Fossil fuel lobby groups are a significant reason why we have not seen serious climate action in Canada. The scope of their influence demands consorted redress from both provincial and federal leaders.
While we have seen climate action at the provincial and the federal levels these efforts are often diluted or eliminated due to the influence of the fossil fuel industry. While the ruling Liberal government under Justin Trudeau has introduced a carbon tax the oil and gas industry are largely exempt. Intense lobbying from the oil and gas industry resulted in exempting about 80 percent from the carbon price.
As explained in an Environmental Defence article, “both federal and provincial governments allow oil companies to undermine efforts to meet even the current climate plan.”
“Canada’s climate plan is smart policy, that creates a national price on carbon and phases out coal but they have so far failed to address the largest and fastest growing source of emissions – the oil and gas industry.” said Tzeporah Berman, International Program Director, Stand.Earth. “Allowing oil and gas pollution to increase while saying we are committed to addressing climate change is like saying you are on a diet, but will eat more cake every day. Sorry, but it doesn’t work that way.”
Dale Marshall, National Climate Program Manager, Environmental Defence said, “It’s simply not fair that emission levels from oil and gas production are allowed to rise so significantly while other sectors and individual Canadians are doing all the heavy lifting.”
As explained by Jonathan Sas, in an article titled “The Tar Trap” governments support the fossil fuel industry even though it is harmful to both the climate or the national economy.
According to the Polaris Institute, the oil and gas industry lobbyists wield extraordinary power. They had over 2,700 communications with the Canadian government between 2008 and 2012. That is more than any other interest group. The Harper government invited the industry to participate in the gutting of Canada’s environmental regulations in the 2012 omnibus budget bill.
As reviewed in a book edited by Bickerton & Gagnon, chapter 15 (Pps 329 – 348) by Eric Montpetit addressed the utility of interest Groups. Montpetit argues that although special interest groups have earned a bad reputation in public discourse, they can actually do some public good by using their industry expertise to help policy makers craft and implement policy.
However, problems arise when these lobbyists hijack policy-making to serve their own interests rather than the national interest. This is not only harmful to policy making it also undermines democracy.
Although there are rules contained in the Lobbyist Registration Act of 1989, they are sometimes circumvented. In its worst manifestations interest groups have corrupt intent. They use their access to bribe politicians with money or favors.
There are clear instances when the interests of lobby groups and the public good diverge. According to a report released at the end of 2018 Canada’s oil and gas companies are lobbying to weaken the national climate plan while expanding production. The report also indicates that the industry has increased its yield from federal subsidies. Despite promising to eliminate subsidies to the oil and gas industry, the Federal government introduced a new one for liquefied natural gas (LNG) projects, including $275 million for infrastructure construction in B.C. The federal government also bought the existing Kinder Morgan pipeline for $4.5 billion, with billions more committed to complete the expansion.
The current trajectory of fossil fuel extraction will make it impossible for Canada to achieve its emissions reduction commitments.
“Unless the federal and provincial governments have the courage to stand up to the oil and gas lobby, Canadians will not have the climate safe future they deserve,” said Dale Marshall, National Climate Program Manager, Environmental Defence.
Under Canada’s current plan oil sands emissions are projected to grow between now and 2030 to become 40 percent of Canada’s emissions. According to the IPCC if we are to have a chance of staying within the upper threshold temperature limit of 1.5 degrees of warming we need to decrease emissions from oil and gas 37 percent by 2040. For Canada this means the nation’s emissions reductions would have to double.
“Canada’s continuing development and investment in the oil sands is incompatible with our climate change commitments,” said Dr James D. Ford, professor and chair in Climate Adaptation Priestley International Centre for Climate, University of Leeds.
The report, entitled Canada’s Oil and Gas Challenge: A Summary Analysis of Rising Oil and Gas Industry Emissions in Canada and Progress Towards Meeting Climate Targets, was released at COP24 by Environmental Defence and Stand.earth.
The report shows how fossil fuel lobby groups have changed Canadian laws, regulations and standards. Oil companies successfully advocated for delayed, weakened, and in some cases voluntary methane regulations, all of which lead to higher emissions.
The Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP) proposed a long list of amendments to Bill C-69 that would undermine the effectiveness of future impact assessments. Since April of this year, CAPP has meet with federal officials 139 times on Bill C-69, on average once per work day.
The oil and gas industry successfully lobbied to have high carbon crude oil treated the same as other crude in the Clean Fuel Standard, undermining the effectiveness of the regulation, and is still pushing to have the upstream oil and gas sector entirely exempted. The final regulations were weaker, and delayed two to three years, which will lead to 55 million tonnes more GHGs in the atmosphere between now and 2023.