Environment and Climate Minister Jonathan Wilkinson says he’s waiting for more detail before deciding whether Teck Resources’ promise to make its operations net-zero for emissions by 2050 will influence cabinet’s decision on the company’s C$20.6-billion Frontier tar sands/oil sands mine proposal.
Teck’s announced commitment to hit carbon neutrality “across all operations and activities” by 2050 “appears to be in line with Canada’s commitment to reach net-zero emissions by the same date, and adds to the pressure Ottawa is under to approve the massive Frontier oil sands mine in the face of vocal opposition from environmental groups,” the Globe and Mail writes.
The added twist, CBC reported over the weekend, citing two sources close to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, is that Ottawa might push the Alberta government to legislate an emissions cap and a 2050 deadline to hit net-zero emissions as a condition for project approval.
“The sources, who spoke on condition they not be named, told CBC News the Teck decision is more difficult than the government’s decision on the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion, but cabinet is leaning toward a plan outlined by former natural resources minister Amarjeet Sohi in the Edmonton Journal last week,” CBC says. “That plan would see cabinet approve the project with conditions attached. One of those conditions would require that Alberta Premier Jason Kenney’s government pass a legislated emissions cap that would cut the province’s carbon emissions to net-zero by 2050. That would be in line with the federal Liberals’ own net-zero campaign promise.”
An Alberta government source told CBC the province “is eager to find a path to yes”, and has been frustrated about a lack of detail on the idea from Ottawa.
Teck weighed in with its own carbon neutral announcement a day later.
“I certainly have some questions about exactly what they mean and how they’re going to implement that,” Wilkinson said, noting that “carbon neutral” can be defined in many ways and it isn’t clear how the promise would apply to individual projects.
“He added, though, that there are issues outside of the company’s carbon neutrality pledge that need to be addressed before the government will make a decision,” the Globe says, including its impact on species at risk like bison and whooping crane. Wilkinson also acknowledged the government’s decision on the project will be measured in the context of its climate targets. “There’s no way around that,” he said.
On Monday, Teck clarified “that its pledge will apply to all projects, including the proposed Frontier mine,” and cover both direct and indirect (Scope 1 and Scope 2) emissions, the Globe writes.
“Our objective is to be carbon neutral across all of our operations and at every operation,” Public Affairs Director Doug Brown told the paper. Teck said it “will prioritize policies that avoid new emissions and directly reduce current emissions over investing in nature-based solutions or purchasing carbon offsets,” the Globe adds.
After Teck announced its plan in the midst of the intensifying political debate over its tar sands/oil sands mine, Brown said it’s a continuation of sustainability efforts that date back a decade. “This is bigger than any single project or operation,” he told the Globe. “We’re doing this because we strongly believe in doing our part as a company to support the goal of the Paris Agreement.” Most of the company’s current emissions come from power production and mobile equipment at its mines.
“To achieve the 2050 goal, Teck says it will first target avoiding new emissions altogether,” the Globe writes. “Efforts to do so will include seeking out renewable power supply for the second phase of a major copper project in Chile. The company will also look to eliminate or minimize current emissions.”
But “some critics have taken issue with net-zero strategies because the pledges are voluntary and they allow for buying carbon offsets, so emissions don’t necessarily disappear. And because 2050 is three decades away, it is possible that the companies promising to be carbon neutral will quietly take little action for many years—and then it will be too difficult to meet their targets.”
The Globe says the 260,000-barrel-per-day Frontier mine would add 4.1 million tonnes per year to Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions, at a time when the country already needs to cut 77 megatonnes to hit its unambitious, Harper-era target to reduce carbon pollution 30% by 2030. Climate campaigners see the 4.1 megatonnes per year as a severe underestimate.
Meanwhile, a senior Canadian fossil executive is saying it’s wrong to think the world needs to cut oil production to get the climate crisis under control.
“We don’t think that’s a solution,” said Suncor Energy CEO Mark Little told the Financial Post, adding that fossils will have to boost production and cut emissions at the same time.
“There are 700 million people on the face of the Earth, about 10%, that are struggling with extreme poverty, and they need more energy to change their standard of living,” he said. “This is a quandary, because the world really needs more energy and less emissions and that whole mantra is actually caught up” in the cabinet decision on the Teck mine.
He added that Suncor’s newest tar sands/oil sands projects can match the emissions of U.S. oil production [which must also go into a managed decline if humanity is to reach a 1.5°C climate stabilization target—Ed.]. “I don’t want to overstate this—this isn’t the average performance of the industry,” Little said. “But our new developments are that way, and we’re looking at all sorts of ideas to take it even further. I look at it and think, this could be one of the lowest emission sources of oil globally going forward, and that’s the challenge that we’ve put to ourselves.”