Canada’s cap on oil and gas emissions will be delayed by months, not years, and the slower schedule won’t relax the 2030 target for companies to reduce their climate pollution, Environment and Climate Change Minister Steven Guilbeault said this morning.
The regulated cap will be held up by months, but not until 2025 or 2026, so “it’s not like we’re taking away years for companies to be able to comply with this regulation by 2030,” Guilbeault told a media roundtable from Chennai, India, where he was attending a G20 environment and climate ministers’ meeting July 26-28.
On Thursday, Guilbeault told Reuters the draft emissions cap regulation is due for release in October, and will be finalized by mid-2024 after a round of consultation with provinces and territories, Indigenous groups, civil society, and industry. That was a step back from his remarks during the COP 27 climate summit in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, in mid-November, where he told The Canadian Press the regulation would be completed in “record time” by late 2023.
“We will have draft regulations maybe by the spring, at the latest in the first half of the year,” he said at the time. “And then the goal is to have the complete regulations by before Christmas, which is, you know, record level time to develop regulations.”
Today, Guilbeault said that target had “always been very ambitious” and cited the government’s zero-emission vehicles mandate as a measure that will be complete by the end of 2023, less than two years after it was first announced. “It’s cutting in half the time it used to take us to get regulations before, and these are complex regulations,” he said.
But he conceded the emissions cap will be delayed “by a matter of months”. And he said the 2030 milestone in the government’s Emissions Reduction Plan—a 31% reduction in oil and gas emissions from 2005 levels, or a 46% cut from the industry’s significantly higher emissions in 2019—was not a final number.
“They’re not regulated targets,” he said. “They were pathways that represented how Canada can get” to its 2030 emission reduction targets.
Yesterday’s Reuters report had climate organizations worried that Guilbeault is leaving more time for continued lobbying by the Pathways Alliance, whose six members account for 95% of the country’s oil sands production, to dilute the emissions cap regulation. In a long read earlier this month, Carl Meyer, climate investigations reporter at The Narwhal, documented the Alliance’s efforts—including the disconnect between the alliance’s public optimism about carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology and its filings with Natural Resources Canada that describe that technology as “still on the lab bench”.
Aly Hyder Ali, program manager, oil and gas at Environmental Defence Canada, said he was surprised and disappointed to see the emissions cap delayed at a time of visible climate urgency.
“The delays matter when the longer we wait, the worse the climate catastrophes are that we face,” he told The Energy Mix in an email. “The longer the delays, the longer it takes to reverse the conditions that are enabling the horrific, record-breaking wildfire season we are seeing this year. The worse the floods and the droughts get. We need a strong regulation that holds the oil and gas industry accountable to at least 40 to 45% by 2030, and we need it immediately.”
Much of the discussion at the G20 ministers’ meeting centred on Canada’s call to phase out unabated fossil fuels—fossil facilities without CCS equipment bolted on. It’s a position that did not gain consensus among the G20 countries, and for which provincial premiers have been taking Guilbeault to task.
“I heard provinces condemn the fact that I am talking about phasing out of unabated fossil fuels while these same provinces have committed to being net-zero by 2050,” he told the media roundtable. “If you’re committing to net-zero, there should be no reason not to phase out unabated fossil fuels, because these are basically the same thing.”
But Guilbeault said it would take more time and discussion to build full agreement on that point among G20 countries, leading to an outcome in Chennai that produced a sharp rebuke from civil society observers.
In a backgrounder released Friday, groups reported that “a late plea from COP 28 President Sultan al Jaber and UN climate boss Simon Stiell for countries to agree to targets on phasing down fossil fuels and tripling clean energy was ignored, piling on pressure for India PM Narendra Modi to take charge of the climate talks at the September summit in Delhi.”
Stiell reportedly told ministers they were “collectively not doing what you signed up to do” and urged them to get the job done in the lead-up to COP 28 negotiations in Dubai later this year.
“Europe and North Africa are burning, Asia is ravaged with floods, yet G20 climate ministers have failed to agree on a shared direction to halt the climate crisis which is escalating day by day,” said Alex Scott, climate diplomacy and geopolitics programme lead at the E3G climate change think tank. “Reports of Saudi Arabia and China stifling the forum’s political space to even discuss a new direction on the energy transition fly in the face of their claims of defending the interests of developing countries.”
Guilbeault checked of the same markers of climate urgency during his media roundtable. He said his message to his G20 counterparts has been that “we don’t get to choose the crisis we decide to collectively face. We have to tackle the climate crisis,” along with concurrent crises in nature conservation and plastics pollution.