Nfld. & Labrador·Opinion

We're in a climate emergency. It's time for our leaders to start acting like it

Not everyone wants an oil recovery, writes contributor Lori Lee Oates, who instead calls on politicians to focus on climate change and the damage of fossil fuels.

Politicians should stop focusing on an oil recovery, and look beyond

Not everyone wants an oil recovery, writes contributor Lori Lee Oates, who instead calls on politicians to focus on climate change and the damage of fossil fuels. (Nicholas Hillier Photography/Submitted by Lori Lee Oates)

This column is an opinion by Lori Lee Oates, a lecturer at Memorial University and a member of the Podco political podcast. For more information about CBC's Opinion section, please see the FAQ.


The western United States is on fire.

There has been $100 million worth of damage from bushfires in Australia this year.

A World Wildlife Federation report recently found that our planet has lost 68 per cent of its biodiversity since 1970.

In 2019, more than 11,000 scientists warned us that we are in a climate emergency and that existing stores of fossil fuels should be left in the ground.

On Sept. 24 of this year, the government of Newfoundland and Labrador announced an oil exploration program.

On Sept. 25, federal Natural Resources Minister Seamus O'Regan announced $320 million for oil workers and to reduce emissions. This was on top of $75 million the federal government committed to the oil industry in April.

These announcements came as Fridays For the Future were marching in St. John's.

On Sept. 30, the 2020-21 provincial budget was released with $1.4 million in reduced funding for the Department of Environment, Climate Change and Municipalities.

Not everyone wants an oil recovery

The Coalition for a Green New Deal in Newfoundland and Labrador has written an open letter to the premier stating that "the most significant factor affecting the health and wellbeing of Newfoundlanders and Labradorians is climate change."

The responses to date could not be more tone deaf. However, the premier did appoint MHA Perry Trimper as his special advisor on climate change.

Earlier this year the Council of Canadians sent a letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau requesting that the federal government not fund exploratory drilling off the coast of Newfoundland and Labrador. Local signatories included the Coalition for a Green New Deal NL, Decarbonize NL, the Memorial University Climate Action Coalition and the Labrador Land Protectors.

In March, 265 academics signed a letter to Trudeau asking for no bailouts for oil and gas, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The letter represented 33 universities and 12 associations, including Memorial University.

An open letter from Memorial University students and faculty was sent to president Vianne Timmons, calling for the university to become independent of oil and gas development. (CBC)

In June, an open letter was sent to Vianne Timmons, the president of Memorial University. The letter called for the university to develop a plan to become independent of oil and gas investment and to recommit to the climate pledge that had been signed the previous year.

There are many citizens and stakeholders who do not want an oil and gas recovery in the face of climate change and falling international oil prices.

Is this really about jobs?

In the wake of the COVID-19 recession, 230 financial experts across the G20 provided commentary on how to carry out a green recovery, in order to meet 2030 climate goals as per the Paris Accord. The study recommended against recovering oil.

In 2018, the International Labour Organization published a report that predicted 24 million green energy jobs will be created this decade. Minister Seamus O'Regan has stated that there are jobs to be created in the green energy sector, and that this will be good for competitiveness and growth.

If funding the West White Rose extension project is really about construction jobs and the spinoff benefits, why not fund energy-efficiency retrofit projects in Newfoundland and Labrador? This could also benefit displaced Come By Chance refinery workers.

If the money is for workers, why not fund education and training for workers who want to transition into green energy or technology sectors?

Why hasn't our new premier called together a panel of climate change experts from Memorial University?

Why hasn't he spent as much time talking to climate activists as oil activists? He ran his leadership campaign on listening to everyone.

Our leaders are not listening to the research

Nationally, the Liberals ran on reducing emissions by more than 30 per cent below 2005 levels. Since the signing of the Paris Accord in 2016, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has recommended 45 per cent emission reductions below 2010 levels.

The current Liberal climate action plan falls short of 30 per cent by 77 megatonnes. That's roughly the emissions of 16.6 million cars.

Federal Environment and Climate Change Minister Jonathan Wilkinson recently said his goal is to release a new climate plan by the end of the year. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

Canada has not promised to do enough, and it is not even doing what it promised to do.

Environment and Climate Change Minister Jonathan Wilkinson recently stated his goal is to release a new climate plan by the end of the year. He maintains that carbon pricing is the most efficient way of reducing emissions, even though there is a body of evidence that suggests otherwise.

Both the federal and provincial levels of government plan to use oil revenue to finance a green transition. However, the most recent climate policy research indicates that this is not advisable.

Even though O'Regan has tweeted about energy efficiency and a green recovery, Canada is supporting fossil fuels at 10 times the G20 average, in response to the pandemic recession.

A study published by the International Monetary Fund has found that Canada subsidizes oil at the rate of about $1,650 per taxpayer. O'Regan says the government of Canada does not define it as a subsidy if they are giving the oil industry money to reduce emissions.

Oil: an industry of the past

With global oil prices down, the province said this summer it would be short $560 million in oil revenue for 2020-21.

Our provincial GDP last year was $31.6 billion. Half a billion dollars is 1.6 per cent of that.

In truth, at peak there were approximately 6,791 jobs in the offshore. If we invest in new sectors, then that is where the jobs and spinoffs will be.

GDP value by industry is largely determined by those who hold the purse strings. Oil is a huge part of our economy because our leaders have decided that it will be.

They claim that our product is preferable because it is "clean oil." However, most of the emissions are downstream. Burning fossil fuels is simply not good for the planet, and cleaner energy sources are dropping in price on an almost daily basis.

A recent report from BP Energy admits that we may already be past peak oil demand. This is not just a down cycle in the industry.

We are in a climate emergency. The research could not be more clear on what needs to happen next.

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

About the Author

Lori Lee Oates

Contributor

Lori Lee Oates, Ph.D. is a lecturer in the M.Phil. (Humanities) program at Memorial University and has worked in the senior levels of the provincial and federal governments.

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