As Russia’s invasion of Ukraine raises questions about global energy security, Canada’s environment minister is rebuking Alberta Premier Jason Kenney’s assertion Canada must “get some pipelines built” to help “defang” Russian President Vladimir Putin.
“There is clearly a crisis in Ukraine, just like we're slowly emerging from the COVID crisis, and there will be other crises in the coming months and years,” Steven Guilbeault told Canada’s National Observer. “But climate change will not go away, and if we're thinking we can solve the crisis by exacerbating another one, those people who think that are clearly mistaken.”
Since the invasion began, Kenney has tweeted repeatedly about how Canadian oil should replace “dictator oil” in global energy markets and how dead pipeline projects, such as Keystone XL, have helped Russia build wealth to carry out this invasion.
“The solution to global energy problems is not to increase our dependency on fossil fuels,” said Guilbeault. The best way to improve the energy security of European countries is to simply reduce dependence on oil and gas “regardless of where it's coming from,” he said.
Even if Canada could build more pipelines to increase oil and gas capacity, this would take “a number of years” and wouldn’t address the crisis people in Ukraine and Europe are now facing, he added.
The real solution, he says, is to “quickly deploy renewables and cleantech” to reduce dependence on Russian oil and gas.
To increase pressure on Putin, Canada will ban imports of crude oil from Russia, Natural Resources Minister Jonathan Wilkinson announced on Monday.
In a news release, Wilkinson noted Canada’s last import of Russian crude oil was in 2019, according to the Canada Energy Regulator.
“There is clearly a crisis in Ukraine... But climate change will not go away, and if we're thinking we can solve the crisis by exacerbating another one, those people who think that are mistaken," says @s_guilbeault to @jkenney's pipeline push.
Because Canada’s imports of Russian crude oil are negligible, the ban is “largely symbolic” and its real importance will be whether it pressures other countries to follow suit, said Kathryn Harrison, a professor of political science at the University of British Columbia.
Unlike Canada, Europe relies on Russia for nearly 40 per cent of its gas and over a quarter of its crude oil, leaving both Europe and Russia vulnerable to import and export restrictions, said Harrison. For Russia to turn off the taps in response to the West’s financial sanctions “would truly be an act of desperation” and unlikely, she said.
In question period on Monday, Conservative MPs echoed Kenney’s assertions, including MP Michael Chong, who said Canada can help “European democracies by replacing Russian gas with Canadian natural gas” and called on the government to “commit to fixing our broken pipeline approval process.”
This notion that Europe will want to replace Russian oil and gas with fossil fuels from elsewhere “is not a slam dunk,” said Harrison, who noted Europe had plans to get off Russian oil and gas before Ukraine was invaded.
If Europe does face a gas shortage, immediate solutions are needed and costly investments for new liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminals and similar projects will take years to get approved and built, she added.
“Making investments in new fossil fuel facilities that won't be built in the time they need and then will be white elephants as the continent shifts away from fossil fuels is not an obvious solution for Europe,” said Harrison, referring to the European Union’s pledge to reduce emissions 55 per cent below 1990 levels by 2030.
Instead of Canadian oil and gas coming to Europe’s rescue, she predicts short-term solutions like turning down thermostats to conserve energy since a majority of Russian gas imported to Europe is used to heat homes and buildings.
Harrison said the most obvious solution is to shift to renewable energy as it is “arguably quicker to deploy than building new terminals or new pipelines.”
Last week, Germany halted the certification of a natural gas pipeline that would transport gas from Russia to the EU.
Shortly after, on Feb. 28, Reuters reported Germany aims to speed up its wind and solar energy projects to reduce the country’s reliance on Russian fossil fuels.
In the short term, countries like Germany may burn more coal as a stop-gap for renewables, said Harrison.
Another option is to extend the operation of nuclear power plants that have been scheduled for closure, she said.
On Sunday, Germany’s economy and climate minister, Robert Habeck, floated the idea of extending the lifespans of coal and nuclear plants. Although it is unlikely Germany will extend the life of its two remaining nuclear plants, the fact Habeck, a member of the steadfastly anti-nuclear Green Party, did not rule out this possibility shows Europeans are thinking long and hard about alternatives rather than rushing to buy fossil fuels from elsewhere, said Harrison.
Ultimately, the idea that Canadian oil and gas can rescue Europe from its dependence on Russia is not as feasible as Kenney and many Conservative MPs would have us believe, said Harrison.
She says there is no market analysis to suggest the rest of the world wants Canada’s oil, particularly because Canada’s heavy oil requires more energy to refine than the “abundance of lighter sources.”
Along with Kenney’s many tweets pushing for pipelines, Chong and Conservative MPs Marilyn Gladu, Greg McLean, Gérard Deltell and interim leader Candice Bergen echoed this sentiment in the House of Commons.
McLean claimed Canada “sends $500 million per year to Russia to import their oil” and chose to “fund the oppressive regime in Russia” instead of approving Canadian pipelines.
It’s no secret the federal government bought the Trans Mountain pipeline in 2018 and Wilkinson told two MPs their claims the government spends hundreds of millions on Russian oil are incorrect before repeating that the last Russian import was in 2019.
These types of statements “misdiagnose the energy security challenges and seem blind to the escalating climate emergency,” George Hoberg, a professor at the University of British Columbia’s School of Public Policy, told Canada’s National Observer in an email.
It’s imperative to keep the climate crisis front and centre when considering the energy implications of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Hoberg wrote.
“The same day that Russian cruise missiles were slamming into Freedom Square, the IPCC released its latest alarming report on the impacts of climate change,” he said. “From the climate emergency perspective, the notion of increasing Canadian oil production is clearly a non-starter.”
Natasha Bulowski / Local Journalism Initiative / Canada’s National Observer