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Spirit of compromise needed to reach Canada’s emissions goals, natural resources minister says

Wilkinson says Canada and the world should not seek an abrupt transition away from fossil fuels

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Natural Resources Secretary Jonathan Wilkinson told an audience in downtown Toronto on Tuesday that the reality of climate change is no longer a matter of debate, but that the energy transition would require “compromises” on how emissions targets will be met best can be achieved.

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“Where there is – and should be – vigorous discussion and debate about how we are making progress in reducing carbon emissions,” Wilkinson said, according to prepared remarks he was scheduled to deliver at a Canadian Club Toronto meeting at the Fairmount Royal York Hotel.

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The speech was delivered on the same day that the federal government announced that Ontario is the ninth province or territory to join its proposed partnership plan to reduce carbon emissions, known as the Regional Energy and Resource Tables (RERT) initiative is. Separately, Canada Infrastructure Bank on Tuesday announced $970 million in soft debt financing for a small modular reactor at Ontario’s Darlington Nuclear Power Plant.

Through RERT, the federal government aims to identify and support three to five areas of economic opportunity related to the energy transition in each participating province or region. Only Alberta, Nunavut, Quebec and Saskatchewan have yet to join RERT.

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Regarding the tradeoff that comes with an energy transition, Wilkinson suggested that Canada and the rest of the world should not seek an abrupt transition away from fossil fuels. Rather, he suggested that people can expect fossil fuel consumption to continue at its current levels for the next decade or more, and that fossil fuel production can also continue into 2050 as long as we stop burning them and Deploy technologies to capture associated emissions.

Natural Resources Secretary Jonathan Wilkinson.
Natural Resources Secretary Jonathan Wilkinson. Photo by Blair Gable/Reuters

“The cause of climate change is not fossil fuels themselves, but the carbon emissions associated with the production and burning — or burning — of fossil fuels,” he said.

The world could still consume 25 million barrels of oil a day and limit global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius, Wilkinson said, citing one of the International Energy Agency’s scenarios.

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He added that one difference is that the oil is used for lubrication, asphalt, solvents – anything but burning. Significantly, even 25 million barrels of oil per day in 2050 would require a consumption drop of about 75 percent from current levels of 88 million to 97 million barrels per day.

Natural gas production could also fall by half by 2050, Wilkinson said, but its use will also change — from primary consumption as a fuel to “non-combustion applications like hydrogen production.”

Wilkinson framed his comments in the context of Russia’s “brutal and unjustified invasion” of Ukraine, which prompted European countries to seek alternative energy sources, and also Canada’s economic future.

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Europe “has asked its friends for help and Canada has responded,” he said, noting that oil and gas exports will rise by about 300,000 barrels a day by the end of the year.

“Europe has also asked us to look at how Canada could potentially help with LNG (liquefied natural gas) and hydrogen from eastern Canada. That is why we have set up active working groups with both Germany and the European Union,” said Wilkinson.

A hydrogen pump sign in Germany.
A hydrogen pump sign in Germany. Photo by Krisztian Bocsi/Bloomberg

He also lashed out at those using and advocating the “technology not taxes” slogan – often associated with Australia’s former Prime Minister Scott Morrison fewer emissions from private investment in early technology.

“We should be very clear that simple slogans – like ‘technology, not taxes’ – represent not only a fundamental lack of understanding of the reality and urgency of climate change, but also a fundamental lack of understanding of what is required for Canada maintain and increase their prosperity in a low-carbon world,” said Wilkinson.

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Still, much of Wilkinson’s speech seemed aimed at criticism from environmentalists and the left that the federal Liberals had not acted quickly enough or with enough conviction to limit the country’s greenhouse gas emissions.

We simply cannot have a functioning federation without some degree of compromise

Jonathan Wilkinson

Since committing to reducing its greenhouse gas emissions at the United Nations Climate Change Conference in 2015, According to the G7 Research Group, Canada’s emissions have actually increased a network of scholars based at the University of Toronto. It is the only G7 country where emissions have increased.

Julia Levin, manager of the national climate program at Environmental Defense in Ottawa, has been vocal in criticizing the idea that Canada can continue to increase oil production and use carbon capture technologies to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions.

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“No magical thinking is going to suddenly make our oil competitive in a world of dwindling demand,” Levin said. “Betting on carbon capture – given the technology’s decades-long track record of underperforming and failing – is a risky gamble that should not be played with public money.”

Instead, she has advocated more investment in renewable energy and electrification.

Wilkinson acknowledged in his speech that “the net-zero world will be built on clean energy,” but in a question-and-answer session after his speech, he said that “you’ll never be able to do enough Building wind and sun,” and so on, must be base load solutions — the term for energy that can be ramped up or down to meet grid demand.

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He suggested that natural gas power plants with CO2 capture could be a solution, but nuclear power must also be included.

Wilkinson said it was why he was pleased to support Canada Infrastructure Bank’s development of new nuclear power in Ontario.

Of course, even nuclear power has come under fire from groups like the Clean Air Coalition Ontario, which has found that nuclear projects can take years or decades to build and are often over budget, which they say makes them ill-suited to the urgent challenge of climate change.

Against this background, Wilkinson has set his presentation to “compromises”.

“It may seem obvious,” he said, “but it has to be said that we simply cannot have a functioning federation without a fair degree of compromise. This applies to every record in government.”

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