Ottawa to implement new cap on oil and gas sector GHG emissions, Wilkinson says

At the United Nations climate conference in Glasgow, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau committed to reducing GHG emissions until reaching net zero by 2050.

Federal natural resources minister states it needs to be enforceable and workable

Natural Resources Minister Jonathan Wilkinson says Alberta must focus on improving emissions intensity in the short-term in order to meet Canada's goal of net zero by 2050. (Kyle Bakx/CBC)

The federal government is exploring investments and tax-related measures to enforce a hard cap on greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in the oil and gas sector.

This new GHG emissions cap will be implemented through a new federal process, according to Jonathan Wilkinson, federal natural resources minister, who spoke to CBC's Jim Brown on the West of Centre podcast.

"The provincial cap that exists right now is not as broad as the federal process would be … as I understand it, the provincial cap has never been put into regulation," Wilkinson said. 

"We need to ensure that there's something that's actually enforceable over the long term. It needs to be something that industry thinks is workable."

Alberta already has a 100-megatonne provincial emissions cap for the oilsands, but that limit allows for expansion and has never been reached.

Wilkinson said the exact limit of the emissions cap is something he and Minister of Environment and Climate Change Steven Guilbeault will discuss. 

Canada's COP26 promises

At the United Nations climate conference in Glasgow (COP26), Prime Minister Justin Trudeau committed to reducing GHG emissions until reaching net zero by 2050.

Wilkinson said Alberta must focus on improving emissions intensity in the short-term in order to meet the goal of net zero by 2050. The alternative, Wilkinson said, is to decrease production.

  • LISTEN Political and natural resources:
Just as the federal and provincial governments reach an uneasy peace over a childcare plan things have been heating up over another file: Natural resources. Ottawa is building a program to transition workers and has promised a cap on oil and gas emissions, as oil prices recently reached a seven-year high. New federal minister Jonathan Wilkinson joins guest host Jim Brown. Then, political scientist Lisa Young and columnist Graham Thomson talk about the upcoming United Conservative Party annual general meeting.

He said making improvements solely through emissions intensity will become more challenging down the line.

"In the short term, I would suggest that a lot of the improvements in terms of reducing emissions is going to come through emissions intensity, through things like carbon capture and sequestration," he said. 

Carbon capture and sequestration facilities would collect carbon and pump it underground for long-term storage. 

"Ultimately, we are going to have to drive demand down for oil through the deployment of zero emission vehicles because, as you know, oil is primarily used as a transportation fuel."

At COP26, Canada also committed to phasing out inefficient fossil fuel subsidies by 2023.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau committed to reducing Canada's GHG emissions to net zero by 2050. (Phil Noble/Pool/The Associated Press)

Wilkinson said that includes subsidies promoting further exploration and production of fossil fuels but not investments to reduce emissions in the sector.

"At the end of the day, we are in a climate crisis," Wilkinson said. 

"It is incumbent on us to be looking at all of the levers that we can pull at the governmental level alongside industry to reduce those emissions in a rapid way."

Kenney vs. the feds

In response to Trudeau's commitment at COP26 to introduce GHG emission caps, Alberta Premier Jason Kenney said the province should be consulted on such decisions. 

"I don't know why they would make an announcement like this without consulting with the province that actually owns the overwhelming majority of Canada's oil and gas reserve," said Kenney.

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney says Ottawa should consult with energy provinces on decisions related to GHG emission caps. (Chris Schwarz/Government of Alberta)

Though Kenney said his government is not opposed to a GHG emissions cap, he argued it would be better for Ottawa to help the oil and gas industry pay for carbon capture. Such facilities already exist in Alberta.

Political columnist Graham Thomson said the premier likely saw Trudeau's announcement as another "anti-Albertans, anti-oilsands" move from the federal government.

"I think what's happening here is that, you know, Kenney is jumping on this, saying that Ottawa is not talking to the provinces, and they feel, in a sense, Ottawa is moving ahead without consultation with the provinces," said Thomson. 

Lisa Young, political scientist and professor at the University of Calgary, said this new federal cap on GHG emissions will likely shape Alberta-national relations for some time. 

"It's going to be very acrimonious as long as Jason Kenney is the premier," Young said. 

According to Thomson, Kenney's discourse with Ottawa may not be positive, but Albertans have legitimate concerns when it comes to the federal government's decisions on the oil and gas industry. 

"In some ways, Albertans just want Ottawa to acknowledge what's actually going on and people are losing their jobs," he said. 

On Thursday morning, the Alberta government announced up to $131 million from the Technology Innovation and Emissions Reduction (TIER) fund will be invested in a provincial energy efficiency and carbon capture program. 

Seven projects will receive the funding, which aims to cut 2.9 million tonnes of emissions by 2030, according to a news release.

With files from West of Centre, the Canadian Press


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