Canada is among a group of top fossil fuel-producing countries that are on pace to extract more oil and gas than would be consistent with agreed-upon international targets designed to limit global warming, according to a new analysis.
The report, released on Wednesday by the United Nations in collaboration with a team of international scientists, found that countries still plan to produce more than double the amount of fossil fuels in 2030 than would be required to limit warming to 1.5 C above pre-industrial levels.
The findings are at odds with government commitments under the 2015 Paris Agreement, as well as with projections by the International Energy Agency that global demand for coal, oil and gas will peak within this decade.
The report’s authors said more money needs to be allocated toward the transition to clean energy and that the top producers need to work together to limit production.
“We find that many governments are promoting fossil gas as an essential ‘transition’ fuel but with no apparent plans to transition away from it later,” Ploy Achakulwisut, a lead author of the report and a scientist at the Stockholm Environment Institute, said in a statement.
“Science says we must start reducing global coal, oil and gas production and use now — along with scaling up clean energy, reducing methane emissions from all sources and other climate actions — to keep the 1.5 C goal alive.”
Michael Lazarus, a senior scientist at the Stockholm institute and another one of the report’s authors, said in a statement that wealthier countries “with the greatest capacities to transition away from fossil fuel production bear the greatest responsibility to do so while providing finance and support to help other countries do the same.”
In a briefing held before the report’s release, the researchers argued that the continued production of fossil fuels would undermine the transition to cleaner forms of energy.
“Given that governments, production plans and targets helped to influence, legitimize and justify continued fossil fuel dependence, there is a real risk that such plans are undermining the energy transition by locking in long-lived fossil fuel infrastructure,” Achakulwisut said.
Canada’s production set to climb
UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres, who has become increasingly outspoken in his calls for action on climate change, said the report is “a startling indictment of runaway climate carelessness.”
The report, citing figures from the Canada Energy Regulator, shows Canada — the fourth-largest oil producer in the world — is set to increase production through 2030 if there is no further action to reduce emissions, and by 25 per cent above 2022 levels by 2035.
(Under a net-zero scenario, where countries hit their climate goals, Canada’s oil production is projected to peak by 2026 and decline to 73 per cent below 2022 levels by 2050.)
The report notes that the federal and provincial governments have recently approved new oil and gas developments.
By contrast, other fossil fuel-producing countries, such as Norway and the United Kingdom, are projected to scale down production. (The United States, the largest producer of fossil fuels, is on track to increase production.)
The 126-page document was prepared by the United Nations Environment Program, along with more than 80 researchers at universities, think-tanks and non-profit organizations around the world.
It comes on the heels of another assessment of Canada’s climate policy, an audit by federal Environment and Sustainable Development Commissioner Jerry DeMarco.
In a report released on Tuesday, DeMarco found that under its current plan, the country falls short of hitting the next greenhouse gas reduction target in 2030 by several million tonnes.
“Canada is the only G7 country that has not achieved any emissions reductions since 1990,” he said. “But what this also shows is that it is doable. Some of these other places have quite different approaches to reducing emissions.”
Responding to Tuesday’s audit, Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault told reporters that the federal government needs to do more.
He said the commissioner’s audit used last year’s emissions numbers and that by the end of 2023, the federal government will have some “good news” on emission reductions.
‘A big elephant in the room’
Caroline Brouillette, executive director of Climate Action Network Canada, said in an interview with CBC News that the latest findings are further evidence of the need for the federal government to cut all subsidies to fossil fuel companies, both domestically and abroad, and impose a cap on oil and gas emissions.
“In the Canadian climate policy conversation, there has been a big elephant in the room, which is this continued expansion of oil and gas production,” she said.
Environmental advocates, including Brouillette, said Canada will need to be a leader in working to reach an agreement on phasing out fossil fuels at the upcoming UN Climate Change Conference, known as COP28, which takes place in Dubai, U.A.E., from Nov. 30 to Dec. 12.
“It requires global co-ordination, co-operation and agreement,” she said.
Julia Levin, associate director of national climate at Environmental Defence, said in an email that governments should be “going all in on rapidly phasing out oil and gas production and deploying reliable, effective and affordable solutions, like solar energy and heat pumps.”
Instead, she said, “governments in Canada and around the world are doubling down on fossil fuel production.”
Asked about the UN report’s findings, Lisa Baiton, president and CEO of the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers based in Calgary, said in a statement, “Global demand for oil and natural gas is reaching record levels and growing, and Canada has an important role to play as an energy supplier to our trading partners around the world.”
Based on recent federal government data, “Canada grew its conventional production while lowering greenhouse gas emissions over the last 10 years,” she said, adding that the country “is well positioned to further develop our vast reserves and grow our position as a leader in decarbonization projects while ensuring a stable and affordable energy system.”
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