After decades of missed climate targets and deteriorating credibility on the world stage, last month’s National Inventory Report brought a long-awaited piece of good news: Canada’s climate policies are finally starting to bend the curve on greenhouse gas emissions.
It’s a promising sign. But there’s one notable outlier that’s undermining the hard-won progress underway in the rest of the economy and threatening Canada’s ability to meet its critical 2030 climate target: the oil and gas sector.
Its emissions have skyrocketed by 89 per cent since 1990 — even as other sectors, like electricity and heavy industry, significantly cut their emissions. And that’s only counting the emissions involved in extracting and producing oil and gas, to say nothing of the bigger climate impact that comes when these fossil fuels are burned.
This summer, Ottawa will unveil its new policy to cap emissions from the oil and gas industry. Right now, fossil fuel companies are going all-out to weaken, delay and undermine the regulations, lobbying federal decision-makers on a daily basis and splashing greenwashing ads all over billboards, newspapers and social media.
But a new poll from Abacus Data shows Canadians aren’t buying the spin.
Two in three Canadians say the industry should be required to cut its pollution so that Canada can meet its climate goals — with majority support across all major political lines and all regions.
Support is highest among Liberal (72 per cent), Bloc Québecois (77 per cent), and NDP (81 per cent) voters. It's also significant that half of Conservative supporters (51 per cent) are in favour of an emissions cap, as opposed to only 31 per cent who are against it.
It’s no surprise the most enthusiastic support for capping emissions can be seen in Quebec, Atlantic Canada, British Columbia and Ontario — regions that are often home to key battlegrounds at election time.
The political lesson for MPs of all stripes should be that a strong emissions cap is a win-win, both for the climate and in public opinion, writes @EmilyLowan #OilAndGas #cdnpoli #abpoli #skpoli
But even in Alberta, twice as many people support the cap as oppose it.
The political lesson for MPs of all stripes should be: a strong emissions cap is a win-win, both for the climate and in public opinion.
The design and level of ambition are crucial; we don’t have time for a toothless cap that lets polluters off the hook. For Canada to do its part in the global climate effort, the oil and gas industry would need to cut emissions by 60 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030. At the very least, the cap should be on par with Canada’s whole-of-economy goal of 45 per cent emissions reductions below 2005 levels by 2030 — it’s only fair.
A strong cap should ensure no delays (so-called compliance flexibility that would buy polluters even more years of inaction), no offsets and no exceptions. It should also go hand-in-hand with a well-planned Just Transition to shift our economy in a more competitive direction and give communities the tools for success amid the global race to zero emissions.
While Canadians and other industries are doing their part for the climate, Canada’s biggest polluters, such as Cenovus, Canadian Natural and Imperial Oil, are asking for special treatment. Fossil fuel executives have pushed back against the cap, arguing it will be difficult for them to meet by 2030.
But that’s exactly why we need it.
Oil and gas companies have made big promises about getting to “net zero” by 2050, but even while raking in record profits, they’re failing to invest in decarbonization and diversification. Without regular checkpoints, they will continue polluting recklessly, putting off accountability until decades down the road, at the cost of the rest of us and our shared climate.
Canadians are rightfully skeptical of these delay tactics: just 20 per cent believe fossil fuel companies will voluntarily reduce emissions. Three times as many Canadians say that the oil and gas sector requires regulation.
The disastrous Imperial Oil tailings spill in northern Alberta, which leaked toxic chemicals into the waters of downstream First Nations for nine months before communities were informed, is a testament to the degree of impunity and recklessness with which fossil fuel companies have been allowed to operate.
Research shows a strong emissions cap is feasible. Polls show it’s popular. And science shows, overwhelmingly, that we need to be doing all we can this decade to safeguard a livable planet.
The question now is: Will the federal government let this opportunity be hijacked by a handful of CEOs?
Or will it listen to what Canadians want and deliver a firm, fair cap that holds polluters to account?
Emily Lowan is Climate Action Network Canada’s fossil fuel supply campaigns lead. She has worked in the climate justice movement for more than six years, affecting change through the leadership of successful campaigns, investigative research and climate policy advocacy across Turtle Island. Emily is located on the stolen, unceded territories of the lək ̓ʷəŋən and W̱SÁNEĆ peoples and holds a BA in political science and environmental studies from the University of Victoria.