Prime Minister Justin Trudeau used the international stage on Monday to reiterate a contentious campaign promise to impose greenhouse-gas emissions caps on Canada’s oil-and-gas industry, in a bid to meet Canada’s climate goals.
Appearing alongside other world leaders at the opening of COP26, the United Nations climate summit in Glasgow, Mr. Trudeau announced that his government is asking Canada’s new Net-Zero Advisory Body, a group of independent experts, for guidance on the development of the cap.
Mr. Trudeau is attempting to position his government at the forefront of global climate policy, including through carbon pricing, on which he urged other countries to follow Ottawa’s lead. At the same time, he faces international criticism over Canada’s status as one of the world’s biggest exporters of fossil fuels.
Calling the planned cap “a big step that’s absolutely necessary,” Mr. Trudeau acknowledged in his speech that imposing limits will be “no small task for an oil and gas producing country.”
Nearly 200 countries sent delegations to the summit, which the UN has billed as “the world’s best last chance to get runaway climate change under control.” In his opening statement as host of the conference, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson likened climate change to a “doomsday device” out of a James Bond film, except “the tragedy is that this is not a movie, and the doomsday device is real.”
U.S. President Joe Biden used his time at the podium Monday to assure world leaders that the United States is “back at the table” after his predecessor, Donald Trump, pulled the country out of the Paris Agreement and rolled back pollution limits.
And while many heads of state reiterated their country’s existing commitments when addressing the conference, the leader of the world’s third-biggest emitter of greenhouse gases made a new and significant pledge. Saying it was his duty “to raise my voice for developing countries,” Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said his country will reach a net-zero emissions target by 2070.
Many countries, including Canada, have committed to net-zero emissions by 2050. Russia and China have set 2060 as their goal. Neither Chinese President XI Jinping nor Russian President Vladimir Putin are slated to attend the conference.
China is the world’s biggest greenhouse-gas emitter, responsible for as much as 28 per cent of global greenhouse gases. The country opted to file a written statement with the UN rather than have Mr. Xi make the address in person. The written submission calls for international co-operation toward the Paris Agreement goal of keeping global warming to below 2 C above preindustrial times, but it contains no new commitments.
The international talks have taken on a heightened sense of urgency after a year that saw countries in many parts of the world suffer deadly heat waves, wildfires, droughts, floods and storms – weather events that will continue to become increasingly frequent and intense as the world warms. Stark evidence of humanity’s role in climate change has also piled up in recent months, serving as a warning that this kind of destruction could become even more frequent over the next several decades.
But COP26 also comes at a potentially inopportune time: Underlying the proceedings is the surging cost of energy as economies recover from the devastation of the COVID-19 pandemic and as demand for fossil fuels outstrips supply.
Canadian fossil-fuel producers and their champions in the provincial governments of Alberta and Saskatchewan are expected to push back against the plan to cap emissions.
On Monday, Alberta Premier Jason Kenney said “the Government of Canada has zero chance of achieving its greenhouse gas emission reduction targets without Alberta, specifically without Alberta’s oil and gas industry.”
Mr. Kenney called it “peculiar” that Mr. Trudeau hadn’t discussed the issue with the province before the Prime Minister spoke at COP26. “We need to be partners in this,” he said. The province’s support of a cap on oil and gas emissions, he said, would depend on the details proposed by Ottawa.
Other governments, meanwhile, are calling for Mr. Trudeau to go further. Denmark and Costa Rica have attracted attention at COP26 by recently launching the Beyond Oil and Gas Coalition and seeking to get other countries to join them in calling for a planned phase-out of fossil-fuel production altogether.
How much Ottawa’s caps satisfy or aggravate either side of the debate may depend on many questions that are only now to be considered.
A letter sent on Monday by Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault and Natural Resources Minister Jonathan Wilkinson asks the Net-Zero Advisory Body – a group of independent experts from across Canada, convened by the federal government – to provide advice on “key guiding principles to inform the development of quantitative five-year targets.”
That will presumably include how low the cap is initially set and how much more stringent it subsequently becomes, which will determine whether it requires production decreases, or can potentially be met through carbon capture and other technological advances.
There are also structural matters that remain unclear, such as whether the caps will be set on a sectorwide basis or specifically assigned to each site or company. The letter from Mr. Guilbeault and Mr. Wilkinson states they will also begin seeking advice from officials in their departments, and it pledges to “engage with provinces, territories, civil society, labour organizations, national Indigenous organizations and industry partners.”
In addition to the cap on oil and gas emissions, Mr. Trudeau announced up to $1-billion in international climate financing to support the transition away from coal. He also appealed to global leaders on the matter of establishing a shared minimum standard for pricing pollution. Mr. Trudeau described Canada’s carbon price trajectory as “one of the most ambitious globally,” adding that it will rise to $170 a tonne in 2030.
Both the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development and the International Monetary Fund have recently expressed support for an international carbon price floor, at least among a core group of the world’s biggest-emitting countries. In the lead-up to COP26, business organizations representing CEOs and chairs of leading global companies – including in Canada – also expressed their support for an “effective and fair global carbon pricing signal.”
Globally, Canada is working to repair broken trust among poorer countries when it comes to providing them with the necessary climate financing. Canada and Germany are working together to help ensure rich economies make good on a commitment to provide US$100-billion in annual funding to help developing countries cut emissions and prepare for already inescapable climate-change consequences. That total was supposed to have been reached by 2020, but donor countries are falling short.
The notion that developed countries should foot the bill to tackle climate change featured prominently in numerous leader speeches in Glasgow on Monday. Mr. Xi said in his written statement that “developed countries should not only do more themselves, but should also provide support to help developing countries do better.” French President Emmanuel Macron called on developed countries to “contribute their fair share.”
Mr. Biden said the U.S. would make its first-ever contribution to the adaptation fund, which was created in 2001 to finance climate-resilience projects in developing countries. The U.S. commitment will provide US$3-billion in financing. Adaptation funding has been a particular grievance among developing countries because it’s harder to raise private capital for resilience projects than for initiatives aimed at reducing emissions.
In an impassioned, hard-hitting address, Seychelles President Wavel Ramkalawan told world leaders that his Indian Ocean country – like so many other small island developing countries – is a “victim” of the effects of industrialization.
“We are already gasping for survival,” he said. “When I hear the expression ‘rising sea level,’ I am scared. … The beautiful archipelago of 115 islands that we are today may be reduced to less than 50 as our coral islands disappear, including the Aldabra atoll – our gift to humanity.”
With a report from Emma Graney in Calgary
The Globe and Mail
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