Experts took aim at Canada’s repeated commitment to move toward a cap on emissions from the oil and gas sector yesterday, a move they fear ignores calls for the nation to bend “the curve of production.”

Speaking to Parliament Today, University of Waterloo political scientist Angela Carter noted the nature of the promise means the feds are taking aim at existing emissions. While there is a need to lower those, Ottawa appears to be missing the forest — in the form of emissions from projected production — for the trees, she added.

“There’s a whole other piece here that we don’t talk enough about in Canada, and it’s basically approaching the problem of the climate crisis with one eye shut,” said Carter, who studies the consequences of fossil fuel dependence and policies needed to pull the country away from it.

“By all accounts, all the scientific analysis is very clear on the point that we have to reduce fossil fuel production if we’re going to stay within those 1.5 degree warming limits, which are essential to all of us now.”

At Glasgow, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau shared that newly minted Natural Resources Minister Jonathan Wilkinson and Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault penned a letter to the government’s net-zero advisory board asking for guidance on how to legislate the country’s 2050 goal, which will be laid out in “quantitative five-year targets.”

The Liberals have staked significant political capital on the green file, frequently touting it on the campaign trail as some economists and researchers urge the upcoming Parliament to hinge its legacy on phasing out fossil fuel.

Speaking to the delegation in his opening remarks, Trudeau trumpeted the “groundwork” Canada laid in 2015 for climate ambition by vowing to press forward on a price on pollution, which “despite stiff political opposition,” has been upheld by court rulings and “supported” across two elections. The measure will rise to $170 per tonne come 2030.

“I call on other countries to do the same,” said the PM, adding much like world leaders formally agreed to support a minimum corporate tax rate of 15 per cent over the weekend, nations must find consensus to ensure “it is no longer free to pollute anywhere in the world.” He said that includes setting a “shared minimum standard” across the globe.

At the same time, environmental advocates have for months been calling on governments to consider ways to cut or entirely eliminate production within the oil and gas sector, which has come under renewed scrutiny for its role in the transition. Ottawa appears to be rebuffing those calls.

Guilbeault, swatting away suggestions he has a “radical agenda” by Alberta Premier Jason Kenney last week in reference to his activist and anti-pipeline roots, reiterated Ottawa is not looking to “cap production” but the amount of pollution released from the sector, which plays heavily into Alberta’s economy.

The national industry made up 26 per cent of Canada’s total emissions in 2019, at about 191 megatonnes of greenhouse gases, with the transportation industry releasing 186 megatonnes, enough to land it in second place.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau delivers Canada’s national statement at COP26. (credit: Twitter)

Industry should pay to offset its footprint: professor

Carter said while the “real source of the climate crisis has been understated and muted” for years, government leaders are now grappling with the fallout of their ambitions and are subject to lobbying efforts from companies to subsidize their transition efforts.

She pointed to fossil giant Cenovus Energy’s recent push to secure $50 billion in taxpayer dollars to make their 2050 timeline a reality, with CEO Alex Pourbaix saying “it’s just too significant an undertaking” to pursue the goal on its own.

It’s a matter the professor took direct aim at.

“Industry should pay for it by themselves,” Carter said. “The public is already paying for the climate crisis, and it doesn’t need to pay the extra cost of industry cleaning up for itself.”

Carter appeared to echo sentiments put out by Environmental Defence in reaction to the news yesterday, which noted the government fell short in putting forth the “right solution” to the climate change challenge.

A focus on emissions from production, “but not production itself,” would allow companies to “keep putting forward false solutions” like carbon capture and storage and fossil-based hydrogen — relatively new technologies Wilkinson’s predecessor also frequently hailed as the way of the future, the group said.

Dale Marshall, Environmental Defence’s national climate program manager, noted the International Energy Association has also called for a “rapid shift away from fossil fuels,” spurred by the phasing out of coal and oil plants by 2040.

But the fact that Canada has not joined the new Beyond Oil and Gas Alliance (BOGA) formed by Denmark and Costa Rica at COP26 (with a member of its net-zero advisory board earlier saying the country is not “ready to do it” yet) shows Ottawa is “out of touch” with the steps needed to prove a true commitment to tackling climate change, said Marshall.

Countries wanting to join the pact must vow to a deadline to phase out oil and gas production and stop giving permits for new exploration projects, per Reuters.

Merran Smith, executive director at Clean Energy Canada, said while Trudeau’s “cap today, decline tomorrow” mantra on emissions from the industry makes up a “good” overall climate plan, it’s clear the “expansion” of production is also not an “option.”

Smith added any policies recommended by the net-zero advisory board “need to hit the ground faster,” with a focus on the feds “finding a way to use existing tools in the near term, even if better tools are to be put in place over the long term.”