Canadian Minister defends tar sands despite continued emission reductions

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Canada’s new Minister of Natural Resources has defended the promotion of the country’s exports from its controversial tar sands projects even as he pledged to implement “aggressive” reductions in greenhouse gas emissions in the country. the energy sector.

Jonathan Wilkinson, appointed by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in October, said Ottawa “was going to be very aggressive in cutting emissions from the sector” and would work with other countries to lower demand for crude over the long term.

But he insisted that Canada still has the right to continue exporting from one of the most carbon-intensive sources in the world.

“For the [oil] A demand that continues to exist, Canada must extract value from its resources, as do the United States, the United Kingdom in the North Sea and Norway, ”said Wilkinson.

The minister’s comments highlight the delicate task facing Canada’s federal government, the world’s fourth-largest producer of crude and the United States’ largest foreign supplier, as it attempts to decarbonize the economy without jeopardizing an industry that represents around 5% of GDP.

Wilkinson’s remarks will raise concerns in Alberta, the western province that is home to high-carbon oil sands projects and has been arguing for decades with Ottawa over energy policy, including losing a battle over energy policy. the Supreme Court to stop the Trudeau government’s federal carbon tax.

Canada’s oil and gas sector is the largest and fastest growing source of emissions in the country. Greenhouse gas pollution from the oil sands – huge bitumen production projects where production has skyrocketed over the past two decades – has increased by more than 225% since 2000, according to the government.

The country’s energy regulator last month predicted that oil sands production would increase 18% to nearly 4 million barrels per day in 2030, although Wilkinson asked forecasters to include the government’s plan. federal government for a net zero-emissions economy by 2050 in future modeling.

Trudeau reiterated in November his promise to impose a cap on oil sector emissions that could be lowered every five years, though details would follow a consultation period and advice from a net-zero federal advisory body.

Jason Kenney, premier of Alberta, said Ottawa must consult with the provinces – the constitutional owners of the resources – before proceeding with the cap.

Wilkinson told the Financial Times that the federal government had the right to impose the new emission limits, even though it “would prefer to work in conjunction with our provinces.”

“We believe that we have the competence and the authority to implement both the cap and the commitment on the reductions every five years,” he said.

The federal government of Canada has implemented tax breaks to reduce carbon pollution. But Wilkinson also indicated that the federal government could help fund a large new project proposed by oil sands producers to capture greenhouse gas emissions in Alberta.

Calgary-based Cenovus Energy last year told the FT that Ottawa would have to fund most of the C $ 75 billion (US $ 60 billion) cost of the project, which donors say could potentially capture around half of the CO2 emissions from the tar sands.

Wilkinson mentioned government-funded carbon capture projects in the Netherlands and Norway as a possible model for Ottawa’s involvement.

“Companies are going to have to come to the table and invest their own capital in these projects,” he said of the idea of ​​the oil sands producers. “But we are certainly ready to work with the sector to help us reduce emissions.”

Despite its climate commitments, the Trudeau government has lobbied the United States in recent years to approve the controversial Keystone XL project to bring oil from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico. President Joe Biden called off the project in June last year, sparking joy in climate activists but dismay in Canada.

Lobbying contrasts with the increasingly aggressive language of the federal government on climate. Wilkinson’s replacement as Environment Secretary Steven Guilbeault was a former Greenpeace activist who once climbed the CN Tower in Toronto to unfurl a banner reading “Canada and Bush Climate Killers.”

Canada wanted to “participate in solving the crisis of our time,” Wilkinson said, seeking to explain support for both more bitumen exports and more stringent climate commitments.

“But, of course, we are going to do it in a way that will allow Canada to continue to be prosperous,” he added.

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