EDMONTON—An alarming new climate-change report has once again thrust Canada’s oil-and-gas industry into the spotlight, but the political face of the sector, Alberta Premier Jason Kenney, was quick to throw cold water on the notion that the world can simply stop using fossil fuels.
The premier found himself answering questions Monday about a report newly released by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, one that was worked on by 234 scientists from around the globe.
It found that in about 10 years, global temperatures will whip past levels the international community has deemed dangerously warm, bringing extreme weather and rolling climate disasters. In a statement, UN Secretary-General António Guterres said that the more than 3,000-page report should be “code red for humanity” and a “death knell for coal and fossil fuels.”
Speaking to reporters in Edmonton, Kenney said he hadn’t read the new UN report, but that major producers in Alberta have committed to reducing emissions to net-zero by 2050.
Alberta is the world’s third largest oil-producing jurisdiction.
“The notion that we can shut off the entire major industrialized economy with the flick of a switch is patently unrealistic,” he said.
“The vast majority of energy consumed around the world is derived from fossil fuels,” he said. “There is no credible way to eliminate our dependence on fossil fuel energy anytime in the foreseeable future.”
For years, Kenney has championed the province’s energy sector as it has weathered storm after storm — including sinking prices in recent years and during the COVID-19 pandemic —even as companies have collapsed and thousands of jobs have disappeared.
The federal government has stepped in at times to help, including with its purchase of the stalled Trans Mountain pipeline extension project in 2018 in a bid to get more Alberta crude to the British Columbia coast for export overseas.
During Kenney’s successful 2019 election campaign, he ran on a pledge to boost “jobs, the economy and pipelines.”
Once he became premier, Kenney continued his advocacy for the sector, establishing a $ 30-million rapid response “war room” to dispel what it deemed as myths in media and online about the province’s energy sector. The operation has since been mired in controversy and had most of its funding cut at the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Kenney also struck an inquiry that sought to investigate allegations of foreign funded environmentalists who attack the province’s industry. The resulting report hasn’t yet been publicly released by his government and the inquiry’s critics have slammed it as the stuff of conspiracy theories.
Meanwhile, no new pipelines have been built during his term and climate alarms have begun to ring louder.
Chris Severson-Baker, the Alberta director for the Pembina Institute, a clean energy think-tank, said that the Kenney government “is entirely out of touch with where the majority of Canadians are on the issue of climate change.”
In cross-country polling, climate change is often in the top three most important issues for Canadians.
In a report released in July, the Pembina Institute said that Alberta accounts for 38 per cent of Canada’s emissions and that the province’s emissions increased by 17 per cent between 2005 and 2019. The oil-and-gas sector accounts for 51 per cent of Alberta’s overall emissions, the report noted. Much of Canada’s success in emissions reduction over the past 15 years has, in fact, been offset by transportation growth and the energy industry, said Severson-Baker.
Severson-Baker said that the Alberta government gives mixed signals when it says it supports climate action but then challenges the federal carbon tax in court. This could cause uncertainty for investors who may want to put money into Alberta, he said.
“In Alberta, we need to come to grips with the fact that our market is changing, and we need to prepare for that future scenario,” he said.
Alberta could boost carbon-capture technology so that oil produces less carbon, said Severson-Baker, and it could produce more low-carbon natural gas.
“But there are some streams of oil and gas in Alberta that are high-cost, high carbon and likely not going to be economically viable in a reduced demand environment,” he said.
“The best way that Alberta can respond to this future scenario is to adopt a target that is consistent with the target that Canada has adopted,” he added, “and actually come up with a plan that would meet that target and implement it.”
In April, Ottawa pledged to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 40 to 45 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030.
In a statement to the Star, Tim McMillan, the president of the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, said that the demand for oil and gas is growing, will get past pre-pandemic levels in two years and is “expected to grow for decades to come.”
“We absolutely believe there is space in the global market for Canada’s oil and natural gas production,” he said.
“With our continuous emissions intensity reductions and our leading role in clean technology investments in Canada, the industry has demonstrated we are committed to playing a pivotal role in helping Canada meet its stated emissions reduction goals.”