Canada’s Net-Zero Advisory Board (NZAB) is planning to move swiftly with its advice to the federal government on declining greenhouse gas emission caps for oil and gas operations, after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau reiterated his campaign pledge to introduce the caps during his address last week to the World Leaders’ Summit at COP 26, the United Nations climate change conference in Glasgow, Scotland.
“We’ll cap oil and gas sector emissions today and ensure they decrease tomorrow at a pace and scale needed to reach net-zero by 2050,” the PM said last week, in a speech that evoked the devastating Lytton, British Columbia wildfire as a reason for faster action. “That’s no small task for a major oil and gas producing country. It’s a big step that’s absolutely necessary.”
On the same day, Environment and Climate Change Minister Steven Guilbeault and Natural Resources Minister Jonathan Wilkinson reached out to the NZAB for its input. “Specifically, we seek your advice on key guiding principles to inform the development of quantitative five-year targets,” they wrote.
A day later, NZAB co-chair Dan Wicklum said the expert panel will move quickly to respond. “We’re going to take an aggressive approach to timing. I think the reality is that the government is giving us this task because they absolutely do want our advice (on the oil and gas caps) to feed into the 2030 plan,” he told iPolitics. Guilbeault is facing a December 29 deadline under the new Net-Zero Accountability Act to publish its plan to cut emissions 40 to 45% by 2030, and Wicklum said the NZAB is working within that frame.
“We’re assuming that unless we hear different the plan is going to go forward to at the end of the calendar year,” he said, even though the accountability law allows the government to seek a 90-day extension if it needs to.
A key question, iPolitics says, is whether the cap will apply across the Canadian fossil sector, or be defined for individual oil and gas facilities. Those are “exactly the questions we’re asking ourselves right now,” he said.
Last week, the CEO of one Canadian fossil company was quick to declare Trudeau’s COP 26 promise “dangerous” and “reckless”, even as an analysis of eight major fossil producers by Oil Change International and Environmental Defence Canada showed all of them failing on virtually every measure of climate ambition, integrity, and transition planning in their published net-zero pathways. By Thursday, Cenovus Energy CEO Alex Pourbaix—last seen demanding more than C$50 billion in taxpayer subsidies to help his sector decarbonize its production emissions by 2050—urged Ottawa to adopt a slower, “achievable” path to net-zero.
Meanwhile, Alberta Premier Jason Kenney is returning to his “familiar refrain of bashing Ottawa,” CBC writes, calling it “peculiar” that Trudeau never consulted him before confirming a campaign promise he’d released with great fanfare months earlier.
“Premier Kenney seemed incredulous, wondering aloud if the federal government is ‘trying to fundamentally limit the development of Canadian resources’,” the national broadcaster reports. “But the federal Liberal government’s pledge on the international stage this week to limit the growth of one of Canada’s biggest industries in order to curtail the Earth’s average temperature increase to 1.5°C should come as no surprise,” applying as it does to an industry that accounts for 26% of the country’s total emissions footprint.
Alberta Energy Minister and former pipeline executive Sonya Savage weighed in last week, as well, declaring that Trudeau “is over there on a photo opportunity making announcements, and they are vague,” CTV reports. “There’s just a whole lot of hypocrisy over in Scotland.”
That was after Alberta took fire for sending only two delegates to the COP, the smallest group of any energy-producing jurisdiction in Canada. “It’s incredibly good to be there and learn from these events,” Mount Royal University political scientist Keith Brownsey told CBC last week. “It’s smart, but apparently we don’t think it’s all that smart.”
Those conversations played out while a leading national pollster said the country is primed for ambitious climate action. “The key takeaway here is that climate ambition is on the rise and Canadians want to see action,” Nick Nanos of Nanos Research told CTV last Thursday. “The environment is among the top issues on the on the radar for Canadians,” and “the Trudeau government will be judged based on what it does.”
CTV has a chart showing 79% of Canadians strongly or moderately agreeing that now is the best time for climate action, “even if there are costs to the economy”, up from 71% in February, 70% last November, and 68% last June, in the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic.
And if the fossil industry hopes to fight those headwinds, it will be going into battle without the former provincial politician who has led its main lobbying organization for seven years. Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers President and CEO Tim McMillan announced in a release that he will step down in April, CBC reports.