Minister of Environment and Climate Change Steven Guilbeault speaks during a news conference in Longueuil, Que. on Tuesday, Aug. 8, 2023. The federal environment minister says Canada is doing plenty to meet its climate targets despite news this week Equinor is hoping to grow its oilfield off the coast of Newfoundland. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes

Amid a summer of severe wildfires and flooding, the federal environment minister expressed no concern over plans by a Norwegian energy company to drill for more oil off the coast of Newfoundland.

The world will still be using oil in a carbon-neutral world, though far less than today, Steven Guilbeault told reporters Wednesday.

“We need to ensure that whatever oil or gas we’re still using in 2050, the emissions from those operations are captured and sequestered,” he said. “And that’s exactly one of the conditions we’ve put, for the first time in the history of Canada, in the approval of the Bay du Nord project.”

Guilbeault approved Equinor’s Bay du Nord offshore oil development last April, drawing the ire of climate scientists and environmentalists. The oilfield sits about 500 kilometres off the coast of St. John’s, in an area called the Flemish Pass Basin. It was thought at the time to hold about 300 million recoverable barrels of oil. But that figure has since climbed to nearly one billion barrels.

Equinor announced earlier this year that it was putting the project on hold for up to three years due to unfavourable market conditions. However, on Monday the company said it had contracted a drill rig to look for even more oil in the Bay du Nord area, beginning next year.

Guilbeault said that no matter how much oil is extracted in the coming year — whether production increases, decreases or remains stable — greenhouse gas emissions from the oil and gas sector need to be reduced for Canada to meet its climate targets.

He said he expects to table new regulations this fall that would require oil and gas producers to make those reductions.

“And that’s what matters for the atmosphere and for climate change,” he said.

In recent years, Canada has been “the best-performing country of all the G7 nations” for curbing greenhouse gases, he said.

Data from the European Commission’s Emissions Database for Global Atmospheric Research shows that Canada’s carbon emissions rose the slowest of any G7 country in 2021. But it also shows that Canada has done the worst job in the G7 in lowering emissions since 2005.

Meanwhile, records were broken this summer for wildfires: with more than 13 million blackened hectares, it has been the worst wildfire season in North American history. All 13 provinces and territories have been affected, often at the same time. Tens of thousands of people were forced from their homes, hundreds of houses were destroyed and four firefighters have been killed.

Canada has also been hit hard by flooding. Two firefighters drowned after they were swept away by floods in St-Urbain, Que., in May, and in July, record-breaking rainfall in Nova Scotia led to the deaths of four people, including two children, who were swept away by floodwaters northwest of Halifax.

Climate scientists and environmentalists have criticized federal climate policy for not considering downstream emissions, which are produced when extracted oil is burned as fuel. Environmental groups unsuccessfully challenged Guilbeault’s Bay du Nord approval in Federal Court, saying he did not consider the end-use emissions that would result from the oil it produced.

Guilbeault said Wednesday that there is an ongoing “global discussion” about whether downstream emissions should be part of the assessment process for oil and gas developments. Those considerations have only just begun, he said.

He would not say if downstream emissions would be included in any of the new legislation he is working on for the fall.

Guilbeault was in Nunatsiavut, the Inuit region of Labrador, to announce more than $3 million in funding for Inuit-led conservation and climate projects. Johannes Lampe, president of the Nunatsiavut government, said his region has already been hit hard by climate change.

“As the world climate is getting warmer day by day, we will have no more (sea) ice, and our way of life will be impacted,” Lampe told reporters. “For me, the North is a filter. And it gathers all of the pollution that is happening around the world. When that filter is clogged, the health and the well-being of Labrador Inuit is impacted.”

Nunatsiavut is the traditional homeland of Inuit in Labrador and includes five fly-in communities along the region’s north coast.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 16, 2023.

News from © The Canadian Press, 2023. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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