Canada will put a cap on oil and gas sector emissions, Trudeau tells COP26 summit

Canada will impose a hard cap on emissions from the oil and gas sector, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced Monday at the COP26 summit in Glasgow.

'That's no small task for a major oil and gas producing country. It's a big step,' PM says in speech

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau arrives for the COP26 summit in Glasgow, Scotland, Monday Nov. 1, 2021. (Phil Noble/The Associated Press)

Our planet is changing. So is our journalism. This story is part of a CBC News initiative entitled Our Changing Planet to show and explain the effects of climate change and what is being done about it.

Canada will impose a hard cap on emissions from the oil and gas sector, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced Monday at the COP26 summit in Glasgow.

Calling the promise "a major commitment" that should inspire other resource-rich countries to dramatically curb their own emissions, Trudeau said Canada is prepared to limit the growth of one of the country's largest industries to help the world hold the global average temperature increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius.

"We'll cap oil and gas sector emissions today and ensure they decrease tomorrow at a pace and scale needed to reach net-zero by 2050," Trudeau said during his two-minute speech in front of other world leaders gathered in Scotland.

"That's no small task for a major oil and gas producing country. It's a big step that's absolutely necessary."

In 2019, Canada's oil and gas sector accounted for 191 megatonnes of greenhouse gas emissions — 26 per cent of the country's total emissions. The country's second largest source of emissions is the transport sector, which emitted 186 megatonnes.

Since 1990, emissions from the oil and gas sector have nearly doubled — an increase largely attributed to a dramatic expansion of the oilsands industry.

The Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP), the lobby group that represents oil and gas interests, has argued that Canada accounts for less than 1.5 per cent of the world's GHG emissions and global climate change efforts should be directed at coal, which still accounts for half of all emissions.

"Natural gas and oil are Canada's largest export products and a foundational pillar of Canada's economy and innovation capacity, supporting approximately 500,000 jobs and representing about $30 billion in annual economic investment,"  CAPP president and CEO Tim McMillan said in a media statement issued Monday.

"To achieve the ambitions of the Paris Agreement the world will need increased access to lower emission natural gas and oil. Canada, under the right policy environment, can position ourselves as a preferred global supplier, creating jobs and prosperity for Canadians and helping to lower global greenhouse gas emissions."

In a letter to the government's net-zero advisory board, Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault and Natural Resources Minister Jonathan Wilkinson say they need the board's help to craft the new sector emission cap.

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"Specifically, we seek your advice on key guiding principles to inform the development of quantitative five-year targets," the ministers wrote in a letter sent Monday.

"It is essential that as we move to a net-zero emissions economy, Canadian workers and communities continue to prosper. Our goal is a future in which the energy workers and communities that helped build this country have even greater opportunities than they do today, through a responsible transition to the low-carbon economy."

Speaking with reporters Monday in Glasgow, Guilbeault said he didn't have any details yet on what would happen to a company that goes beyond the cap.

"We will need to be developing this, and that's exactly what we will be doing in the coming months," he said.

Guilbeault said the proposal has received praise from other countries and that John Kerry, the United States special presidential envoy for climate, had expressed interest in the idea.

"So I think that what we're bringing to the table is clearly getting very positive attention," he said.

Catherine Abreu is the executive director of Destination Zero and a member of the net-zero advisory panel. She said she was expecting more from the Canadian delegation at this summit — which has been billed as the "last, best chance" to commit the world to aggressive emissions cuts.

"We didn't get any commitment to Canada thinking through an economic transition and diversification strategy that means we're going to stop exporting a huge amount of emissions to the rest of the world," Abreu told CBC News.

"I was really hoping that we would hear more from Canada when it comes to the level of ambition that's needed in our energy transition."

WATCH | Climate group says Canada must explore phasing out oil and gas production:

Canada needs a conversation about phasing out oil and gas production, says climate group

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Destination Zero executive director Catherine Abreu says Canada's plan to cap emissions from the oil and gas sector might not be enough to combat climate change. The NGO, which pushes to accelerate the transition away from fossil fuels, says the government should start looking at phasing out production of oil and gas.

Dale Marshall is the national climate program manager at Environmental Defence. He said the emissions cap doesn't go far enough.

"The biggest challenge we have is oil and gas production. Unfortunately, the solution he came up with focused on emissions and not production. And what that allows is for oil and gas companies to continue to put forward false solutions and net zero plans that are far into the future," he said.

Green Party Parliamentary Leader Elizabeth May said what Canada needs is a moratorium on development.

"We need to continue to press for real action, which is uncomfortable for many politicians, including Justin Trudeau," she said. "But between being politically uncomfortable and saying to our children, 'We can't guarantee you a livable world,' I don't think we have any choice." 

When asked why the government is capping oil and gas emissions but not production, Guilbeault said the federal government is prevented from doing so by law because natural resources fall under provincial jurisdiction.

"Constitutionally, we can't do that," he said.

'We must do more, faster'

Speaking at the COP26 plenary, Trudeau also floated the idea of establishing a minimum global price on emissions to level the playing field for countries like Canada that have levied taxes on emissions-intensive fuel sources to shift consumers to cleaner energy.

He said Canada pushed through a carbon price "despite stiff political opposition" and a year-long battle in the courts because "the science is clear — we must do more, faster."

  • Have questions about COP26 or climate science, policy or politics? Email us: ask@cbc.ca. Your input helps inform our coverage.

That tax is expected to increase dramatically to $170 a tonne by the end of the decade, which will make it one of the world's highest carbon prices. It's part of the federal plan to meet and surpass Canada's goal of reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by at least 40 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030.

"This is a meaningful price on pollution designed to not just make life cleaner, but also make life more affordable for Canadians," Trudeau said, citing the government's program of rebating most of the money collected through the carbon levy at tax time.

The tax hike will, however, result in higher costs for consumers when they buy gasoline. The price at the pump will increase by 37.57 cents a litre by 2030 as a result of the $170 a tonne tax, and the cost of light fuel oil for home heating, natural gas and propane will rise as well.

"I call on other countries to do the same. Just as globally we've agreed to a minimum corporate tax, we must work together to ensure it's no longer free to pollute anywhere around the world. That means establishing a shared minimum standard for pricing pollution," Trudeau said.

Guilbeault said the conference may prove to be a pivotal moment in the quest for a global emissions price, adding there's "growing interest" in the idea.

"Is it a done deal? Absolutely not. Could Glasgow be the moment that we actually start working on developing something like that? I think it has the potential to do that," he said.

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To help with the global green transition, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) created something called the "Adaptation Fund" more than 10 years ago.

  • Have questions about COP26 or climate science, policy or politics? Email us: ask@cbc.ca. Your input helps inform our coverage.

The fund pays for adaptation projects in developing countries that are vulnerable to the adverse effects of climate change. The fund has helped farmers in Argentina with low-cost insurance plans, funded "coastal management" initiatives in Cuba and trained 6,000 Fijians in "climate risk reduction actions and strategies." Trudeau announced Canada's first contribution to the fund today.

Trudeau also committed $1 billion for the Accelerating Coal Transition (ACT) Investment Program, which helps poorer countries with the "coal-to-clean" transition, ensuring more countries shift from coal-fired power plants to solar and wind generation.


John Paul Tasker

Senior writer

J.P. Tasker is a journalist in CBC's parliamentary bureau who reports for digital, radio and television. He is also a regular panellist on CBC News Network's Power & Politics. He covers the Conservative Party, Canada-U.S. relations, Crown-Indigenous affairs, climate change, health policy and the Senate. You can send story ideas and tips to J.P. at john.tasker@cbc.ca.

With files from Richard Raycraft.

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