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At the UN climate conference, COP27, Canada had a late flip-flop on the need to phase out fossil fuels. But it’s unclear where Canada stands now.

For the first two weeks of the conference, Canada’s negotiators were aligned with the fossil fuel industry, adamant that there should be no mention of phasing out or even phasing down fossil fuel production in order to limit catastrophic climate change. This put Canada at odds with credible climate science, as well as the European Union, the U.S., India, and many other nations, and in line with Saudi Arabia, Russia, and Iran.

But then, as negotiations dragged on past the scheduled end of the conference, Canada’s negotiators told the media they were open to language calling for phasing down unabated fossil fuels.

Unfortunately, the final text published on Sunday did not include mention of phasing out oil and gas, and only called for phasing out coal, the same as in last year’s COP26 text.

And what did Canada have to say about this? Later that day, Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault released a statement seeming to walk back the position his negotiators took just a day before.

“During a global energy crisis, we are more committed than ever to support the global transition to cleaner, renewable forms of energy, by transitioning away from our dependency on fossil fuels,” the statement reads.

This is not a clear statement and does not make reference to needing to phase out or even phase down fossil fuel production and use.

So we must ask: Where does Canada actually stand?

The cover text of any COP agreement isn’t legally binding. But it is important. It reflects where countries are in terms of recognizing how dire the climate crisis is and its root causes. And as such, it’s important for it, and the countries that sign it, to name the so-called elephant in the room — oil and gas — the main cause of climate change. You’ve got to name it to tame it, as they say.

It was important for countries at #COP27 to name the so-called elephant in the room — oil and gas — the main cause of climate change, write Keith Brooks & Dave Gray-Donald @dgrdon @envirodefence #COP27 #PhaseOutFossils #cdnpoli #GlobalWarming

And that’s the crux of where we’re stuck here in Canada, at this uneasy impasse. The federal government has a climate change plan and is moving on a number of policies that are part of that plan, including banning the sale of gas- and diesel-powered cars by 2035, regulating 100 per cent clean power (also by 2035), and pricing emissions across the economy.

And Canada is in the process of regulating emissions from the oil and gas industry, both through limiting the industry’s methane emissions and by putting a cap on emissions from producing oil and gas, and reducing those emissions over time by lowering that cap on a regular basis.

But the government stops short of calling for the phaseout of fossil fuels. It stops short, in fact, of even admitting that phasing out oil and gas is essential if Canada really wants to do its share to limit global heating. And this is a problem.

This failure allows our leaders to indulge in a collective delusion: that we can grow the production of fossil fuels while avoiding the emissions from them. It compels them to talk endlessly about carbon capture and storage and hydrogen, and other unproven workarounds promising the impossible: decarbonizing the oil and gas sector.

It leads Canada to invite oilsands companies to join Canada’s delegation at COP27 and even host an event where these companies get to pretend that they get it. They know they’re part of the problem, they tell us, and they supposedly have a solution.

But it is a dangerous lie, tempting as it may be. The technologies they are pushing are so expensive, the oil companies won’t implement them without massive taxpayer subsidies, and none of them are proven at scale.

Carbon capture (CCUS) projects regularly fail to capture even half the emissions from a pollution source. Shell’s Quest facility near Edmonton claims to have a capture rate of 80 per cent, but when the emissions to run this technology are factored in, the net capture rate falls well below 50 per cent. Plus, the vast majority of the emissions from oil and gas are released when the products are burned — and CCUS does nothing about that.

All told, these schemes will not get us anywhere close to our goal of net-zero.

The federal government’s new line, it seems, is that natural resources are provincial jurisdiction, and if the federal government oversteps, it’ll be challenged in court.

The Constitution does limit federal powers, but it doesn’t prevent Canadian leaders from admitting oil and gas production needs to decline. Even if they do not have the power to directly regulate oil and gas production, nothing is stopping them from simply saying that production itself is an issue. And it certainly wouldn’t block Canada from agreeing to a non-binding text stating what must be done: we need to get off oil and gas.

Canada and the world have come a long way on climate. But we will never get to where we need to be if we can’t even admit what must be done, which is phasing out coal, oil and gas.

Keith Brooks, Environmental Defence programs director, was born in the 'burbs just outside Toronto, but his passion for the environment was born in a canoe on the rivers and lakes of northern Ontario. Keith pursued a bachelor of environmental sciences from the University of Guelph and then worked for a number of years in the environmental consulting field, before enrolling at York University where he earned a master of environmental studies.

Dave Gray-Donald, Environmental Defence oil and gas program manager, has worked at the intersections of environment, media, and movements for social justice for over a decade. He followed pipeline battles like Line 9 and Energy East in Quebec and Ontario as a journalist before moving to Treaty Four Territory in Regina to work as the publisher of Briarpatch Magazine.

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Doesn't the federal government approve export pipelines and massive new oil projects - as well as give billions of taxpayer dollars to oil companies? Canada's position demonstrates almost total capture by the fossil fuel industry. If the Liberals wanted Canada to phase out fossil fuel production there would be many ways to make it happen - including, obviously, respecting UNDRIP.

"Canada had a late flip-flop on the need to phase out fossil fuels. But it’s unclear where Canada stands now."

On the contrary. Canada's position is crystal clear.
When it comes to climate action, Canada is sincerely insincere.

Guilbeault's flip-flops on Canada's climate policy are like AB Premier Danielle Smith's flip-flops on health reform. Which version are we supposed to believe?
No need to parse what the Trudeau Liberals say. Just watch what they do.

After declaring a climate emergency, the Liberals bought the Trans Mtn pipeline and are pushing its white elephant "twin" through to completion, regardless of cost to taxpayers. At least $21.4 billion for TMX and rising. Also approved the Baie du Nord offshore oil project. Coastal Gaslink and LNG Canada still going ahead. No accident that Canada included fossil fuel lobbyists in its COP27 delegation.

"Canada leads G20 in financing fossil fuels, lags in renewables funding, report says" (CP, Oct 28, 2021)

Canada is committed only to the phaseout of "inefficient" fossil fuel subsidies, narrowly defined as subsidies that encourage wasteful consumption, viz., the domestic sale of fossil fuels at below cost.
Since subsidies that lower production costs, increase producer profits, and make producers more competitive in global markets do not qualify as "inefficient" subsidies, Ottawa has no plans to halt "efficient" subsidies.
Ottawa will continue to funnel billions of public dollars to the massively profitable, largely foreign-owned O&G industry. Tens of billions into carbon capture, SMRs, and blue hydrogen. Plus clean-up assistance. Canada's idea is to "green" (i.e., greenwash) its fossil fuels at the upstream end, not get off them.

Canada's climate policy is dictated by Corporate Canada, the O&G industry, and its financial backers, the Big Banks. The Liberal Govt is Corporate Canada's front office. No sign that Corporate Canada has changed its position. The light for fossil-fuel expansion is still green.

Carbon Tracker 2019: "Every oil major is betting heavily against a 1.5 degree C world and investing in projects that are contrary to the Paris goals."

Cenovus Energy CEO Alex Pourbaix has made no secret of his opposition to the energy shift:
"Cenovus CEO says future of energy is diversification, not transition" (CP, 2022)

Trudeau (2016): "There is growth to be had in the oilsands. They will be developing more fossil fuels while there's a market for it, while we transition off fossil fuels."
Trudeau (2016): "Our challenge is to use today's wealth to create tomorrow's opportunity."
Trudeau (2017): "No country would find 173 billion barrels of oil in the ground and just leave them there."

Then-Natural Resources Minister Jim Carr: "Our plan is to use this time of transition to Canada's advantage by building the infrastructure to get our resources to global markets and using the revenues to invest in clean forms of energy." (2018)

When the IPCC issued its latest report (2021), then-Environment Minister "Wilkinson reaffirmed Canada's commitment to phasing out fossil fuels and achieving net zero carbon emissions by 2050, but said achieving that target will require money generated by fossil fuels."
"Ottawa says it must maximize revenue from the Trans Mountain pipeline to fight climate change" (CBC, 2021)

Nobel-Prize winning economist Paul Krugman on the fossil fuel industry's "predatory delay":
"Earth, Wind and Liars"
"In the long run, these tactics probably won't stop the transition to renewable energy, and even the villains of this story probably realize that. Their goal is, instead, to slow things down, so they can extract as much profit as possible from their existing investments.

What happened to Guilbeault's rationale for rejecting fossil fuel phaseout? Just a day or two earlier, Canada's Environment Minister was adamant:

"Canada refuses to back COP27 call to 'phase down' oil and gas production' (CP, Nov 17 2022)
"Canada won't agree to add language calling for the phaseout of all fossil fuels — including oil and gas — to the final agreement at this year's United Nations climate talks in Egypt, Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault said Thursday.
"Canada backed the coal language last year, but Guilbeault said it's not open to adding oil and gas to the pact this year.
"He said if Canada backed the addition of oil and gas phaseout language it would prompt pushback from the provinces, including in court.
"'Everything we do is challenged in the court,' he said. (Carbon) pricing was challenged, our plastic pollution regulations were challenged, our environmental impact assessment is being challenged — either by provinces or companies, or both. And if we're not on very solid legal ground, we will lose in front of the tribunals and that doesn't help anyone.'
"Guilbeault said Canada hasn't been challenged over plans to phase out coal, but is on almost everything it does on the oil and gas side.
"'We have to be super careful in terms of what we do … that what we do will hold in court,' he said. 'Otherwise we're wasting time, and precious time, to fight climate change.'
"Julia Levin, national climate program manager for Environmental Defence, called that a disappointing excuse.
"'I'd say it's clear that the government of Canada is beholden to fossil fuel lobbyists and putting their interests ahead of public welfare,' said Levin.
"She added that Canada's position is strange, considering the agreement would likely have included the same abatement provision as coal. While Levin doesn't back carbon capture and storage as a serious solution to cutting emissions, she said even that would be 'a clear signal that, according to the U.S. and others, the age of oil and gas is over.'
"The Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, meanwhile, said getting lower-emission oil and natural gas to international markets is paramount for its members.
"'As global demand for natural gas and oil will remain strong for decades, Canada has a role to play in providing safe and lower emission resources to the world’s energy mix,' said Lisa Baiton, CAPP's president and CEO, in a written statement."

"Minister Guilbeault’s statement on Canada’s position and achievements on climate change at COP27" (Nov 21, 2022)
"Canada’s position was steadfast: the latest science says that we need to limit temperature increases to 1.5 degrees in order to avert the worst consequences of climate change, and that countries need to be accelerating their climate mitigation efforts, and we must not backslide. This is exactly what we are doing at home with our sector-by-sector Emissions Reduction Plan.
“…Canada also fought hard so that the world did not backslide on the phasing out of fossil fuel subsidies and coal, still the single largest sources of CO2 emissions. Canada reiterated our commitment to phase out fossil fuel subsidies by 2023, two years earlier than the G20 commitment. We are also on track to eliminate coal-fired energy at home by 2030. During a global energy crisis, we are more committed than ever to support the global transition to cleaner, renewable forms of energy, by transitioning away from our dependency on fossil fuels.
“…Canada would have liked to have seen stronger references to human rights and the rights of Indigenous Peoples and to the importance of traditional knowledge in achieving climate ambition. Canada will continue to reinforce the importance of a rights-based approach to climate action around the world."

Canada is a world leader in backsliding.
First Nations on the front lines of the O&G industry continue to suffer.
What about the rights of indigenous peoples in Fort Chipewyan? Aamjiwnaang First Nation in Sarnia's Chemical Valley? The Wet'suwet'en in B.C.?
Hollow words.

Steven Guilbeault's ironclad integrity and intentionality means nothing in your assessment? He's just a corporate shill? He's earnest personified, also finding his feet nicely under the circumstances. I mean, there ARE circumstances....
Because of the pervasive reality of oil and gas dependence worldwide at the moment, particularly as cold winter nights descend in Europe, don't you think the fact that there were more representatives than ever before at COP27 might indicate that these guys are finally at least becoming defensive about their industry? It not only reflects their monstrous hubris, it also usefully casts them as the true villains of the piece, in tandem with the "evil empire." That's progress.

Guilbeault's glaring flip-flop on fossil-fuel phase-out hardly spells competence, much less integrity. So much for "finding his feet".

Why include fossil fuel lobbyists in Canada's COP27 delegation? What are they there for except to thwart the climate action and make sure Guilbeault does not forget his lines.
Guilbeault's spokesperson defended their inclusion:
“Without the full participation of all industries, we won’t get there. We must all do our fair share.”
"Canada ruffles some feathers at COP27 by including oil and gas representatives in its delegation" (CP, Nov 08, 2022)

As Corporate Canada's front office, the Liberal Party serves, enables, and delivers on Corporate Canada's agenda. Government enablers and bureacrats are just as culpable for climate failure as the oil barons and bank CEOs sitting in office towers. It's all one machine.

If fossil-fuel lobbyists are "the true villains of the piece", that essentially repudiates the responsibility of our democratically-elected representatives. It implies that Canada's Environment Minister — indeed, the whole government apparatus — has no independent power, but merely follows the dictates of Corporate Canada. Industry has captured government, and government ministers are reduced to smiling enablers and willing accomplices. We have no democracy.
If Guilbeault has no power to make decisions, why is he even there? Merely a figurehead to deliver Corporate Canada's agenda to Canadians.

Intentionality? The Trudeau Liberals intend to fail on climate.
Corporate Canada and its government enablers — the federal Liberals and Conservatives as well as "progressive" provincial parties (AB and BC NDP) — are betting that the world will fail to take real action on climate change. The only scenario in which fossil fuel expansion makes sense.
As they see it, the path to renewable energy and a sustainable future runs through a massive spike in fossil-fuel combustion and emissions. Complete disconnect from the science.
If Guilbeault had any integrity, he would resign.

In an open letter, Quebec environmentalists denounced the Liberal MP. As an environmentalist, Guilbeault made many controversial compromises.
"On projects as sensitive and critical for the climate as the thermal power plant of the Suroît, shale gas exploitation in Quebec, the port of Rabaska and more recently the cement plant in Port-Daniel, Steven Guilbeault's positions have systematically contradicted, thwarted and sometimes even sabotaged hard efforts and patient struggles…"
"Rupture définitive de Steven Guilbeault avec le mouvement écologiste" (2019/10/16)

With friends like these…

By "villains of the piece" and the "evil kingdom" I mean Saudi Arabia and the other Arab oil-producing countries, all of which are run exclusively by men who follow the dictates of Islamic doctrine, a story that has in turn clearly been created exclusively by men. Because it sure as hell isn't based on reality. They've had their day in the sun and then some, growing ever more arrogant, corrupt and entitled to the point where they are actually being perceived as cartoonish in the eyes of the world currently gathered in Qatar. There's horror on the heels of that though because psycho Putin also comes to mind in this context, with fossil fuels/ depraved cruelty/extortion as the common backdrop. If this stark reality can even seep into the boys' "beautiful game" maybe we can hope the magic is finally starting to evaporate?

Not much daylight between Arab petro-states and the oil mafia in the West, including Canada. They are driven by the same ambition, engage in the same climate obstructionism, and talk the same language.
"Arrogant, corrupt and entitled", as you put it. Add delusional and sociopathic.

In petro-states, there is no line between government and national oil companies (NOCs). Elsewhere, the revolving door between government and investor-owned oil companies (IOCs) blurs the lines. In both cases, industry backed by Big Money dictate governments' energy/climate agenda.

Where does Shell Canada end and the B.C. Govt begin?
"Industry Carbon-Capture Steamroller Could Crush BC First Nations" (The Tyee)

Perhaps the only difference is that our governments feel compelled to lie to us.