If climate policy was a hockey game, Canada just missed a chance to score the winning goal. Instead, Canada’s puck hit the post — near the net, but not enough to score.

With the tepid oil and gas emissions cap announced last week at COP28, Canada missed a chance to show leadership on the world stage. As a historic big emitter, Canada could have set a gold standard for how wealthy countries tackle fossil fuel emissions — by requiring the fossil fuel sector cut emissions at the same level as the rest of the economy. Instead, Canada’s announcement illustrates how a handful of greedy oil and gas CEOs can weaken national climate policy.

How weak is the proposed oil and gas emissions cap? Using a 2019 benchmark, Canada’s national emissions reduction target is 54 per cent below 2019 levels by 2030. The proposed cap is for 35 to 38 per cent below 2019 levels by 2030.

Here’s the especially alarming part: if oil and gas companies pay offsets, they are required to cut emissions by just 20 to 23 per cent below 2019 levels by 2030. Despite scientists telling us that urgent action is needed to keep the 1.5 C goal alive, the emissions cap would only come into effect in 2026.

It’s true that a weak cap is better than no cap. It’s also true that the framework announced is not final. Hopefully in the weeks ahead, as draft regulations are crafted, reviewed and finalized, Canadian officials will find the courage to stand up to greedy oil and gas CEOs — and finally make the sector do its fair share.

Thousands of Canadians — in letters, tweets, phone calls — asked for a target of 54 per cent below 2019 levels by 2030. (This is equivalent to 45 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030. For Canada to do its part globally, the oil and gas industry must cut emissions 60 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030.) It’s only fair that, at a minimum, Canada’s biggest and fastest-growing polluting sector gets the same target as the rest of the economy.

It’s tough to envision how this lacklustre cap will enable Canada to meet its climate goals — unless stricter targets are required for other sectors across Canada. But maybe that’s the gamble the federal government is willing to make — that other sectors won’t lobby as much as the oil and gas sector.

Canada has never met a climate target, in part due to rising emissions from oil and gas. And Canada’s environment commissioner warned Canada is not on track for meeting its legally binding climate goal — in part due to overly optimistic assumptions about how quickly carbon capture and storage (CCS) projects could be up and running and how much they would capture.

Recent reports have revealed an abysmal CCS record: 80 per cent of CCS projects in the last 30 years have ended in failure, CCS would cost trillions more than renewable energy, and leading energy experts say CCS is a distraction used by the fossil fuel sector to justify a business-as-usual approach.

With the tepid #OilAndGas emissions cap announced last week at #COP28, Canada missed a chance to show leadership on the world stage, writes @KateHodgson7 @leadnowca #cdnpoli #JustTransition #EmissionsCap #CapPolluters #ClimateCrisis

Like a star forward, Canada is dodging warnings about CCS left and right. Why? A Canadian official who spoke at a COP28 event on CCS said: “You have no idea how excited our industry is.”

Canada missed the memo that climate policy should not be based on how “excited” the fossil fuel industry is. Then again, an Influence Map report flagged that government communications in Canada on CCS echo industry talking points that are not 1.5 aligned.

In March, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) Synthesis Report flagged that projected emissions from existing fossil fuel infrastructure alone would exceed the remaining carbon budget for the 1.5 C goal. The report also flagged that we need to reduce CO2 emissions by 48 per cent by 2030 and by 99 per cent by 2050, and most of that CO2 right now is from burning fossil fuels.

In politics, sometimes the goal is not to make stakeholders happy but make everyone a little unhappy. Last week’s announcement achieves that. Environmental groups will not be happy about the offsets, delayed timeline and weak stringency. Industry will not be happy there is a cap at all. Finding middle ground may be the right chess move in politics, but it’s not the moral move when you are gambling with our children’s future.

Sadly, this seems to be the story of Canadian climate policy, with laws and regulations weakened, delayed and outright killed under the weight of industry lobbying. At COP this year, we saw a record number of fossil fuel lobbyists and climate commitments on the verge of drastic weakening, even as the suffering caused by climate disasters around the world got worse.

This summer, Canadians from coast, to coast, to coast struggled with heat waves and record-breaking wildfires. Thousands were evacuated. The IPCC says in a warming world, Canada can expect more heat waves and more wildfires.

It’s not too late for the federal government to do the right thing — stop playing political games, stand up to oil and gas CEOs, and pass a better, bolder emissions cap for a safe climate future.

Kate Hodgson is a climate campaigner at Leadnow. She is a community organizer and campaigner with six years of experience in the climate movement, who cut her teeth in the fight against the TMX pipeline and spent her university years campaigning for fossil fuel divestment.

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A cap on industry emissions seems to have become a regressive policy, mainly because it was so bloody open to manipulation by industry. But it was also presented by environmental organizations purely as reactionary punishment, which of course will predictably generate equal or better amounts of inevitable industry backlash in the media.

I think a superior approach would be something similar to the Biden administration's Inflation Reduction Act that seriously pumps up demand for renewables and green investments, which of course will directly displace the demand for fossil fuels in the only arena industry truly cares about: the market.

Attacking the world's most powerful and profitable industry will result in totally predictable confrontation and cause industry to build even more legal and propaganda walls in its own defense.

But government presenting attractive economic proposals and incentives to build renewables as partners with industry, the onus would be on the oil industry's shoulders alone to publicly participate or stay out.

That would free the government to kill oil extraction subsidies and more generously and directly fund renewable energy projects, smart grids, conservation measures and what have you, with agreeable renewable energy companies without interference by Big Oil.

The international renewable energy strategy is growing fast with or without Big Oil and fossilized provinces. Whatever emissions regulation does get through their filters, watered down or not, will be backstopped by a far more powerful, fast growing global trend toward clean energy.

In that context, diluted carbon emission regs are not a failure per se, mainly because the solid wall of oil demand destruction is just around the corner.

Leading environmental groups sometimes could use a primer in Econ 101 and a week's worth of a quiet sit-down study of the evidence presented in reports by the IEA, Climate Brief, Bloomberg Energy and others, including any number of climate science institutes.

However, sitting down in nourishing study will likely detract from soliciting donations from angry people who want to reactively punish and take revenge and play the fear card over and over in politics instead of proactively developing workable, realistic policy solutions.

As with the Carbon Tax, I think the Federal government is held back by public opinion and conservative provincial governments that are hostile to any policies that could lead to reductions in Canada's CO2 emissions. Carbon Tax, Clean Energy Regulations and Canada's Emissions Cap are policies that we need to provide industry with clarity on what the rules will be going forward. They may be watered down, but stronger measures aren't going to help with public opinion. If the government is replaced by pipeline loving conservatives you can also say goodbye to some really positive investments through the Canada Infrastructure Bank, policy supporting EV sales and charging infrastructure, policy to fund and protect Canada's ecosystems and many other helpful policies. I agree that we need stronger measures, but unfortunately too many people in Canada aren't even supporting the weaker measures. That needs to change.