Canada needs to confront its oilsands 'challenge,' German ambassador says

As his country prepares to a meeting of G7 leaders that will focus on battling climate change, Germany's ambassador to Canada says Ottawa's new targets to cut carbon pollution mean it will have to tackle the challenge posed by the oilsands.

Observers say Canada and Japan are attempting to block 'decarbonization' pledge from G7 declaration

Carbon emissions will be a key subject at a G7 meeting hosted by Germany next month. Canada's new emissions reduction targets did not include regulations for the oil and gas sector, an omission that did not escape the notice of Germany's ambassador to Canada. (Jeff McIntosh/Canadian Press)

Germany's ambassador to Canada says Ottawa's new targets to cut carbon pollution mean it will have to tackle the problem of the oilsands.

In an interview with CBC News, Ambassador Werner Wnendt said he recognizes the oilsands are an asset for Canada.

"On the other side, this is a challenge. Of course we know that the oilsands and the production of oil in the oilsands does produce a lot of carbon and Canada needs to deal with it," he said.

Germany is putting a top priority on climate change as it prepares to host the two-day G7 gathering in the Bavarian town of Schloss Elmau in June. Germany wants the world's richest industrialized countries to send a clear message they're not going shirk their responsibilities in tackling rising global carbon pollution.

By the mid-term of the century we should come to a point where economic growth can work without the emission of carbon- Werner Wnendt, Germany's ambassador to Canada

"The signal is that the leading countries in the G7 group do take this very seriously, that they are ambitious in their own targets and they are ready also to support countries that need to be supported financially." Wnendt said.

The leaders of the seven industrialized countries are being told to be prepared to discuss their new national carbon-cutting goals in preparation for the crucial UN climate conference in Paris at the end of the year.

Canada announced its target for greenhouse gas emissions earlier this month, setting a goal of a 30 per cent reduction below 2005 levels by 2030.

Wnendt said to do that Canada will need to look at all options, including investing in green projects in other countries to balance off emissions from the oilsands.

Along with the targets, federal Environment Minister Leona Aglukkaq announced new measures to reduce methane gas escaping from pipelines and facilities, to reduce emissions from chemicals, fertilizers and gas fired power plants.

But there were no measures to limit CO2 emissions from the oil and gas industry, the country's largest single source of carbon pollution, which did not escape notice in Germany.

"We take note that this is not included in what was announced by the government on the 15th of May," said Wnendt, who added the important thing is countries set climate goals they can meet.

"Every country can decide on its own what is realistic, but they must stick to it. It must be binding, it can't just be words."

Canada and the 'D' word

But there is a word that could tie Canada and the G7 up in knots next week: "decarbonization."

Germany wants the G7 leaders to promise they will decarbonize their economies this century — essentially moving away from fossil fuels oil, gas and coal.

Werner Wnendt, Germany's ambassador to Canada, says compared to the European Union, Canadians could be having more of a debate about carbon emissions. (Mike DePaul/CBC)

"By the mid-term of the century we should come to a point where economic growth can work without the emission of carbon," said Wnendt, pointing out that Germany is trying to cut its carbon emissions by up to 95 per cent by 2050.

But the idea of decarbonization could be a non-starter for Canada, a country that is both a big producer and consumer of fossil fuels.

Observers say Canada and Japan are working hard behind the scenes to stop that promise from appearing in the final G7 declaration.

"They are negotiating quite hard to have the language blocked," said Jennifer Morgan, global director of the climate program at the World Resources Institute.

"My understanding is that Canada is actually trying to have the language, the specific words that are linked to this long-term vision and long-term target, deleted from the text," said Morgan in an interview from Berlin.

"Canada seems to be the most vocal."

Morgan predicts Canada and Japan could get their way because the G7 gatherings operate on consensus.

"You have quite a lot of leadership being shown by [German] Chancellor [Angela] Merkel, trying to send clear signals from these wealthy powerful countries to others around the world, but she has to get everybody on board," Morgan said.

But Ted Laking, a spokesman for the Federal Environment  Minister, says Canada is doing its part to move the world away from fossil fuels.

"As part of our contribution, Canada is taking decisive action both domestically and internationally and has made significant investments in clean technologies to promote further innovation," said Laking in an email.

He wouldn't say whether Canada is trying to block the G7's statement on a long-term goal of decarbonization, but argued Canada has a good record on clean energy.

"Our actions have seen results as Canada's percentage of non-emitting electricity generation is 79 per cent, whereas the G7 average is 38 per cent. Canada will continue to take action to protect the environment while ensuring the Canadian economy remains competitive."

Wnendt won't speculate on what will emerge from behind closed doors at the summit. But he suggested that on the issue of climate change here in Canada there should be more public debate.

"If you compare it to the debates in Germany, to all the member states of the EU and at the EU level, I think, well, there could be more."


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