The Trudeau government may be left with big gaps in its 2030 climate strategy if it delays its oil and gas emissions cap until 2023, or holds off on setting tough carbon reduction targets for the industry, according to news reports this week.
The coverage and analysis have been ramping up with the approach of the March 29 deadline for Environment and Climate Minister Steven Guilbeault to release his long-awaited Emissions Reduction Plan (ERP). Ottawa has promised to deliver a 40 to 45% emissions reduction from 2005 levels by 2030. But that will depend on how quickly and effectively the government drives down carbon pollution from the fossil sector, La Presse and Reuters report.
On Wednesday, Guilbeault said the ERP will include carbon levels by sector, including oil and gas, but the targets will still be subject to change and won’t be binding. He added that details of the fossil emission caps, including the benchmark year, won’t be finalized until 2022 or early 2023, to allow time for consultation with industry, unions, environmental groups, and provincial governments, Reuters reports.
“On the oil and gas cap, there are still a lot of discussions in terms of how do we do it from a structural point of view, what kind of vehicle do we use,” he said. “The ERP will not say how we’ll do the oil and gas cap, because we’re consulting and we don’t know how we will do it.”
The delay had Dale Marshall, national climate program manager at Environmental Defence Canada, contrasting the deliberate pace of Guilbeault’s consultations with the quick access fossils have been getting to government subsidies—including a generous tax credit for carbon capture, utilization and storage technology that is expected to be a hallmark of Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland’s budget in late March or early April.
“When it comes to oil and gas, the federal government keeps showing up with bagfuls of carrots,” Marshall told Reuters. “But a regulatory stick always seems hard to find.’
“That is really unfair Dale and you know it,” Guilbeault tweeted back at Marshall. “We’ve already introduced a number of regulatory measures such as pricing or methane. The oil and gas cap was announced during the campaign and it’s not unreasonable to take a year to develop regs that will affect an entire sector!”
But Marshall wasn’t alone in his concern. “If we don’t do something to address oil and gas, then growth will continue and that would negate any chance of meeting 2030 targets,” said climate scientist Simon Donner, a member of the federal government’s Net-Zero Advisory Body.
La Presse says the Emissions Reduction Plan will call for a 35% reduction from the fossil sector by 2030, well above the 18% the government has expected from the industry so far. “If we don’t ask the oil and gas sector to do more, we won’t achieve a 40% reduction,” said one federal official. “The math doesn’t work.”
But that’s not the only concern about the government’s math. Last fall, the Montreal-based Institut de l’énergie Trottier (Trottier Energy Institute) warned that Canada was only on track to reduce its emissions 16% by 2030. Last week, Academic Director Normand Mousseau warned that a 40 to 45% reduction this decade is already out of reach.
He said a more modest goal of 25 to 35% across the entire economy would still require fossil emission reductions of 30% by 2026 and 60% over the next eight years.
“Canadians must focus on sectors where deep emissions reductions are possible in the shorter term, while initiating changes in other sectors where short-term reductions are more challenging,” wrote Mousseau and IET research associate Simon Langlois-Bertrand. Fossil companies “will have to decarbonize and move the focus to the production of net-zero emission products rather than simply reducing the emission intensity of production” if they want a “long-term economic future”.