 55 glossy pages of picturesque coastal landscapes for a tourism brochure, save a strange word map of climate policy-related buzzwords,” Mercer writes. While he gave the province a hat-tip for acknowledging climate change as an urgent problem, Mercer reached a similar conclusion to McGrath’s about the plan’s chances of success.
“We cannot have meaningful climate action in Newfoundland and Labrador without curtailing the production of oil and gas,” he writes. “In 2016, the production of 77 million barrels of offshore crude oil was responsible for 1.6 megatonnes of GHG emissions. Assuming the province’s stated goal of increasing offshore oil production to 237 million barrels annually, we can extrapolate our numbers to suggest emissions from the sector will account for a staggering 4.9 Mt annually by 2030. The province’s new annual emissions target for 2030 is 6.9 Mt, meaning offshore oil production alone will account for 71% of provincial emissions, assuming targets are met.”
Its investment in decarbonization efforts, at C$225.4 million, “is a woefully inadequate amount to achieve meaningful reductions of greenhouse gas emissions,” he adds.
“In general, the climate action plan contains a lot of bark, but little bite. Terrific action items, but very little explanation of how these actions items will be implemented to achieve emissions reductions.”McGrath said he had drawn hope from the massive #FridaysForFuture protests that took place around the world on the Friday before his conference convened. “This is not the end of the world. This is the time for action and change,” he said. “The millennials are convinced that climate change is real, that it’s anthropogenic, that is it’s caused by human industry, and that it needs to be stopped.”