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Report On Business Canadian energy industry mulls potential impact of Paris climate deal

Steam generators at Cenovus's Foster Creek project in northern Alberta. The company says it welcomes global solidarity on climate change action.

Cenovus Energy Inc.

The newly signed climate accord is being hailed around the world as a major step in the battle against global warming, though large Canadian carbon emitters are still determining what the impact will be on their bottom lines.

Alberta oil-sands producers and power generators were already awaiting more details from the government of Premier Rachel Notley, which unveiled its own climate-change framework last month. It includes an economy-wide carbon tax, a cap on emissions from the oil sands and a phase-out of coal-fired power.

There is no indication yet that the deal agreed to by 195 counties, including Canada, in Paris on Saturday will add new wrinkles to Alberta's plan, which has caused some friction among oil-industry executives. The big winners are likely to be companies that are developing green energy and technology to reduce emissions from fossil fuels.

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Cenovus Energy Inc., a major oil-sands developer, welcomed the global solidarity on the issue. Its chief executive, Brian Ferguson, stood on stage with Ms. Notley when she announced Alberta's plan on Nov. 22. Other supporters are Canadian Natural Resources Ltd., Suncor Energy Inc. and Royal Dutch Shell PLC.

"Since the Paris agreement was only finalized [Saturday] it is a little early for us to comment on it. We are currently reviewing it," Cenovus spokeswoman Sonja Franklin said. "As we've said before, we share the public's concern that climate change is one of the greatest global challenges of our times. As an oil producer, we're committed to doing our part to address climate change."

Alberta's oil sands have been Canada's fastest-growing source of emissions, though the collapse in crude prices over the past year is forcing big spending cuts and prompting the industry and analysts to cut production-growth forecasts. The province has capped emissions at 100 megatonnes by 2030, a limit that some of Cenovus's rivals complain puts a new barrier to entry into the industry. The Paris accord is unlikely to calm such debate.

Energy-sector leaders that support the proposals say the cap provides incentives to develop technology to cut emissions.

The Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, the energy-sector's main lobby group, said it is also waiting for details on both the international commitments and Alberta's framework.

Canada must play a role, even if its emissions make up 1.6 per cent of the global total, said Chelsie Klassen, the group's spokeswoman. It is important that the largest emitters, such as the United States and China, live up to their commitments, however, she said.

"Any future action on climate change by industry or governments must be advanced on a global scale to make effective change," Ms. Klassen said. "Canadians can count on us to do our part through technology and innovation in Canada."

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Renewable sources are likely to play a bigger role in Canada's energy mix in the wake of the agreement.

After the UN convention on climate change in Copenhagen in 2009, not a lot changed – fossil-fuel use continued to increase despite an accord agreed to by 141 countries.

But Merran Smith, executive director of Clean Energy Canada, said it's going to be much different with the Paris agreement.

"I think it's going to change our entire energy systems and our economy. This is the tipping point and the moment we are going to truly start to transition off fossil fuels and into a clean energy economy," she said Sunday.

The big difference is not just increased political will, but also that there is now a much stronger business case for change. In fact, a big push at the Paris talks came from the business caucus, Ms. Smith said.

"I spent a lot of time in Paris in the business summit and at the business events. It was really astounding to hear from such a diverse set of CEOs from around the world, from the energy sector but also from the tech sector, the food sector, from everywhere … that there's a strong business case for renewables," she said.

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But Ms. Smith said the pressing question facing governments now is what steps are needed to accelerate change.

"It is now up to our new federal government, to Prime Minister Trudeau and all of our premiers to come together and figure out how Canada's going to reduce our carbon emissions by 2030," she said.

Globally, ending fossil-fuel subsidies, estimated at $500-billion (U.S.) a year, and shifting support to cleaner sources, would significantly speed up change, Ms. Smith said.

Paul Kariya, executive director of the Clean Energy Association of B.C., agreed the technological advances made in the past few years make the goal of a dramatic shift to clean energy more deliverable. "Certainly the jump in terms of battery storage, the efficiencies in wind, the cost of solar, the advances in geothermal – the five-year leap has been huge," he said.

Mr. Kariya said the most important thing, however, is that there now appears to be a broad consensus both globally and in Canada that things have to change.

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