Alberta at home at Mideast COP 28 conference
GILLIAN STEWARD GILLIAN STEWARD IS A CALGARY WRITER AND JOURNALIST, AND FORMER MANAGING EDITOR OF THE CALGARY HERALD. SHE IS A FREELANCE COLUMNIST FOR THE STAR.
As representatives of 197 countries assemble in Dubai this week to talk climate change and hopefully agree on ways to drastically cut fossil fuel emissions so the planet won’t continue to burn at an alarming rate, contradictions abound.
Dubai is the largest city in the United Arab Emirates, the world’s seventh largest producer of oil and natural gas. The host of COP28, a United Nations’ endeavour, is none other than Sultan Al Jaber, the CEO of the UAE’s national oil company.
This no doubt pleases Alberta Premier Danielle Smith, who is heading to Dubai along with 150 government and petroleum industry representatives to tell the world that Alberta, Canada’s largest oil and gas producer, can increase oil production and cut emissions at the same time. If that sounds like a contradiction that’s because it is.
Jaber told the Guardian newspaper that as a CEO of an oil company he will be able to hasten agreement on reducing carbon emission from fossil fuels. “Not having oil and gas and high-emitting industries on the same table is not the right thing to do. You need to bring them all. We need to reimagine this relationship between producers and consumers. We need this integrated approach,” he said.
This is essentially what Smith promotes as well. During the World Petroleum Congress in Calgary last summer she spent a lot time with the delegation from Saudi Arabia, the world’s second largest oil producer. The head of that delegation, Energy Minister Abdulaziz bin Salman Al Saud, told delegates that energy (oil and gas) security must be the first priority then the world can deal with climate change.
Canada is the world’s fourth largest oil producer and will be represented at COP28 by Steven Guilbeault, federal minister of environment and climate change. But Smith and Saskatchewan’s Premier Scott Moe argue that Guilbeault’s climate change policies will ruin their petroleum dependent economies. So they are going themselves to bring a different message.
“I think we’ve got a very compelling story to tell about what the future of this energy transition looks like,” Smith told an industry conference last week. Saskatchewan is spending $765,000 for a pavilion to showcase sustainability efforts in its energy and agricultural industries.
What Smith and Moe really want is an extremely slow transition away from fossil fuels that will allow for even more oil production in the meantime. Smith often touts the oilsands industry’s proposal to build a $16.5billion carbon capture, utilization and storage (CCUS) project that would ship carbon emissions from oilsands operations 400 km south.
Shovels have yet to hit the ground on that multi-year project. And just last week the International Energy Agency declared that CCUS projects had been oversold by the petroleum industry and are not the silver bullet when it comes to decarbonization.
But Smith says the IEA is no longer credible and that she prefers private sector analysis.
To make her point, and no doubt rile Guilbeault just before COP28, Smith is scheduled to announce this week how she will use Alberta’s Sovereignty Act to override the federal government’s regulations (which are still in draft form) to decarbonize electricity generation which in Alberta relies mostly on natural gas. She is also announcing new provincial tax credits for CCUS projects despite the IEA’s warning.
In the 1970s, Alberta premier Peter Lougheed was often called the “blue-eyed sheik” because so much petroleum wealth was flowing Alberta’s way. Smith doesn’t have blue eyes but she is certainly in step with the big oil producing countries like Saudi Arabia, which don’t have much interest in reducing their fossil fuel output.
Instead, she should look south to the U.S — the world’s largest oil producer — where President Joe Biden’s Inflation Reduction Act is spurring on the transition away from fossil fuels. That would be the really smart thing to do.
What premiers Danielle Smith and Scott Moe really want is an extremely slow transition away from fossil fuels that will allow for even more oil production in the meantime
Toronto Star Newspapers Limited