COP27 Staged ‘Walkout’ on Oil Sands Not Conducive to Emission Reductions

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Anti-Canadian oil and gas activists were in an uproar last week about their staged walkout on the oil sands delegation at COP27, celebrating as if it were some sensational heroic act to ‘stand up’ to one of the only oil-producing jurisdictions in the world that has committed to net zero emissions by 2050.

It’s somewhat counter-intuitive, is it not, to oppose some of the only oil and gas producers who are taking climate action seriously? Canadian producers have a long track record of innovation and collaboration in reducing emissions; if their actions were applied elsewhere globally in places where little of the sort is happening, it would be a good thing for the world and climate action - would it not?

Whichever the case, this planned walkout shows exactly what’s wrong with polarizing important issues such as global energy security and climate change for a quick PR stunt.

We need to have more fact-based and informed discussions surrounding global emission reductions. The reality is that we simply aren’t going to get anywhere close to net zero by demonizing the energy industry.

A recent analysis by McKinsey estimates that global spending on physical assets in the transition to net zero would cost about $275 trillion between 2021 and 2050, or about $9.2 trillion each year.  For context, that equates to about 7.5 per cent of the global economy (a.k.a. gross domestic product, or GDP), and is 4.5x larger than Canada’s GDP.

That is an incredibly vast number, an incomprehensible figure to say the least.

Meanwhile, the International Energy Agency (IEA) has said that about half the technologies required to reach net zero emissions still need to be created.

So then, who exactly do we think has the know-how to make major advancements in cleantech and innovation required to get to net zero emissions? And who exactly will pay for that research and development, if not the energy sector with the help of governments?

And then there is the challenge of acquiring all the metals and minerals to transition from a global fossil-fuel-based energy system to a materials-based one. Mass shortages of copper, lithium and other critical minerals used in energy transformational technologies are possible in the decades ahead if we don’t start building dozens of new mines each year.

These are all real-world problems that, if we collectively put our minds together to deal with, we may solve.

Today, fossil fuels account for more than 80 per cent of global energy demand, and significant investments over the past several years haven’t moved the dial much. According to Goldman Sachs, $3.8 trillion of investment in renewables moved fossil fuels from 82 per cent to 81 per cent of the overall global energy consumption between 2012 and 2021.

In addition, global oil and gas demand is still growing and is expected to for many years.

Yes, we need renewables, but we also need to be realistic about how global energy systems work. We need an “all-of-the-above” solution to global energy supply and demand. That means working on reducing the emissions of reliable oil and natural gas while pursuing other non-emitting technologies.

Furthermore, walking out of the oil sands delegation at COP27 does nothing to nurture the balanced and fact-based discussions we need to have to reach zero - while preventing energy supply crises, that is. All this PR stunt does is polarize the discussion about how we get there and make it more difficult for oil and gas producers – like those in Canada – to be a part of the solution and provide the world with the energy it needs.

All arrows indicate that oil and gas will be around for decades yet. Until we switch to a fully renewable energy system at some point in the distant future, shouldn’t we want to source that petroleum from the most sustainable and reliable producers on the planet?

If anything, these activists should have been proud that Canadian energy representatives were at the UN’s Climate Change Conference in Egypt sharing how they plan on contributing to net zero aspirations.

The oil sands account for nearly two-thirds of Canadian oil production. For Canada to reach its emission reduction goals, the oil sands industry must continue to make progress on reducing environmental impacts - as it has for many decades already - and take leaps and strides forward in new cleantech and innovation to accomplish those goals.

That is something all Canadians can, and should get behind, especially given the fact that the oil and gas sector has contributed immensely to our standard of living and quality of life. Between 2000 and 2019, for example, the industry generated nearly $505 billion for governments across Canada, funds used to pay for our social programs, education, etc.

We aren’t going to get to net zero by staging ‘walkouts’ on some of the world’s most stable and responsible energy producers. We need balanced, fact-based and pragmatic solutions for climate action and energy security, and it won’t happen without honest and fair discussions. That’s a fact.

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