Nfld. & Labrador

Andrew Furey defends pitch for N.L. oil at UN climate change conference

David Suzuki urges the provincial government — and individuals — to stop relying on fossil fuels immediately.

David Suzuki urges provincial government — and individuals — to stop relying on fossil fuels immediately

Environmentalist David Suzuki says Newfoundland and Labrador's reliance on fossil fuels need to stop, and that individual sacrifices will have to be made. (xx)

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Canadian climate activist David Suzuki says Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Andrew Furey's sales pitch at COP26 for provincially produced oil was the wrong thing to do.

Suzuki said he didn't attend the United Nations climate change conference because he doubted anything would be accomplished — and said Furey's touting of N.L. oil as being relatively clean because of the lower carbon footprint of its production ignores the real issues.

"We have changed the chemistry of the atmosphere. And that oil that has been so important to Newfoundlanders is now something that doesn't work," said Suzuki.

"It's still oil, and the reality is that oil has got to be left in the ground. I'm really sorry about that, but that's the reality. It's not me saying that, the scientists are telling us that. Do we take science seriously or not?"

COP26 wrapped up Saturday after two weeks of negotiations. Suzuki said such conferences often involve states protecting their own interests.

"[Furey] shouldn't be there saying Newfoundland's interests come above everything else," Suzuki told CBC News Wednesday.

"A hundred and ninety-six nations or whatever it is, they're all looking at this issue as if they have to protect their national or economic or political agenda and make it all fit. It isn't going to work that way."

The transition away from fossil fuels, says Suzuki, has to start immediately.

N.L. evaluating everything: Furey

Furey said it was important for the province to be at the table with world leaders to share its plans for oil and gas.

He said the province brought a "message of transition" and can be part of the solution — adding many countries will still rely on oil during a transition period.

"As I said to someone at the COP26 conference, 'How are you getting home?'… There is a time and a place for oil and gas," Furey said. "No oil is perfectly clean, but we have some of the cleanest product in the entire world. It's a product that the world needs right now in terms of transition."

Premier Andrew Furey at COP26 in Glasgow. (Premier of NL/Twitter)

But the premier came up short on details about how Advance 2030 — the province's plan to double oil production by the end of the decade — fits in with the global need to reduce emissions.

"We're evaluating everything currently, but we believe that there's decades, a decade at least and perhaps more, of time that this product is incredibly valuable. Not just for Newfoundland and Labrador's GDP, but for the entire world. This is what people are going to need right now," Furey said.

Canadians will change, but we need the leadership that says we've got no choice.- David Suzuki

While electric vehicles are gaining traction in Newfoundland and Labrador, Suzuki says they aren't the salvation some people might hope they are.

"If you look at all of the energy and the materials that go into an electric car, the benefit to the planet in terms of reduced emissions is quite small," said Suzuki.

"Of course, if you were going to have to get a car, it should be electric.… But believe me, in the long run, it is not the magic bullet."

According to Suzuki, the best way of travelling in the future will be by foot, bicycle or public transportation.

Electric vehicles are part of a need for rethinking transportation, says Suzuki. (Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press)

But beyond a need for rethinking transportation, says Suzuki, individual sacrifices in all areas of life are required to stop global warming.

Clothing and food production are areas where energy is wasted, said Suzuki, who criticized the fast fashion industry and importing produce that is out of season.

"We can't have the same fresh fruit and vegetables 12 months a year. We live in a northern country," said Suzuki.

Especially in a place like Newfoundland and Labrador, where food supply is an ongoing issue, eating locally and seasonally can be part of the solution, said Suzuki.

Effecting change, said Suzuki, doesn't just depend on individual actions but on governments' commitment to fast action.

He said the quick global response to the COVID-19 pandemic is the kind of fast action required to fight climate change.

"COVID was a crisis that is nothing compared to the crisis of climate change in the end. And look what we did," said Suzuki.

"Think of the enormous changes that Canadians went through in the way they lived during the COVID crisis. That's the kind of commitment to the emergency that we need. Canadians will change, but we need the leadership that says we've got no choice."

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

With files from Carolyn Stokes and Jeremy Eaton

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