Western premiers push back as Guilbeault calls for 'phase-out of unabated fossil fuels'

Canada's environment minister hopes the next international climate summit will commit to phasing out unabated fossil fuels — oil and gas projects that don't rely on technology to capture their emissions. 

Other countries are going further, calling for end of fossil fuel era

Canada's Minister of the Environment and Climate Change Steven Guilbeault speaks at the GLOBE Forum 2022 in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada March 29, 2022.  REUTERS/Jennifer Gauthier
Canada's Minister of the Environment and Climate Change Steven Guilbeault speaks at the GLOBE Forum 2022 in Vancouver on March 29, 2022. (REUTERS/Jennifer Gauthier)

Canada's environment minister hopes the next international climate summit will commit to phasing out unabated fossil fuels — oil and gas projects that don't rely on technology to capture their emissions. 

Steven Guilbeault outlined his expectations for the next COP28 while meeting with fellow international ministers from Europe, Mexico, India, Japan, China and other countries.

One of those expectations is the eventual elimination of fossil fuel projects that lack a mechanism to prevent carbon emissions from escaping into the atmosphere. Carbon capture, yet to be proven at scale, has been proposed as a way for the oil and gas industry to continue production without changing the planet's climate.  

"We can make COP28 the first COP to acknowledge the need to phase out unabated fossil fuels," Guilbeault said in prepared remarks after his annual meeting with international counterparts on climate action in Brussels. 

COP, or the Conference of Parties, are annual meetings on climate change hosted by the United Nations. The host of the 28th COP is the United Arab Emirates (U.A.E.). 

The conference's president echoed Guilbeault's hopes Thursday. 

Calling the phasing down of fossil fuels "inevitable," COP28 president-designate Sultan Al Jaber unveiled his country's ambitions for the conference, which will be hosted in Dubai. 

"We must be laser-focused on building the energy system of the future, a system free of unabated fossil fuels, including coal," Jaber said in prepared remarks Thursday. 

Why is an oil executive chairing a climate conference? | About That

5 months ago
Duration 5:51
This year's United Nations climate conference is being hosted by the United Arab Emirates, a major oil-producing country, and the man tapped to be COP28 president is both the nation's climate envoy and CEO of the state-owned oil company. Lauren Bird looks at how that could impact climate negotiations.

Jaber called for a tripling of renewable energy output, increasing energy efficiency and doubling hydrogen production to 163 million tonnes annually by 2030.

Both Canada and the United Arab Emirates are major oil-producing countries.

Canada, UAE face pressure to be more ambitious

When the meeting of international ministers concluded, several countries issued their joint statement that seemingly departed from remarks made by Canada and the U.A.E.  

Countries that support a climate diplomacy bloc, the High Ambition Coalition, called for "an urgent phase out from fossil fuels." 

Ministers from France, Germany, Spain, Ireland and others said this needs to start with a "rapid decline of fossil fuel production and use within this decade."

It goes on to say that technologies such as carbon capture cannot be used to help prolong the life of the oil and gas industry.  

"Abatement technologies must not be used to green-light continued fossil fuel expansion but must be considered in the context of steps to phase out fossil fuel use and should be recognized as having a minimal role to play in (the) decarbonization of the energy sector," the online statement read

The head of a network of climate advocacy organizations said the use of "unabated fossil fuels" waters down the action required to reduce carbon emissions, but admitted the language is still more ambitious than previously proposed by the U.A.E's COP president-designate.   

"Obviously, the word unabated is still a weasel word, but we are progressing in a good direction at the very least," said Caroline Brouillette, the executive director of Climate Action Network Canada.

In a statement released Saturday, Alberta Premier Danielle Smith criticized Guilbeault's comments around a net-zero electricity grid by 2035 and the emissions cap on oil and gas, which she calls a "de facto oil and gas production cut."

"Instead of seeking ways to sow investor uncertainty and reduce support for Canadian energy globally, the federal government should focus on partnering with Alberta and investing in our national energy sector to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050 while simultaneously increasing energy production, jobs and economic growth for Canadians," Smith said.

Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe also criticized Guilbeault's comments in a Twitter post Saturday.

Guilbeault met Thursday and Friday with his ministerial counterparts and high-level representatives from the United States, Mexico, the United Kingdom, multiple European countries, China, Japan, India, South Korea, Singapore, the Marshall Islands, Ethiopia, Senegal, Zambia, Egypt, Turkey, and the U.A.E. in Brussels for the Ministerial Meeting on Climate Action (MoCA) in Brussels.

These talks are focused on implementing the Paris Agreement. They're also meant to help wealthier countries iron out their concerns before the UN's upcoming COP 28 climate conference in Dubai.

Beyond phasing out unabated fossil fuels, Guilbeault hopes at the next COP wealthy countries will finally deliver on their past-due $100 billion US commitment to help developing countries reduce their emissions and adapt to climate change.

Guilbeault also said Canada continues to be a "strong advocate" for setting up a loss and damage fund that compensates poorer countries for the unavoidable economic, cultural and human losses from climate change. 


  • A previous version of this story stated that COP28 president-designate Sultan Al Jaber called for hydrogen production to double to 180 tonnes annually by 2030. In fact, doubling production would bring the total to 163 million tonnes.
    Jul 18, 2023 12:49 PM ET


David Thurton

Senior reporter, Parliamentary Correspondent

David Thurton is a senior reporter in CBC's Parliamentary Bureau. He covers daily politics in the nation’s capital and specializes in environment and energy policy. Born in Canada but raised in Trinidad and Tobago, he’s moved around more times than he can count. He’s worked for CBC in several provinces and territories, including Alberta and the Northwest Territories. He can be reached at david.thurton@cbc.ca