Alberta premier brands federal minister’s net-zero speech at oil conference ‘tone-deaf’ | CBC News

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Expecting to draw around 5,000 delegates from more than 100 countries around the world, the World Petroleum Congress had barely kicked off Sunday before rifts between Alberta and Ottawa concerning energy policy took centre stage.

The World Petroleum Congress is a five-day conference being held in Calgary for first time since 2000. The theme for this year’s conference is “Energy Transition: The Path to Net Zero.”

During the opening ceremonies on Sunday, Canadian Minister of Energy and Natural Resources Jonathan Wilkinson told the crowd that, as a global community, in order to reach net-zero emissions by 2050, “meaningful progress” needed to be made by 2030. 

“We cannot get to net-zero by 2050 if we begin our journey in 2040,” Wilkinson said, according to a copy of his prepared remarks provided by his office on Sunday evening, prior to the speech.

Wilkinson also issued a “call to action” to Canadian oil and gas companies to aggressively take up the challenge of decarbonization.

“A call to action to enhance the long-term competitiveness of the sector while concurrently playing an important role in the global fight against climate change,” the remarks read. 

Wilkinson then goes on to “acknowledge the net-zero commitments that have been made by many of the largest Canadian energy companies.”

But Alberta Premier Danielle Smith, speaking to reporters on Monday, said it was the “wrong place” for Wilkinson to make that speech.

“What he was tone-deaf to is the amount of work that’s been done by our industry to align with the carbon-neutral target, and to essentially act as if the industry was winding down, and that is not the case,” Smith said.

“That’s why I had to counter his message. This is not an industry that’s winding down. It’s an industry that’s transitioning away from emissions.”

A man in a suit gestures.
During the opening kick-off for the World Petroleum Congress on Sunday, Minister of Energy and Natural Resources Jonathan Wilkinson warned against moving slowly when it came to efforts to decarbonize. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

When asked by a reporter whether the World Petroleum Congress’s international stage was an appropriate place for the federal and provincial government to spar over energy policy, Smith said she didn’t like to fight with her federal counterparts.

“But I’m not going to allow them to take swipes at our industry and have it go unanswered, and talking about this industry winding down, being on its last legs, only having 25 million barrels a day of production by 2050, at a time when everybody’s here to celebrate production and investment,” Smith said.

“And, we’re trying to make Canada an investment magnet. I would say that was the wrong place for him to make that speech.”

Jim Reiter, Saskatchewan’s minister of energy and resources, is also attending the conference. He was also critical of the speech, saying that he thought Wilkinson had been “dismissive” of what industry was doing.

“They need to stop doing the virtue signaling and actually do what’s best for emissions,” Reiter told reporters.

Wilkinson says comments misinterpreted

Speaking to CBC Radio’s The Homestretch on Monday afternoon, Wilkinson was asked about the premier’s comments.

“I actually think that perhaps the premier has misinterpreted some of the comments. What I said was, we do need to reduce production emissions in order to actually have a competitive industry going forward. That is not different from what Saudi Arabia says,” Wilkinson said.

“I met with the Saudi minister of energy this morning, and we both are very focused on getting to a point where we actually have net-zero production emissions on a go-forward basis.”

Last week, the head of the International Energy Agency (IEA) said demands for fossil fuels would peak in 2030, citing new projections.

“This age of seemingly relentless growth is set to come to an end this decade, bringing with it significant implications for the global energy sector and the fight against climate change,” Fatih Birol wrote in an op-ed in the Financial Times.

Wilkinson told The Homestretch those projections were not a surprise.

“At the end of the day, if you believe that climate change is real, if you believe that you have to actually get to a point where you are net-zero by 2050, as a global community, then you have to assume that some of those combustion applications are going away,” Wilkinson said.

“Premier Smith is very focused on production emissions. But we also have to be focused on the consumption of it through cars, and buses, and trains and planes. Those also create emissions. A net-zero world means that you’ve actually addressed all of those.”

A woman wearing red and a man in white stand together.
Alberta Premier Danielle Smith, left, tours the Saudi Arabia pavilion with Saudi Arabia’s minister of energy, Abdulaziz bin Salman Al-Saud, at the World Petroleum Congress in Calgary on Sept. 18. (Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press)

He added that countries must take action to ensure they’re winning the environmental war while creating economic opportunity in a low-carbon world.

Speaking on Monday morning at the World Petroleum Congress about the IEA projection, Saudi Arabia’s energy minister, Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman Al-Saud, said such forecasts are not always reliable and said the IEA had “moved from being a forecaster and assessor of the market to one practicing political advocacy.”

Smith agreed with Al-Saud’s point of view.

“His advice was, you take a measure of prudence so that you don’t end up creating disruption and instability in the markets and then you can always increase,” Smith said. 

“I think that that kind of approach actually is a lot more practical than trying to rely on predictions for what has become … increasingly, unfortunately, a political activist organization.”

Conference runs until Thursday

Speaking about the conference, which runs until Thursday, Warren Mabee, director of the Institute for Energy and Environmental Policy at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ont., previously told CBC News he’d be watching to see if those in the energy sector would demonstrate clarity around their climate plans.

“If you look at it from an environmental perspective, it’s not moving fast enough. If you look at it from a corporate perspective, there’s a real need to continue to service the existing markets,” he said last week. 

“It is important that energy continues to flow and that people have the energy they need in order to transition their economies. This can’t all happen overnight.”

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