With Canadian climate politics bogged down in fierce debates between Ottawa and the Prairie provinces, Quebec is making its position clear as day: it’s time to end the era of fossil fuels.

At the annual UN climate change negotiations now unfolding in Dubai, Quebec was promoted to the leadership team of the Beyond Oil and Gas Alliance (BOGA) — a coalition of countries and sub-national governments that have committed to banning the exploration and development for new oil and gas.

Quebec joins Denmark and Costa Rica as co-chairs, and will have a special focus on sub-national governments, an especially crucial job given jurisdiction over natural resources often falls to provinces or states.

“We need to do more, we need to go faster,” said Quebec Environment Minister Benoit Charette. “We talk a lot about the responsibilities of the national states, but sub-national states can do a lot.”

At this climate summit in particular, where debating the role of fossil fuels in future energy mixes is a top priority, Charette said he’s concerned countries’ ambition won’t be high enough.

“I don't like hearing about phasing down [fossil fuels],” he said. “It's not enough. Phasing out is the real [goal] we need to reach.”

Denmark Minister for Development Cooperation and Global Climate Policy Dan Jørgensen said he hopes this will be the year fossil fuels are addressed head-on, noting that over the past 28 years, world leaders have failed to address fossil fuels, which are the core problem of climate change.

“The Stone Age didn't end because we ran out of stone, just as the fossil era will not end because we've run out of fossils,” he said. “It will only end if we make political decisions to make it happen.”

The science is very clear that in to stay within the Paris Agreement’s goal of holding global warming to 1.5 C — the internationally agreed threshold before significant, catastrophic damage is likely to be irreversibly locked in — some of the known fossil fuel reserves will have to stay underground.

Quebec's role in the push by Beyond Oil and Gas Alliance to end oil and gas increases. #Quebec #cdnpoli #BOGA #oil #gas

In an interview with Canada’s National Observer, Quebec envoy for climate change Jean Lemire said the next task for the province is convincing other sub-national governments to do more.

Already, Quebec has begun meeting with provincial counterparts, although Lemire declined to say who specifically. Whether Quebec will be effective in convincing others to join BOGA is an open question.

Other sub-national targets Quebec is looking to bring into the alliance, or increase their ambition within the alliance, include Scotland, California, and São Paulo.

As previously reported by Canada’s National Observer, Ottawa opposed Quebec joining the landmark alliance in 2021. BOGA “is not in Canada’s interest, as its aim to phase out the oil and gas sector conflicts with Canadian policy ensuring the sector has a sustainable role in a net-zero world,” reads a briefing note prepared for Natural Resources Canada staff ahead of a meeting with Denmark’s climate change ambassador at COP26, which Canada’s National Observer received through a federal access-to-information request.

Lemire said that while Quebec has talked to the federal government about the alliance, they didn’t “ask permission” before joining because the province believed it was well within its rights.

He also bristled at critics who insist it’s easy for Quebec to join an alliance working to phase out oil and gas because it doesn’t have a booming fossil fuel industry. In fact, Lemire said, when Quebec joined, it said no to billions of dollars worth of natural gas development in the St. Lawrence Valley, and is now dealing with court challenges from resource companies looking to recoup money related to cancelled exploration permits.

Leïla Cantave, Quebec lead with Climate Action Network Canada, said becoming co-chair is a moment of great responsibility.

Quebec must now turn its commitment to fighting climate change into concrete measures, not only at the local level but also by positively influencing Canada's and the world's trajectory,” she said. “This is a unique opportunity for Quebec to actively shape the global climate agenda and show how effective leadership can deliver concrete, transformative change.”

Other climate advocacy groups celebrated Quebec’s appointment to co-chair, too. Équiterre climate policy analyst Andréanne Brazeau called it an “inspiring” announcement that shouldserve as an example to Ottawa and the other Canadian provinces, whose economies depend on fossil fuels and whose delegations to COP28 include too many representatives from this sector.”

Others were more critical and said this is the time to see climate ambition further raised.

“The Quebec government is trying to hide its flagrant lack of ambition when it comes to reducing greenhouse gas emissions by signalling it's green when it is barely on track to reach 60 per cent of its 2030 target, worse than all G20 countries,” said Greenpeace Canada climate and energy campaigner Patrick Bonin. “The Quebec government must demand that Canada immediately reduce and impose a cap on oil and gas emissions, and it must demonstrate much greater ambition in emissions reductions in Quebec.”

BOGA is trying to accelerate the phaseout of fossil fuels by targeting the supply of oil and gas, rather than the demand for it. It was launched two years ago at COP26 in Glasgow with initial membership including Denmark, Costa Rica, France, Greenland, Ireland, Sweden, Wales and Quebec as “core” members, California, Portugal and New Zealand as “associate” members, and Italy, which joined as a “friend” of the alliance.

The different membership levels are for governments with different commitments. To be a core member means ending new exploration permits, while associate members must demonstrate efforts towards an oil and gas phaseout, like ending fossil fuel subsidies. Friends of BOGA simply means supporting the effort and agreeing to a socially just and equitable transition to phase out oil and gas production in line with the objectives of the Paris Agreement.

Two years since the launch, the alliance has grown to 24 governments across multiple continents. New members include Samoa, Kenya and Spain.

Samoan Natural Resources and Environment Minister Toeolesulusulu Cedric Schuster told Canada’s National Observer there is significant interest in the alliance from the 39-country Alliance of Small Island States, hinting at how membership might leap in the coming years.

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