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Is it time for a drastic change of course in Newfoundland and Labrador before climate change does it for us?

Stakeholders say there is a hard course ahead for the province in the wake of Canada’s commitments at the COP26 summit

Ocean scientist Brad deYoung likens COP26 to a slight correction in steering the Titanic.

COP26 was the United Nations conference on climate change that recently wrapped up in Glasgow, Scotland.

“We kind of expect from these COPs that we will suddenly get the answer or the answers and that’s not happening. This is a process as much as an action,” said deYoung, an honorary research professor in oceanography at Memorial University,

“There’s a little more agreement in the wheelhouse that there could be icebergs ahead, and there was some nudging of the steering wheel to kind of head us towards warmer water than iceberg waters.”

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced a number of promises out of COP26.

Among them: working toward ending exports of thermal coal by no later than 2030.

One of the most relevant promises to Newfoundland and Labrador is to pledge a move to capping and reducing pollution from the oil and gas sector to net-zero by 2050 and a commitment to hold the global average temperature increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius.

Give oceans their due

The federal government said it will set five-year targets and will also ensure that the sector makes a meaningful contribution to meeting Canada’s 2030 climate goals.
COP26 also put more attention on ocean challenges, deYoung said.

“The ocean takes up 90 per cent of the heat that we have been releasing. About a quarter of the CO2 so the argument is we should probably pay a little more attention to the oceans than we have,” deYoung said.

“I would argue the oceans things benefit the province. There will be more attention to ocean challenges and locally climate change has begun to degrade ocean oxygen. … these things are influencing local ecosystems. … I think the ocean around Newfoundland and the connection to fisheries has never received enough real attention by the federal government resources.

Newfoundland, like in a lot of things, gets less attention than it deserves particularly in an environmental sense.”

“I think the ocean around Newfoundland and the connection to fisheries has never received enough real attention by the federal government resources.” — Brad deYoung

He said it’s likely that expanded marine protected areas will result from new focus on the oceans.

But the big one is the cap on fossil fuel and the details on how that will be accomplished aren’t clear, deYoung said, adding it might make it more challenging to finance future offshore oil development.

DeYoung said the sensible thing would be for every country to agree to tax carbon, which levels the playing field among global economies.

But he said the goal of holding the increase to 1.5 degrees C is not where we are headed, which is likely above 2.5 C.

“There are still worse things to come that we haven’t seen in all senses and there is always the potential for dramatically bad things that we haven’t seen yet to come into play,” deYoung said.

“We need to make big changes. We shouldn’t be afraid of those big changes.”

The clean oil pitch

DeYoung said he understands exactly why Premier Andrew Furey made the big pitch for the province’s cleaner oil to COP26.

“It’s essentially pure politics. … I think he has to do that given the present financial position of the province. Where else can he go on the issue,” deYoung asks .

“I would hope they follow through in a serious way, which the province has tried to do, I think, to align with their mitigation and change behaviour and change policies around climate we are all trying to work towards.”

Examples would be matching carbon tax funds and encouraging electric car usage.

One discussion he’d like to see pushed more is a national power grid and Labrador power could have a big role to play in that.

Charlene Johnson, CEO of Noia — Newfoundland and Labrador Oil and Gas Industries Association — said she hopes the federal government will consult with the industry before a final decision on what the caps will look like.

She said the industry looks forward to a discussion with the two federal ministers from this province and the new natural resources minister.

“With respect to the prime minister’s comments about placing a cap on emissions — (we) still don’t have a lot of details on that — and unsure what the announcement means for here really,” Johnson said.

“I am not the type to get anxious unless I have to. I think consultation is important.”

She said there is no need to worry yet, offering the argument that this province’s oil is 30 per cent below global average per barrel emissions at extraction.

She also said skills learned to tackle the solution in the industry can be transferred to greener energy.

“I am not surprised at all that the federal government is taking significant steps to lower emissions. We in the industry are doing the same. The companies we represent are working tirelessly to lower the emissions within our industry. …. But the reality is the world is going to need oil for some time and while we do, I firmly believe that we must use our low-emitting advantage we have to meet the global demand.”

“… we must use our low-emitting advantage we have to meet the global demand.” — Charlene Johnson

She also sees tremendous potential in the future of natural gas.

LNG-NL, was one of the presenters at this fall’s Noia conference, indicated liquefied natural gas (LNG) from Newfoundland’s offshore oil fields will be heating up homes in Europe by the start of the next decade.

Noia asked to meet with the new federal Natural Resources Minister Jonathan Wilkinson just after the recent cabinet shuffle.

As of late last week, it hadn’t been notified of a meeting.

Indigenous voices crucial

Brian Pottle, president of the National Inuit Youth Council, was a presenter at COP26, although the delegation did not have an audience with the world leaders.

He said that has to change in future.

“One thing we are hopeful about is the trend that Inuit voices are being heeded more seriously by the world,” he said.

MUN climatologist Joel Finnis said the temperature change promise made by Canada will require bigger cuts than have been promised.

“We’ve made these commitments and if we actually enforce them, first of all we’ll actually have to enforce more than the 40-45 per cent carbon emissions reductions if we want to hit the 1.5 C target,” he said.

“The entire argument here still is if we are going to hit those targets, we have to start acting now.”

That’s with previous targets unmet.

“Time is not on our side without taking drastic action. Ultimately that is going to mean reductions in emissions. Reductions in emission is ultimately going to mean reductions in consumption of fossil fuels,” Finnis said.

“Reduction in consumption of fossil fuels is going to mean a reduction in terms of the value of any oil that gets produced. What are the implications for this province? We’re going to have to be part of that emissions reduction solution. That means that individuals in this province, if we are going to meet these targets, are going to have to start consuming less fossil fuels.”

Technology not he quick fix

Changing technologies are not going to get us where we need to be within nine years, Finnis said.

That means rethinking how people live in places built around fossil fuel reliance.

“And we’ve got to do it in nine years. That’s a big ask,” Finnis said.

‘But ultimately it’s better to make these sacrifices now than it is to deal with the consequences of runaway climate change 20-30 years down the line.

“What we are looking at is a future that doesn’t care about our oil and gas and we have a government that still views oil and gas expansion as a way out of our financial problems. In reality, if we are going to address climate change and not just continue to ignore it, which isn’t a guarantee …. If we do actually meet our commitments it means we are going to be stuck with undervalued oil, oil we can’t sell. Oil that there’s not a market for some time in the future. I think this province right now is really excited about the idea that we could sell our oil as less of a climate problem.”

“What we are looking at is a future that doesn’t care about our oil and gas and we have a government that still views oil and gas expansion as a way out of our financial problems.” — Joel Finnis

But he said it can’t compete with other oil fields around the world.

“If we are taking a look at that big picture, it’s way easier to get oil out of the ground in the Middle East than it is to get oil out of the ocean in the Atlantic… It would be way easier for them to turn around and start improving their environmental records than for us to make our oil more accessible,” Finnis said.

What gives him hope is that the younger generations are angry about climate change.

“Am I cynical? I am a little bit because I have seen promises broken again and again and again. And the COP promises ultimately have no teeth,” he said.

“On the other hand I am a little bit more hopeful we are making bigger promises now. But really most importantly I am hopeful because of those (youth) protests… The younger generation are saying ‘You sold out our future’ …. And that anger, that emotion I think is necessary. … Strangely it is what gives me the most hope.”

Source: Saltwire | This text was excerpted from the media outlet cited on November 22, 2021 and is provided to Noia members for information purposes only. Any opinion expressed therein is neither attributable to nor endorsed by Noia.