Canada’s climate activists want to be taken seriously but not literally – by Sean Speer (The Hub – May 29, 2023)


The Public Policy Forum (disclosure: where I am a senior fellow) recently released a major paper on Canada’s climate goals and the implications for the oil and gas sector. It’s a must-read for anyone interested in climate policy and the inherent trade-offs in different policy approaches.

Yet the paper has been criticized in some policy quarters for various reasons including, for instance, that it doesn’t properly account for the economic benefits of cultivating fossil fuel alternatives. (The researchers who produced the analysis have responded to this particular critique.)

The main criticism however is about the scenarios that the paper models to meet Canada’s goal of net-zero emissions by 2050. The argument seems to be that the paper is wrong to account for the actions and words of environmental activists when it comes to “keep[ing] the oil in the ground” or “landlock[ing] the oil sands” or the need to “phase them out” altogether as the prime minister said in 2017. It amounts to something of a Trumpian expectation: they’re to be taken seriously but not literally.

The paper essentially puts forward two scenarios. The first envisions the phaseout of the oil and gas sector between 2035 and 2050. The second scenario is described as “aggressive decarbonization” by which oil and gas production is able to continue based on a combination of lower emissions intensity in the sector and net-zero emissions across the economy as a whole.

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