Fossil Exec Decried ‘Shot in the Eye’ as Guilbeault Opened Climate Plan Consultation

December 6, 2021: An oil and gas emissions cap, reduced methane emissions, zero-emission vehicles, and a net-zero power grid were all on the table for public consultation, after Environment and Climate Change Minister Steven Guilbeault announced a three-month delay in publishing the Trudeau government’s carbon reduction plan under the new climate accountability law.

The legislation, adopted in late June, allows for the extended timeline, and “Guilbeault says the delay is necessary to allow Indigenous peoples, provinces, and other interested parties to weigh in on what the plan should contain,” The Canadian Press reports. “Guilbeault has already sought input on the oil and gas emissions cap from the government’s Net-Zero Advisory Body, but is expanding those consultations to include provincial and territorial governments and other experts.”

“The debate over whether we need to act is long over,” the minister said. “Now we must determine how we can get where we need to go, together.”

Ottawa also announced its new list of parliamentary secretaries and cabinet committees Friday, while Anna Kanduth, senior research associate at the Canadian Institute for Climate Choices, urged a whole-of-government approach to the climate emergency.

Globe and Mail climate columnist Adam Radwanski says Guilbeault’s announcement Friday “laid bare” the size of the challenge the government faces in implementing an “expansive” climate agenda. Any one of the major items on the action list “could occupy much of the government’s climate-related capacity,” Radwanski writes, so the revised March 29 deadline for the federal plan is no surprise. And Guilbeault “said in an interview that consultations around some of its key components—let alone actual design of the policies—won’t be done by then.”

That will leave the government to make “some assumptions” about the climate impacts of plans that will still be in development, the minister admitted. “I’m sure some people will say they’d want to see more details,” he said, “and I think that’s going to be a fair comment.”

That means the two big questions are whether the government “can get all these policies firmly in place during their current mandate, which in a minority parliament could be less than two years,” Radwanski says. “And, equally importantly, whether they can meaningfully engage with affected industries during the talks that are now starting, without watering down commitments in ways that put the 2030 target out of reach.”

The pressure for that watering down was on full display Friday, with Guilbeault in Alberta for meetings with fossil executives and their provincial government allies.

“Throughout my career as an environmentalist, I think I’ve shown an ability to be able to work with people who don’t think like I do, and that public policy is about the art of compromise,” Guilbeault told Calgary Herald columnist Chris Varcoe.

“I am an activist,” he added. “I was and I still am an activist, but I am now the minister of environment and climate change for all Canadians. And I have responsibilities now that were not the responsibilities I had as an environmentalist activist.”

Those ministerial duties “will have a direct impact on the oil and gas industry, the largest emitting sector of the Canadian economy,” Varcoe hastened to add, in an opinion piece that included a reference to the moment two decades ago when Guilbeault and a then-Greenpeace colleague “famously scaled the CN Tower to string up a banner that declared: ‘Canada and Bush: Climate Killers,’ under the observation deck of the Toronto landmark. He’s also opposed oil pipelines, including the Trans Mountain expansion and Energy East.”

Two decades later, Varcoe wrote, “he’s in charge of Canada’s climate strategy.”

But Guilbeault told the columnist that times have changed along the way.

“I felt at the time, 20, 30 years ago, that we had to do things like scale the CN Tower to be able to get people’s attention on climate change. And I don’t think we need to do that now,” he explained. “Now, we have the B.C. flooding, and we have the heat dome, and we have the hail storms that are constant reminders that we have entered the era of climate change and we need to do something.”

Varcoe captured the skepticism and open hostility Guilbeault faces in some corners of the Alberta oilpatch, with industry veteran and former TransCanada Corporation CEO Hal Kvisle, now chair of Alberta fossil ARC Resources, interpreting his appointment to the environment portfolio as a clear signal from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

“We took it as a direct shot in the eye,” Kvisle told Varcoe. “To pick Guilbeault as the environment minister, you might as well pick David Suzuki and just make it very clear to us what they think of us.”

Guilbeault countered that “my issue has always been with pollution. But I’m part of a government that has been very clear on this: We’re not going after production; we are going after the emissions.” He told Varcoe his office wall includes a November, 2015 photo of then-Alberta premier Rachel Notley announcing the province’s 100-megatonne tar sands/oil sands emissions cap, with Guilbeault among the environmental and fossil industry leaders on hand to applaud.

Six years later, Guilbeault said he’d been willing to support the Alberta cap, even though he favoured a lower threshold, “which did lead to me being accused of being a sell-out by some of my ex-environmental colleagues.”

The archived photo from The Canadian Press carries a credit to award-winning photojournalist Amber Bracken, who was arrested late last month while capturing riveting images of the militarized RCMP raid on a Wet’suwet’en blockade in northeastern British Columbia.

‘Wildly Optimistic’ to Expect Energy Regulator to Embrace Net-Zero, Veteran Energy Executive Warned

December 17, 2021: The Canada Energy Regulator is so closely tied to the fossil industry that it can’t be counted on to produce independent advice on the country’s path to net-zero—yet it’s considered the leading source of in-house energy modelling the Trudeau government has at its disposal, according to an independent expert commenting on the CER’s deeply flawed energy futures report released earlier this month.

The gaps in the CER’s analysis have been under the spotlight, generating intense and sometimes caustic pushback from climate and energy experts, ever since Canada’s Energy Future 2021 projected the country’s oil and gas production growing steadily to 5.8 million barrels per day in 2032, before falling off slowly to 4.8 million barrels per day in 2050. Within days, outside analysts were pointing to the CER’s lack of any roadmap to meet Canada’s legislated climate target and contribute to the global goal of holding average global warming to 1.5°C.

While Natural Resources Minister Jonathan Wilkinson tweeted that he expects better from the Calgary-based agency, veteran energy and utility executive Marc Eliesen told The Energy Mix he doubts the regulator will get the job done.

“It’s wildly optimistic to believe there will be a fundamental change in the workings of the CER in the future,” said Eliesen, a former CEO of four provincial utilities and energy authorities and one-time board member with Suncor Energy. “The people there are entrenched in a petro-culture with industry. Most people are not aware that 90% of the funding of the CER comes from industry, which really compromises the board’s own goals and aspirations of trying to serve the public interest.”

The deep connections between the regulator and the oil and gas head offices in Calgary date back to the early 1990s, Eliesen said. That was when the Conservative government led by then-prime minister Brian Mulroney moved the head office of the CER’s predecessor, the National Energy Board (NEB), from Ottawa to the centre of the Canadian oilpatch.

“The NEB had been an effective energy regulator” that largely operated in the public interest, he recalled. But the change of location “dramatically altered the work of the Board,” while making it the only federal regulatory agency with a head office outside the nation’s capital.

“First of all, two-thirds of the staff elected not to leave Ottawa, and they were replaced at that time by largely Alberta-based employees coming directly from the oil and gas industry,” he said. “So what has developed over the years and continues to this day is a close interaction between the (NEB/CER) staff and industry representatives,” so that the “goals and aspirations of the industry become closely intertwined with those of the CER.”

Then the federal government shut down the economic analysis unit at the department that later became Natural Resources Canada. That move made Ottawa dependent on opinions that largely originate within the industries the CER is supposed to regulate, Eliesen explained.

“The NEB and now the CER replaced the resources that used to exist within the government department,” he said. That makes the regulator “the number one energy policy advisor to the government, and quite frankly, it’s not in the national interest that policy advice comes from an agency so closely tied to industry. But that’s been the fact of life.” Over a span of years, the NEB and now the CER “accept what the industry proposes or submits,” uncritically taking in economic forecasts and indicators developed by the country’s leading fossil industry lobby, the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP).

“There isn’t any independent evaluation,” Eliesen said. “On all the projects I’ve been involved in as an intervenor, with that industry they simply accept what CAPP puts forward.” The NEB process once allowed for “hard-hitting questions to the applicant” from federal and provincial agencies, often based on input from environmental groups, he said. But that practice “disappeared completely” during Stephen Harper’s years as prime minister, while the board was reviewing Enbridge Inc.’s proposed Northern Gateway pipeline.

Eliesen’s recollections came in the wake of a comment from Ontario climate and energy specialist Steve Lapp, who followed up on The Mix’s coverage of the CER report by looking at the background of its lead author, Acting Chief Economist Darren Christie. He found an Environment Canada economist who moved to the NEB for nearly eight years before starting a four-year stint at Enbridge as director of regulatory affairs, then returned to the CER in 2019.

“What is the point of putting out a report that is not in line with the country’s net-zero targets?” Lapp asked. “His previous job for four years was with Enbridge, [so] was he afraid of the blowback from past colleagues? Maybe the feds need a regulation that all agencies reporting to them must recognize the 2050 net-zero targets and explain and justify why any projected actions/paths do not conform to that goal.”

The CER has been saying since October that next year’s edition of Canada’s Energy Future will include net-zero modelling. CER Communications Officer Karen Ryhorchuk declined a request for an interview with Christie, who shared some of his assumptions about future fossil fuel demand with CBC earlier this week.

Chris McDermott, a former Environment Canada official and Kyoto Protocol negotiator from 1998 to 2007, traced a pro-fossil tilt within the federal government that went beyond the then NEB. Within the environment department, “the economics group was very fossil biased. A lot of their analysis and their outlook reflected the lobbying positions of CAPP,” he said. “So this is not new, the fact that these economists have close linkages to the fossil fuel industry”, in jobs that give them “a surprising degree of autonomy” to work in ways that run counter to ministerial direction.

McDermott’s description of the Environment Canada economics unit differed from Eliesen’s memory of the policy shop at the Department of Energy, Mines and Resources, which was renamed Natural Resources Canada in 1993. “The old EMR had quite a strong, competent group,” he said. “That changed, of course, with the Mulroney government, and as a result the chief energy policy advisor to the government became the NEB,” a state of affairs that hasn’t changed with the arrival of the Trudeau government and the shift to the CER.

“So the knowledge and the ability to evaluate developments in the Canadian fossil fuel industry comes primarily from the regulator, which as I’ve argued is closely tied to the industry, and has an inability to define really what the public interest is,” Eliesen said. “You don’t have a really strong policy presence, particularly on the economics, coming from Natural Resources, which should be the department to house this kind of expertise.”

In the aftermath of the Canada’s Energy Future release, and the pushback on its lack of net-zero modelling, two frequent CER observers said Wilkinson can compel the agency under the Canada Energy Regulator Act to report back on specific topics.

“I think the obvious step for government to take would be to direct the CER to introduce and mainstream a net-zero scenario in its annual energy outlook,” Universit
y of Ottawa public policy professor Nicholas Rivers wrote in an email. “Minister Wilkinson stated following the most recent report that this is exactly what he intends to do,” and “I’m inclined to take the Minister at his word.”

“At this stage, I’m confident that CER will analyse Canada’s own path to net-zero, since the Minister of Natural Resources has already asked for that,” agreed University of British Columbia political science professor Kathryn Harrison. “What I am less confident about is whether CER will also analyse the implications of a global transition to net-zero. I hope that the Minister will request that as well,” because “the global transition has bigger implications for Canada’s oil and gas exports.”

But Eliesen and McDermott were less certain the CER would fully comply with Wilkinson’s mandate.

“At the present time, I would not rely on the CER for any policy advice, because by their actions they are too captured by industry and do not have a full appreciation of what it means to be in the public interest,” Eliesen told The Mix. “That’s why they’re defined in my context as a captured regulator.”

McDermott said Lapp’s suggestion of a regulation to mandate net-zero compliance by the CER “is not a bad idea. The question is why should you need it. Agencies are supposed to respond to the will of the government of the day, and it’s a pretty sad state of affairs if you need regulatory power to make an agency do what it’s otherwise supposed to be doing.”

A spokesperson for Wilkinson did not return calls seeking details on what the minister will be asking the CER to report on, and when he plans to make the request.

Help us out here! There’s more to this story than we’ve been able to confirm so far, but we’ll be pursuing it in the new year. If you have leads or details to share, please let us know. Anonymous tips are always our favourite holiday gift, and all confidences will be rigorously respected.

Scottish Campaigner to Shell CEO: ‘You’re to Blame’ for Deadly Climate Crisis

October 17, 2021: “We will never forget what you have done and what Shell has done,” and “as the climate crisis gets more and more deadly, you will be to blame,” Scottish climate campaigner Lauren MacDonald told Royal Dutch Shell CEO Ben van Beurden, during a TED Countdown Summit panel in Edinburgh.

In a segment that ran just over two minutes, MacDonald asked van Beurden how he can claim to be serious about climate action when his company is appealing a Dutch court ruling earlier this year, requiring it to cut its greenhouse gas emissions 45% by 2030. When van Beurden tried talking around what she’d signposted as a “yes or no question”, MacDonald walked off the stage and received loud applause from audience members, many of whom had paid US$10,000 to $50,000 for tickets to the four-day event.

After MacDonald cut van Beurden off, “youth activists climbed onto the stage, unfurling banners that read, ‘No future in fossil fuels’,” Gizmodo reports. “The activists walked out of the room as MacDonald removed her mic and stepped off the stage to join them. As they walked out the auditorium doors, they shouted, ‘Don’t just watch us, join us!’”

By the end of the session, a rattled Shell CEO was no doubt horrifying his PR team by accusing demonstrators of “blackwashing” the fossil industry.

MacDonald and van Beurden appeared on a panel with Engine No. 1 hedge fund founder Chris James and former UN climate secretary Christiana Figueres, part of a larger event where panelists were to “share a blueprint for a beautiful net-zero future,” Democracy Now reports. But in this session, MacDonald may have been the only panelist building her blueprint in three dimensions.

“No matter what he says today, remember, Shell has spent millions covering up the warnings from climate scientists, bribing politicians, and even paying soldiers to kill Nigerian activists fighting against them, all whilst rebranding to make it look as though they care and that they have the intention of changing,” she told participants while pointing a finger at van Beurden. “Disproportionately in the Global South, so many people are already dying due to issues related to the climate crisis, such as pollution, extreme heat ,and weather-related disasters.”

“This is not an abstract issue,” MacDonald told the Shell CEO, “and you are directly responsible for those deaths.” She added that she couldn’t understand “what goes on in your mind to sit there and say, ‘I’m trying to do better’ when you’re appealing against being legally [bound] to climate action.”

MacDonald shared the story behind her panel appearance in a direct message exchange with climate essayist Mary Annaïse Heglar, co-publisher of the excellent Hot Take climate blog (if you haven’t already subscribed, find out more about them here).

“A group of activists who were invited to the TED Countdown summit realized that Ben van Beurden, the CEO of Shell, would be speaking at the conference. This caused a storm amongst the Stop Cambo community, as we were outraged that van Beurden was given a platform whilst there was a severe lack of representation of both directly impacted and BIPOC activists,” MacDonald explained. “Also, there were almost no Scottish people invited to the summit, despite it taking place in Edinburgh.”

When the local activists talked to TED organizers, they were “very taken aback by our demand that Shell be removed from the event,” she continued. “However, hearing our concerns about representation, they did give out some extra passes for the conference, and offered for a Scottish activist to speak on the panel with van Beurden.”

Initially, MacDonald told Heglar, she was given two days’ preparation time to deliver a three-minute speech in advance of the session. On Wednesday, she was integrated into the panel, and spent four hours with event staff. “They wanted to cut out a lot of what I wanted to expose,” she said. “For example, they encouraged me not to speak about the Ogoni 9,” the Nigerian activists including writer and human rights campaigner Ken Saro-Wiwa who were killed by their government in the 1990s.

Shell “has faced heavy criticism from activists and local communities over [oil] spills and for the company’s close ties to government security forces” since it began exploiting Nigeria’s oil reserves in the late 1950s, Al Jazeera reported earlier this year.

TED Countdown co-founder Lindsay Levin said the speaker support offered to MacDonald was “optional, not mandatory”, as it is for all speakers. “Our team were generous with their time and expertise, with the sole goal of helping Lauren to feel supported and confident, and to communicate effectively on a platform that may have been less familiar to her,” she told The Energy Mix in a statement. “The conversation was designed so that each participant was given time to both provide context for their work and ask and answer questions of each other. During the event, given Lauren’s decision to leave the stage early, she cut short how much she was able to say. We and the audience would have liked to hear more fully from Lauren.”

While MacDonald told Heglar she faced second-guessing and condescension after breaking into tears onstage, Heglar said that was the most affecting moment in the video. “Looking straight at the CEO of one of the biggest oil companies in the world and exposing him for the atrocities he is responsible for was an unbelievable situation to be in. I fully felt the intensity of that moment and the immense opportunity to speak up for people who have suffered at the hands of Shell’s evil practices,” MacDonald wrote.

“A couple of older women attending the conference approached me afterwards to say that I should never get emotional in front of a powerful man, but I disagree,” she added. “I was terrified about the potential exposure, and not doing the situation justice, but I was not scared of showing my emotions. I never want to censor myself for the benefit of looking powerful in the eyes of someone like him. I’m sure my authenticity just made him more uncomfortable.”

Later, MacDonald joined a rally outside the summit opposing the UK government’s plan to approve the new Cambo oilfield off the Shetland Islands—while simultaneously trying to lead high-stakes negotiations at this year’s United Nations climate conference, COP 26, in Glasgow.

“My family is from the Niger Delta, and I know the harm Shell has caused and continues to cause by pushing us closer and closer to climate devastation,” climate activist Daze Aghaji told the rally. “This action is the youth saying enough is enough, asking the hard questions and dema
nding answers.”

She added that “we need Shell to commit to stopping the future harm caused by projects like the Cambo oilfield, but also addressing the past harm like the murder of Indigenous activists.”

TED has video of the full session here. After MacDonald left the stage, Levin “returned to prompt van Beurden to answer [MacDonald’s] question,” the TED blog states. “Earth systems scientist and TED speaker Johan Rockström also appears later in the video to challenge van Beurden on the science behind Shell’s net-zero plans.”

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