Canada’s fossil lobby leaned heavily on energy poverty in Africa as a pretext to promote continuing oil and gas extraction and exports, during a COP 26 news conference Tuesday that asserted the industry’s commitment to “meet GHG emissions reduction goals consistent with the ambitions of the Paris Agreement.”
Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP) President and CEO Tim McMillan said the organization had gone beyond its usual preparations for the annual UN climate summit, reaching out to fossil industry associations from producing and consuming countries to “put forward some common positions about the important role that gas and oil and energy play in peoples’ lives”.
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CAPP circulated a three-page discussion paper [pdf] alongside fossil associations from Africa, Australia, Mexico, Croatia, and Thailand, as well as the Indian Resource Council of Canada. It calls for “cost-effective policies and direct regulation” to reduce methane emissions, “responsibly produced natural gas and oil” to help countries meet their emissions targets under the Paris Agreement, international financing for new fossil infrastructure, and an approach to “technology and innovation” that emphasizes “blue” hydrogen and industrial carbon capture and storage (CCUS).
“These and other technologies are important enablers of a lower carbon economy,” the paper states, less than a week after analysis by Oil Change International and Environmental Defence Canada found eight of Canada’s biggest fossil producers failing on virtually every measure of climate ambition, integrity, and transition planning. The researchers concluded that none of the companies are on track for emissions reductions aligned with the 1.5°C limit.
“However,” the CAPP paper continues, “reliable access to financing and investment and policy certainty are required to drive this innovation and the at-scale deployment of new technologies.” That call for financing may have echoed recent demands by Cenovus Energy CEO Alex Pourbaix and other fossil executives for up to C$52.5 billion in taxpayer subsidies to help their industry decarbonize their operations through 2050.
In the news conference, McMillan claimed his industry receives no subsidies, only tax credits. Climate policy researchers have placed those subsidies at $18 billion in 2020, based on the accepted definition used by international agencies. Last month, the International Monetary Fund reported that fossil fuels worldwide receive US$11.2 million per minute in subsidies, every minute of every day of the year.
As to the clean, “responsible” product Canadian fossils produce, an analysis last month by S&P Global Platts found that Alberta’s “friendly” oil was the most carbon-intensive, by a wide margin, in a new index of 14 sample projects worldwide.
McMillan also decried a “dramatic increase in coal development, mining, and usage worldwide,” urging a “thoughtful and deliberate approach to energy and climate policies” as the antidote. “Canada is one of the largest oil and natural producers,” he added, “and that is an important role.” Days earlier, the respected think tank Climate Analytics released a new report declaring that “gas is the new coal,” and arguing that “existing data is sufficient to disqualify natural gas as a viable bridge” to a decarbonized future.
While the claims of a clean, politically friendly product were familiar territory for CAPP, the organization’s sudden interest in energy poverty in Africa was a new twist. “Today in Africa there are 580 million people who lack access to any kind of electricity and that number is expected to grow exponentially in the next decade,” Verner Ayukegba, senior vice president of the African Energy Chamber, said in the CAPP release. “As the cost of energy increases globally, African nations will be left behind in the energy transition should it be asked to undergo a catastrophic rapid transition at a pace foreign to its realities. Sustainable development of the continent’s vast natural gas resources is a strong instrument in our continent’s fight against energy poverty.”
Dale Marshall, national climate program manager at Environmental Defence, was terse in his response. “The Canadian oil lobby is delirious if it thinks that more fossil fuels is what people in vulnerable countries need,” he told The Mix in a late evening email from Glasgow. “Phasing out fossil fuel production is exactly what the poorest countries in the world have pleaded for here at the COP in Glasgow.”
McMillan could perhaps be forgiven for missing that memo—opening a news conference on the ninth day of COP 26, he declared that it was the second day of the event. So he may have missed the wrenching accounts of massive climate impacts facing vulnerable countries around the world, and those countries’ assertions that action or inaction on the resulting loss and damage will determine the success or failure of this year’s negotiations.
He certainly didn’t seem prepared to discuss the issue. When a reporter asked how he proposed to address the climate impacts Africa is already seeing at 1.08° global warming by extracting more oil and gas, he responded with a discourse on the added emissions he said African countries would produce as their economies continue to develop and people begin eating more meat and dairy.
Indian Resource Council President and CEO Stephen Buffalo fielded the same question with a reply that (deliberately or not) struck at the heart of the COP process.
The issues facing developing countries are a major concern, and “I’m supportive to a point of Canada’s participating in that,” Buffalo said. But with many First Nations communities living in “Third World conditions”, with no access to safe drinking water, “we have to look to ourselves first to deal with that. Then we can be more of a healthier participant in helping other countries.”
Alongside the urgent need to end boil water advisories and a host of other ills in Indigenous communities—climate finance analyses in Canada and beyond have consistently placed the country’s climate finance contribution below its fair share of wealthy countries’ 2009 promise to deliver US$100 billion per year in support to the world’s most vulnerable countries. In negotiations this week, developing countries suggested a target of $1.3 trillion per year for the financing period beginning in 2025.
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