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Dozens of MPs face protesters calling for emissions cap for fossil fuel companies

Natural Resources Minister and North Vancouver MP Jonathan Wilkinson was among dozens of federal politicians targeted by climate activists Thursday calling for an emissions cap on Canada's oil and gas industry.
Several demonstrators rally outside Natural Resources Minister and North Vancouver Liberal MP Jonathan Wilkinson's office calling on the federal government to place an emissions cap on the oil and gas industry, the country's largest emitter.

More than a dozen protesters showed up outside the constituency office of North Vancouver Liberal MP Jonathan Wilkinson — also the country’s natural resources minister — to deliver speeches, chant and wave placards.

Through a megaphone, Western Canada Wilderness Committee climate campaigner Peter McCartney stressed the need to keep oil and gas industry lobbyists from weakening the proposed cap and inserting their own loopholes.

“Oil and gas is 28 per cent of Canada's emissions. It's the only growing source of emissions in Canada, and in this country, oil and gas is the problem. They are the largest contributors of our pollution. And we should not be letting them in the rooms where policies are being made to determine their future,” he said.

“Sometimes we win. Sometimes we lose. But I do think that this emissions cap, if we get it right, has the potential to stop fossil fuel expansion in Canada.”

McCartney also rebuffed industry-preferred methods to bring carbon emissions down while keeping production up.

“As much as the industry thinks that they can carbon-capture their way out of this, the emissions cap kind of calls their bluff on that. We don't think they can,” he said.

Sustainabiliteens spokesperson Dalen Sawchuk, between secondary school classes, called the government’s current climate targets “dismal at best” and said the country should have a 50 per cent reduction in oil and gas emissions from 2005 levels by 2030 “at an absolute minimum.”

“When we hear politicians speak about climate, they always are talking about far-off promises but for us, 2050 is not actually that far away,” he said. “We need to put 100 per cent of our focus on expanding renewable energy in this country and we need to do it now.”

Canada’s oil and gas sector long been the largest emitter in the country. After a dip in emissions in the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic, the sector rebounded in 2021 when it produced 28 per cent of the country’s total emissions.

A cap on fossil fuel production would represent the first hard emissions ceiling on an industry whose products have driven global climate change.

It comes as the fossil fuel industry makes limited investments in reducing its own emissions. In 2022, many fossil fuel producers made record profits because of higher fuel prices, according to a World Energy Investment report from the International Energy Agency (IEA) released Thursday.

But most of the cash went to dividends, share buybacks and debt repayment. The industry’s spending on low-emissions alternatives — including clean electricity, clean fuels and carbon capture technologies — was less than five per cent of what it spent on fossil fuel production, says the IEA.

“We are seeing that play out in Canada,” said Janetta McKenzie, a senior analyst at the climate think tank the Pembina Institute.

“Despite record profits over the last few years, those profits aren’t being put back into decarbonization.”

That’s where the cap comes in — after years of government incentives to convince oil and gas companies to voluntary reduce their own emissions, new regulations would be the first legal “stick” to force a drawdown of carbon pollution, said McKenzie.

“The government has provided carrots in the form of tax breaks for carbon capture and storage, and this regulatory tool really sets the limit, it makes it clear the oil and gas sector has to meet its emissions targets,” said Merran Smith, the chief innovation officer at Clean Energy Canada, a think tank based out of Simon Fraser University.

Last year, Smith was among dozens of witnesses who provided testimony to the federal Standing Committee on Natural Resources as it investigated a proposed emissions cap. At the time, Smith urged the federal government to accelerate its plan. But in a call Thursday, she told Glacier Media a number of hurdles remain.

Chief among those is a failure to ramp up alternative clean energy sources that would allow oil and gas facilities to run on electricity. In B.C., where at least two massive LNG projects have been approved, Smith and other experts worry there won’t be enough electricity to both satisfy the decarbonization of oil and gas and power the rest of an increasingly electrified economy.

“One in five cars sold last fall was an electric vehicle. Nobody expected that scale of uptake of electric vehicles at this point in time,” said Smith, noting the slow development of solar and wind infrastructure.

“We have not been building to keep up.”

The federal government announced its intentions to cap emissions on the oil and gas sector in 2022. In July, it circulated a discussion paper outlining two potential regulations for the cap — one that would build off current carbon pricing requirements and another cap-and-trade system that would allow facilities to trade unused emission surpluses on an open market.

“Either could work,” said McKenzie. “The devil is kind of in the details.”

But without a draft plan, those details remain far from clear. Federal modelling suggests a cap could land somewhere near 31 per cent reductions below 2005 emission levels. That’s not close to Canada’s current emissions reduction plan for the wider economy, which calls for a 40 per cent emissions reduction below 2005 levels by 2030.

'Be bold and ambitious'

The gap between those two numbers helped propel protesters to gather in front of of the offices of Liberal MPs across Canada Thursday.

Ismail Askin, community engagement coordinator from the Workers Solidarity Network, said labour groups are increasingly campaigning on climate issues as they become disenchanted with stagnant wages while working through heat domes and wildfire smoke.

“Do workers not live on planet Earth? Do we not work on Earth?” he said. “And our working conditions are worsening because of the emissions, because of the damage they're doing to the environment. And then these same corporations that are destroying the environment then turn around to us and say, ’Sorry, we can't afford to pay you more.’”

Similar rallies were held in front of the offices of MPs Patrick Weiler in West Vancouver, Terry Beech in Burnaby and Joyce Murray in Vancouver.

Nayeli Jimenez, a campaigner with Leadnow, one of the groups organizing protests across the country, said the demonstrations involved hundreds of people in at least 17 Canadian cities, from B.C. and Alberta to Ontario, Quebec and New Brunswick.

“The main ask is for it to be bold and ambitious because oil and gas lobbyists have been trying to water it down for months,” Jimenez said. “We know that we need to be tackling [the] climate crisis from all different angles, but the oil and gas industry is largely the most responsible for the climate crisis.

“So it is very important that they do their fair share.”