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Experts to MPs: Canada must stop funding fossils

A year ago, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change stated that projected pollution from existing fossil fuel infrastructure was already sufficient to take the world beyond the 1.5°C warming limit established in the Paris Agreement. Yet the relentless expansion of this infrastructure continues, with countries planning to collectively ramp up fossil fuel production to twice the volume at which it would need to be capped to prevent warming beyond 1.5°C. 

Canada is among the worst offenders on this front. By 2025 it plans to increase oil and gas production by a larger volume than any country in the world aside from the U.S. The federal government enables this expansion in many ways, including by providing billions upon billions of dollars in public financial support to the industry annually. While Ottawa has cut most of its financing for fossil fuel development abroad, it has yet to deliver on its pledge to “develop a plan” to stop financing the industry entirely. 

It was with these stakes in sharp focus that Above Ground brought experts from academia and civil society to Parliament Hill last month for a non-partisan discussion of the next steps Canada must take to end its support for fossil fuels. The event was co-sponsored by members of Parliament Leah Taylor Roy (Liberal), Laurel Collins (NDP), Monique Pauzé (Bloc Québécois) and Elizabeth May (Green), and was followed by a press conference.

Presenters speaking and seated at a table
Dr. David Wheeler gives a presentation at the March 21st event on Parliament Hill.

With members of Parliament and political staff from all parties in attendance, panelists drew on their expertise in Indigenous rights, economics and sustainable business to drive home the necessity and urgency of ending government support for the inherently destructive oil and gas industry. Below we share highlights of each speaker’s commentary.

Eriel Tchekwie Deranger: No to the “redwashing” of oil and gas

Deranger is executive director of Indigenous Climate Action and a member of the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation

Eriel Tchekwie Deranger began the conference by providing a vital historical perspective that placed Canadian oil and gas extraction within the context of colonization. She issued a sharp rebuke of what she termed the “redwashing” of the industry, as seen in the federal government’s recent efforts to encourage First Nations partnerships in oil and gas projects. Oil and gas subsidies, she argued, represent a continuation of Canada’s colonial project by which Indigenous peoples have been assimilated and dispossessed of their land and resources. 

For the last 150+ years we have been forced to adopt and enter into the canoe of colonial systems rather than have the supports to have our own canoe, our own systems developed and nurtured so that we can travel together. The reality is that this country needs to stop subsidizing oil and gas and start paying reparations to Indigenous communities for the billions and billions of dollars that have been taken out of our territories…”

🡆 View Deranger’s presentation

Renaud Gignac: tilting the balance in favour of science

Gignac is an economist, climate analyst and senior advisor at Investors for Paris Compliance

Renaud Gignac outlined how the government is failing to adequately account for and eliminate its full range of support for fossil fuel development. Citing the study of “rebound effects” in economics, he argued that measures aimed solely at reducing the industry’s production-stage emissions—such as subsidies for carbon capture and storage—are likely to backfire by provoking an increase in overall production volume. They do nothing, meanwhile, to address the much larger problem of the emissions released when the fuels are burned. The government provides additional subsidies, he noted, in the form of exemptions to the industrial carbon pricing scheme, which resulted in large emitters paying on average just $5 a tonne as of 2021, when the nominal rate was fixed at $30 a tonne.

While the production of natural resources is a provincial jurisdiction, nothing prevents the federal government from being transparent in its approach, from sticking to the science and the recommendations of the International Energy Agency, by being very clear about the fact that oil and gas production will need to decline to achieve net-zero emissions, and thus from ensuring that federal policies don’t encourage the maintenance of current production levels or increased oil and gas production.”

🡆 View Gignac’s presentation and accompanying slides.

David Wheeler: end the government’s “enablement” of oil and gas growth

Wheeler is a global expert in sustainable business practice and a past member of Export Development Canada’s advisory council on corporate social responsibility 

Focusing on Export Development Canada (EDC)’s role in supporting fossil fuel growth, David Wheeler noted an incoherent, “cherrypicking” government approach to climate policy that enables oil and gas companies to continue with business as usual. He sharply criticized Ottawa’s purchase and expansion of the Trans Mountain pipeline, which he called a “political, environmental and Indigenous-rights disaster” that cannot possibly be Paris Agreement compliant. He pointed to a “gaping hole” in accountability surrounding its use of the EDC-administered Canada Account to finance the project, which he estimates will result in at least $16 billion in taxpayer dollars being written off. It also raises questions, he warned, over compliance with environmental provisions laid out in the Export Development Act.

If EDC had to report its Trans Mountain pipeline loans and loan guarantees in its TCFD [Task Force on Climate Related Financial Disclosures] reports, it would blow them out of the water. The scope 3 emissions – EDC would be responsible for every barrel of oil that ever went down that pipeline and got burned somewhere. Somehow this deal has escaped scrutiny on climate impacts. (…)

You cannot have public money anywhere near this industry anymore (…). You cannot have public money enabling this industry, subsidizing this industry, making things happen that wouldn’t happen otherwise. It’s a scandal, and it has to stop.”

🡆 View Wheeler’s presentation and accompanying slides.

🡆 Read his written briefing below: