Then Minister of Infrastructure and Communities Catherine McKenna talks about the recent transit announcement during a press conference at Surrey City Hall in Surrey, B.C., on Friday, July 9, 2021. Former environment minister McKenna is calling out weak net-zero commitments and the need for governments to regulate climate pledges in her role as head of a UN climate group. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito

By Tammy Nemeth and Ron Wallace

Integrity Matters, the report from Catherine McKenna’s UN High-Level Expert Group on the Net Zero Emissions Commitments of Non-State Entities, was launched at COP27 earlier in November. While probably appealing to climate activists or the likes of Steven Guilbeault, former Greenpeace activist and Canada’s Minister of Environment and Climate Change, it ought to be ignored and launched into the trash. The report effectively seeks to pull out the rug from under Canada’s resource industries by redefining net-zero with the effect that hydrocarbon investment would have to end, while demanding that the industry associations muzzle any criticism against such net-zero policies. Remarkably, it also insists that the industry only be permitted to lobby for more restrictions, euphemistically described as “positive climate action.” Despite the absurd recommendations, the McKenna report has pulled back the veil that, for the Expert Group at least, “net-zero” means “absolute” zero.

The key element of the report is its fundamental attempt to redefine net-zero. Canada’s Net-Zero Accountability Act says “net-zero emissions means that anthropogenic emissions of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere are balanced by anthropogenic removals of greenhouse gases from the atmosphere over a specified period.” (emphasis added). Most Canadians probably have understood this to mean using carbon capture and storage technology or carbon sinks or other offsets to cancel out emissions, while reducing the use of hydrocarbons and substituting them to some extent with renewable energy sources. The intent would be for emissions to decline while “transitional” energy strategies are developed and implemented to eliminate, capture, or offset emissions.

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Not so, says the McKenna report. In fact, it explains that the meaning and understanding of net-zero has been misinterpreted. Her report offers five principles and ten recommendations that serve to comprehensively “clarify” and redefine net-zero, but which uncomfortably appear to resemble a crusade against hydrocarbon use. Period.

It begins by specifying that company boards and executives make a public declaration or pledge of their alignment with the net-zero deep decarbonization pathway while also publicly declaring their five-year plans to reach net-zero along the entire value chain: Carbon credits are only to be used in a limited fashion. Detailed company progress reports must be filed publicly with all data submitted to a global public database to verify emission reductions. This is clearly an attempt to hold companies to account for adherence to their pledges.

As McKenna made clear at the launch of the report at COP27 in Egypt, net-zero means no emissions along the entire value chain. This means hydrocarbon companies would have to account for and capture emissions from their products being combusted. Since that is impossible, the report announces: “Non‑state actors cannot claim to be net zero while continuing to build or invest in new fossil fuel supply….net zero is entirely incompatible with continued investment in fossil fuels.” This type of approach has reduced investment in western hydrocarbon production and significantly contributed to the tight oil and natural gas supply today, globally. There is little indication in the report that energy or economic security have been honestly considered nor, it seems, are the potential implications of such draconian directives assessed for galloping inflation or the cost of living crisis currently experienced throughout western economies, including Canada.

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If redefining net-zero and starving hydrocarbon companies of investment were not enough, “Non-state actors must align their external policy and engagement efforts, including membership in trade associations, to the goal of reducing global emissions by at least 50% by 2030 and reaching net zero by 2050.” This means lobbying for positive climate action and not lobbying against it. [emphasis added].  Let that sink in. Companies or industry associations are, effectively to be muzzled and prevented from criticizing policymakers even if they are harmful to the company, the industry or the public interest.  What then would be the point of the industry association if it is not permitted to convey its views as to the true economic interests and public concerns of its membership?

The recommendations to redefine net-zero, effectively demanding an immediate phase-out of hydrocarbons, and insisting on uncritical allegiance to the green transition, is unsurprising given the well-known positions of major advocacy organizations consulted in its development.  However, and regrettably, Canada’s Parliamentary Budget Office apparently wasn’t consulted because their recent report stated unequivocally, “Canada’s own emissions are not large enough to materially impact climate change.” This begs the question: Why would Canada even consider implementing recommendations from such a report with such potential material economic consequences, especially when it would not “materially impact climate change”?  This attempt to move the goalposts with a unilateral redefinition of net-zero, is a disservice to Canadians. It should neither be considered nor should it be allowed to inform any future Canadian policies or regulations. Canada should ditch this report and return it to the UN with a failing grade.

(This is an elaboration of an article originally published in the Financial Post: https://financialpost.com/opinion/cop27-climate-change)

Dr. Tammy Nemeth is a energy security analyst residing in Oxford, UK. Dr. Nemeth grew up in Saskatchewan. You can listen to one of Nemeth’s podcasts with Ron Wallace below:

 

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