Canada’s Minister of Environment and Climate Change
Steven Guilbeault [00:00:03] In Canada. Our provinces and territories have jurisdiction over the use of natural resources so the federal government cannot regulate, legislate, something that would directly affect the use of these natural resources. What we can do and there was a case that made it all the way to Supreme Court on carbon pricing. The Supreme Court rule that the federal government, when it comes to climate change, can put in place measures to reduce the level of pollution.
Jason Bordoff [00:00:34] When it comes to energy and climate, Canada is a key player and a land of contrasts. It gets over 80% of its electricity from low carbon sources and has a hefty carbon tax. It’s also a major oil and gas producer and has resources for the metals and minerals that need to be mined for clean energy transition. As the urgency of the climate crisis grows, the Canadian government has committed to accelerate its climate action and ambition. At the same time, the importance of oil and gas to the Canadian economy, along with the thorny politics of climate, makes reducing its reliance on fossil fuels difficult. Canada also faces challenges navigating the path to produce energy and mine for critical minerals while respecting the rights and sovereignty of First Nations communities. So how is the Canadian government planning to meet its climate goals? What would a just energy transition look like for the country, and what are its leaders hoping to achieve at Cop 28? This is Columbia Energy Exchange, a weekly podcast from the Center on Global Energy Policy at Columbia University. I’m Jason Bordoff. Today on the show, Minister Steven Guilbeault. He’s Canada’s Minister of Environment and Climate Change and an elected member of Parliament. He previously served as Minister of Canadian Heritage. Prior to serving in Parliament, Minister Guilbeault was the senior director of equity for Quebec’s largest environmental organization, which he co-founded in 1993. He’s also worked as a director and campaign manager for Greenpeace and was a strategic advisor to Cycle Capital Management, a Canadian Clean technology Fund. Minister Guilbault joins me to talk about recent developments in Canadian energy policy. Its critical minerals strategy and what he’s hoping to achieve at Cop 28. I hope you enjoy our conversation. Minister Guilbault, thank you so much for making time to be with us on Columbia Energy Exchange. Wonderful to see you again.
Steven Guilbeault [00:02:34] Thank you very much, Jason. Very happy to be here.
Jason Bordoff [00:02:37] So I wanted to start just by you know, I suspect we may have a decent number of listeners who are not deeply familiar with the broad landscape for climate and energy policy in Canada right now. You know, if I was talking to a senior official in the United States, we’d be talking about the Inflation Reduction Act and implementation of it. We’d be talking about maybe a regulatory set of priorities at the EPA or something. So just sort of set the scene and then we’ll go a little deeper into each of them for people listening. What is the agenda now? What’s taking up most of your time? What’s what are people talking about on different aspects of different sides of the political spectrum or, you know, in in the private sector and environmental groups? What’s the focus for energy and climate policy now in Canada?
Steven Guilbeault [00:03:24] I mean, in a nutshell, Canada was playing catch up when it comes to fighting climate change, because for for many years we had a government that didn’t pay much attention to it. In fact, no attention at all. And we we lost a lot of ground, which we’ve been trying to pick up since since 2015, since our government was elected. So to give you an idea of what we’re talking about in when we came in in 2015, forecasts by 2030 was that Canada was going to be 12% above our 2030 targets. We’re now 7% below 2025 levels. So we’ve we’ve bent the curve. We’ve started reducing. It’s nowhere near the rate of reduction that we need to see happening yet to be able to to meet our 20, 30 targets.
Jason Bordoff [00:04:17] But those targets are 4,040%. Am I remembering.
Steven Guilbeault [00:04:21] Correct? 40 to 45%? Yes, 40 to 45% by but by by 2030, In the last year and a half, as Environment and Climate Change Minister, I’ve I’ve announced we have new regulations for for clean fuel standards for for refiners in Canada. We we have draft regulations for zero emission vehicle mandate very similar to the one the ones you have with the EPA. We already have methane regulations for the oil and gas sector where the industry will reach at least 40% reduction by 2025. And by the end of the year, we will be introducing new regulations to reach at least 75% methane reduction in the oil and gas sector by 2030. Last summer, I presented new regulations for a net zero grid by 2035. So it’s not a fossil fuel free grid, but really net zero grid by by 2035.
Jason Bordoff [00:05:18] Canada’s in a pretty good place already between hydropower and nuclear, so it’s already a pretty low carbon grid. Is that right?
Steven Guilbeault [00:05:25] Which is that is absolutely right. Which is kind of a good news bad news situation because there aren’t a whole lot of low hanging fruit in the electricity sector in Canada. We still have some jurisdictions using fossil fuel based electricity generation. And Alberta, for example, was going to phase out coal electricity generation by 2030 as per a 2015 commitment. They will be they will get there by the end of this year, seven years earlier. So some some jurisdictions are doing pretty well, others still a bit of a struggle and certainly in an eastern part of the country. But they’ve committed to be to be and to have a net zero grid and working with us by by 2035 to 2. Last piece of last elements I would like to and I will be presenting by the end of the year the framework for new regulation to cap the emission of the oil and gas sector, which is a campaign commitment we made in the 2021 election. And you’re asking me what what people are talking about, what different political parties and what’s some of the discourse has been about on climate? Certainly carbon pricing is one thing that is still a big debate in Canada. We have we’ve had carbon pricing in place since 20 2019. We’re right now at $65 a tonne. It was going up by $10 a tonne between 2019 and 2022, going up now by a by $15 a tonne and starting started to start starting last year. So we were at 50, we’re at 65, we’ll be at 80 next year going up to $170 a Canadian dollars a tonne by 2030. There’s two component to our pricing mechanism. There’s there’s an output based pricing system for large emitters and. There’s also a fuel charge for fur for individual individual consumers.
Jason Bordoff [00:07:23] And just just again, for people listening who may not be familiar with kind of the landscape in Canada, how would you describe the extent of unity or polarization? Broadly speaking, politically on these issues? Canada has strong climate goals. Canada is a big oil and gas producer. If you look in the United States, the conversation about climate is deeply divided. Is is is very polarized and maybe becoming more so politically. How would you describe that conversation? On the need for stronger climate action in Canada today. And where are there opportunities to work across the aisle?
Steven Guilbeault [00:08:04] I would say that it is somewhat somewhat controversial and and politicized. If you look at the House of Commons, we have five political parties that are that were present in the House in our House of Commons as the Liberal Party, the government, the official opposition, the Conservatives. Very, very similar to your Republicans, especially on some and currently the Republicans position on climate. Our conservatives are very, very similar in their in their approach. And we have three other opposition parties which are to the little bit on the left of the spectrum and pro climate, pro carbon pricing. So in the 2021 election, basically 70% of Canadians voted for parties and candidates that are pro climate change or pro fighting climate change, pro carbon pricing. But we have a very vocal and visible opposition that is that is trying to generate a debate as to whether or not we should we should even have carbon pricing in Canada.
Jason Bordoff [00:09:15] And just for those listening who may not know your background and very interesting story, you have people in government making policy and there’s a whole NGO and an activist community pushing those people to do more. You’ve been part of that in your in the past working it at Greenpeace. How did that inform the way you approached the job of being a policymaker? How does that approach inform what you do now? How do you maybe think differently about some of the issues that you work on than you did when you were in that kind of role?
Steven Guilbeault [00:09:45] So my decision to run for office in 2019 was largely influenced by my desire to continue being an activist, but in a in a different arena than the one I had operated for my my most of my entire adult life. I see my role and I think the Prime Minister of Canada sees my role as being an activist inside government as opposed to being an activist outside government. In fact, the first time he introduced me to your to your president in in Glasgow, Cop26 two years ago, she introduced me to the president as a real climate activist, someone who’s been arrested four times for for his activism. So that’s that’s how I was first introduced to your to your president. Fortunately, I don’t think he is holding it against me. I’ve had the pleasure of meeting him a couple more times since then, and things seem okay between us.
Jason Bordoff [00:10:42] The Well, let me come to some of those issues that we were that you were just talking about, the sort of key issues that are on the policy agenda in Canada. And maybe we’ll start with carbon pricing, which which you talked about, talk about. It’s it’s a different approach than, say, the Inflation Reduction Act, which is one that involves significant support, subsidies, tax credits for clean energy. How do you see the carbon price working? Is it sufficient for kind of the scale and speed of change we need? Is it not? And then there’s been the efforts taken to put a moratorium on that carbon price for certain things where energy prices have been very sensitive economically and politically like heating. How should we think about the approach being taken by the Canadian government pushing for faster decarbonization with a carbon price? But the implications, the impacts that that that it can have on energy bills and the politics and economics of that.
Steven Guilbeault [00:11:44] The first thing I should say is that we we don’t have the economic power of the United States. Obviously, it goes without saying. But the IRA in terms of investment is it’s something that no other country in the world can do. So we have to be we have to have a more diverse approach when it comes to tackling our emissions, because we there’s no way we can match dollars, $4 what what you are doing in the United States. That being said, we are around $200 billion of. Emitted money for decarbonization, whether it’s public transit, electrification, clean tech, renewable energy in in Canada. So it’s not insignificant, but it’s certainly not the same as it’s about half of of what IRA will will provide for for for companies. And in the U.S., the role carbon pricing plays in in our overall climate change plan, we we estimate that pricing will account for about a third of our emissions by 2030 of our emission reduction by by by 2030.
Jason Bordoff [00:12:56] Just remind people, if you could, how the how the carbon price works and what the level is and what the level is going to be.
Steven Guilbeault [00:13:01] If we look at the price for for large emitters in Canada, there’s about 600 of them, give or take. So we we are at $65 a tonne right now. It will ramp up to 170, $170 a tonne by by 2030. We are looking at mechanism. So one of the things it’s a relatively new development in in the Canadian policy landscape, but we’ve been asked by investors and companies in some instances if there wasn’t way we could guarantee carbon pricing. Post 2030. Because from an investment point of view, you know, seven years or eight years when or nine years when you introduce it down the road, it is a very short window for for for investors and companies thinking about making substantial substantive decarbonization investment. Whether you’re talking efficiency, methane or carbon capture and storage. So we’re we’re developing a mechanism called. Contracts for differences which would allow us to guarantee the price of carbon past 2030. You can think of it as some kind of an insurance mechanism that the government would offer companies on on the price of of pollution. So it is is significant. You know, all our climate plan doesn’t rest on carbon pricing, but it is a significant element, a significant tool in our toolbox to it to achieve our our 2030 targets.
Jason Bordoff [00:14:34] And how do you think about the the both the politics of it, but also the how it fits within a an agenda for for a just transition Again, a carbon tax can. Can land on certain households, particularly low income households, in a challenging way. And as I said, Prime Minister Trudeau has put in place a. I think a three year tell me if I’m wrong, moratorium on the carbon carbon price for for heating oil as a relief to lower income households. How do you balance those priorities?
Steven Guilbeault [00:15:01] So as I said earlier, we there are two components to our pricing mechanism. I could brace up. Based system for large emitters, which is fairly noncontroversial and no one is really talking about that. I think there is even our conservatives don’t really talk about that. I think most Canadians would take it as a given that these large emitters should should pay their fair share when it comes to tackling climate change. And there is a very high level of of support for climate action in Canada. It is truly higher than what we’re seeing in the US. But there is another component which is a fuel charge. So Canadians would pay that at the pump or as. As per what you were saying, when they fill up their their tank for winter on their home heating oil, natural gas or propane, we the prime minister did announce a three weeks ago now a pause for three years on the application of the fuel charge for home heating oil. For a couple of different reasons. One in Canada. Using oil to heat your home is already about two times more expensive than using other forms of fuel. So it’s already very expensive. The increase in price that we’ve seen in the last year, largely because of geopolitical factors, has resulted in an increase in the price of home heating oil by 75%, which is three times what we’ve seen for for other fuels. And and obviously the economic theory and the main purpose of carbon pricing is to incentivize new behaviors either by companies or consumers. And what we realized with the the affordability issues we are facing in Canada, as well as in most parts of the world right now, is that we already have programs in place to help people get off home heating oil or natural gas or propane heat pump program where we will pay about half of the cost of the purchase and installation of of any pump system in Canada to about $20,000. But what we realized is that Canadians who are still using home heating oil are below and in most instances, in instances well below. Medium income household in Canada and they just couldn’t afford to pay the difference. So they they had no alternatives. They they can’t they can’t change their behavior. So what the prime minister also announced when we announced when he announced a pause on home heating oil is that we will we will make it free for Canadians below the medium income level to have an income in jurisdictions that are willing to partner with us. So we’re paying three quarters. The federal government is paying three quarters of a system and now we have three. We call them provinces here, three of our jurisdictions who have signed on a signed agreement with us where they will pay the other quarter. And so, in effect, we we will accelerate decarbonization for for a whole meeting in Canada compared to what we were doing. But we just realized that in that case, the price signal just wasn’t creating the type of incentive and and change in behavior that we, you know, that the economic the normal economic theory would would have led us to believe, which is why we decided to take this decision.
Jason Bordoff [00:18:33] Yeah. Now, that is interesting. I mean, what I hear you saying is that in a world particularly of somewhat high oil prices already, the incremental price signal being sent from a carbon tax wouldn’t necessarily be the tipping point. It would just cause people to pay more for their oil bills. But by putting subsidy money into it, maybe a little bit of the thinking behind the Inflation Reduction Act as as compared to a carbon price. You think you think that’ll accelerate the pace of heat pump take up, you know, in a way that would have done more than a carbon price would. So.
Steven Guilbeault [00:19:05] Yeah, we anticipate that we will be able to virtually eliminate, perhaps not completely eliminate, but indeed in the next three years coal mining, oil in Canada, which is which is something we were forecasting for a much longer time period before Prime Minister made that that announcement.
Jason Bordoff [00:19:24] Can you. You talked a moment ago, you mentioned capping oil and gas emissions. Say more about what that policy will look like. Is is that is that set? The details of it, I presume you mean a cap and then that cap declines over time. A cap and cut. Yeah. Yeah. So so talk a little bit about how you envision that working and and then is that is that effectively a capping and cutting production or do you think those two are not necessarily the same thing?
Steven Guilbeault [00:19:56] I’ll answer that the last part of your question first, and I’ll get to the other one after. In in Canada, as per our constitution, our provinces and territories have jurisdiction over the use of natural resources, whether it’s wood mining in or in that case, fossil fuels. So the federal government cannot regulate, legislate, something that would directly affect the use of these natural resources. What we can do and there was a case that made it all the way to Supreme Court, in fact, are on carbon pricing. The Supreme Court rule that the federal government, when it comes to climate change, can put in place measures to reduce the level of pollution, which would include carbon pollution, methane, CO2.
Jason Bordoff [00:20:47] And just to be clear, you’re talking about from production, we’re not talking about from scope three or from the use of oil and gas. You’re talking about direct emissions from production of oil and gas.
Steven Guilbeault [00:20:57] Yes, exactly. So the cap would would that we will be putting in place would cap the emission and then these emissions would have to go down, down in time. We’re very agnostic in terms of how companies achieve the cap. From a technological technology point of view, we’re not telling them you need to do this or you need to do that. And that’s how we tend to do regulations here. Our goal I mean, we we all understand that we are heading into I mean, if you look at the latest report from the IEA, we are heading into a world in a carbon neutral world in 2050 where we will go to about 100 million barrels of oil being consumed, produced and consumed every day to world where we’ll be around 25, 20, 25 million barrels in a carbon neutral world in 2050. So we understand that oil consumption and therefore production will be declining. Our our goal is to try and ensure that the decline in production in Canada follows. You know, not exactly, but but a trend that will be similar to what we’re seeing globally because otherwise we would just displace production somewhere else in the world and there are no environmental benefits. So we’re trying to design a regulation to ensure that we’ve I mean, there’s a lot of things we can do between now and 2030 in terms of emissions. When you look at methane, for example. We we understand we can get to, you know, virtually eliminating methane emissions from the oil and gas sector by 2030. Well through the use of technology. So there are elements like that, truly. Carbon capture and storage is another element. There are other technologies that can be used in the sector to to reduce emissions. So before there’s even a conversation about reducing production again, which is not something we can do, but companies themselves will eventually get there. There’s a lot we can do on the emissions side of things.
Jason Bordoff [00:22:59] And right. So your answer sort of brings up the the the broader question, which as you know, there’s can be controversial love. Can one of the largest oil and gas producers in the world is a consistent to be that and to also lead on climate. Norway the United States Gulf states. I mean this question applies to many, many countries. You said something interesting a moment ago, which is making sure that through best practices, if if we were on track, which we are not, let’s be clear for our listeners, if we were on track for goals like net zero by 2050, you know, the scenario show you see 100 million barrel a day market falling to 20, 2530, depending on which, which kind of scenario your numbers you’re looking at. But but but a lot less than today, but not zero. So one could say we want our production to fall consistent with that decline. Someone could say we’re Canada. We produce 5 million barrels a day. We can be five of those 25. That’s no problem. Problem is, everybody can’t say that can’t be true for everyone. So how do you think about what it means for, you know, to be a large oil and gas producer? And is it consistent or inconsistent to to continue to be that with with with the best possible kind of carbon intensity scope one, two, emissions and all of that in a market that is still using 100 million barrels a day, demand may start to fall. I mean, the IEA says it’ll peak by the end of the decade. It’s not falling yet. How do you think about that tension? It’s obviously one that, you know, people in Alberta, people in environmental groups think and talk about quite a bit.
Steven Guilbeault [00:24:32] You’re right, Jason. I mean, Canada right now is the 44th largest producer of oil and gas when you combine the two of them. So it is a in parts of the country, it is a very difficult conversation for for for for for communities and workers in many parts of the country. It’s a very unsettling conversation. But nonetheless, one one we we must have. I think it is. Unrealistic to think that right now we produce close to 5 million barrels of oil a day in a world that produces a hundred million. And that in a world that will only produce about a quarter or a fifth of that for free. Well, you know, and in fact, our own independent energy regulator published last spring, some scenarios that are following what the IEA is doing. So they’re looking at business as usual. And then they did a couple of different modeling exercise, looking at different assumptions. And depending on which assumption you you look at in 2050, Canada would produce about a million barrels a day. So our our relative weight in the overall production of of of oil in Canada would remain the same, but obviously we would produce less.
Jason Bordoff [00:26:02] And what how should listeners sort of think about Canadian oil supply? The oilsands in the past has been, you know, particularly controversial, seen as dirtier than normal oil from an emissions standpoint. You’re talking about capping emissions and bringing that down. Do you see that actually changing in in ways that that that bring down the overall carbon footprint of of the oil and gas that is being produced? Before you think about whether the total amount declines over time?
Steven Guilbeault [00:26:31] There’s two possibilities. Either we are serious about tackling climate change collectively and the history of the last eight years, you know, since Paris have shown us that collectively we’ve made significant improvement. I know my colleagues and still friends and comment on movement often, you know, push us to to do more and say we’re not there and we’re not there yet. But people should remember that the tree Paris beginning early 2010, the IPCC, the IEA, were anticipating that we would be by 2100 in a four degrees Celsius world compared to pre-industrial level. And now if you look at the latest evaluation, we are somewhere between 1.7 and 2 point three degrees Celsius. So there there’s significant progress that has been made, but more needs to be done if we want to maintain global average temperature around 1.5°C. If we’re serious about that, then obviously emissions from from oil, from all the the large oil producers need to come down and production will be coming down as we electrify our transportation system like you’re doing in the U.S., like we’re doing in Canada and the Europeans and the Chinese and and others as we’re decarbonizing our industrial sectors like steel, even cement, aluminum. Certainly in Canada, the consumption of of of fossil fuels will will, will, will be going down. In the case of the oil sands being a very heavy emitting form of form of oil, there is an added challenge because more and more. Customers of this large oil and gas company will demand low carbon oil. And eventually and in the not too distant future, I would anticipate a carbon neutral, more carbon neutral oil from a scope one, scope two perspective. Scope three is certainly more complicated. So I think it is imperative that that that they invest to decarbonize their operations even more so than than than other producers, more conventional producers of of oil. That being said, the concentration of these operations make it easier. I wouldn’t say easy, but certainly easier for them to collectively invest in large carbon capture and storage projects in a way that would be perhaps more difficult for for for single unit operation to do like that. There is a cost we anticipate. We’re not sure, but we anticipate that there will be large economies of scale for them to do that in the oil sands because they’re very concentrated geographically, very good geology for for storage in in in that region, which is not something we see, for example, in eastern Canada. We we certainly don’t have and nowhere near the type of geology to do sequestration in eastern Canada as we have in central Canada.
Jason Bordoff [00:29:46] When you think about a world that gets closer to on track for those net zero, 2050 scenarios, as you said, oil and gas demand would would be declining most likely. And it means you’re making faster climate progress, which is a good thing. It means for a large oil and gas producer, there is less production and that that hits certain communities in certain regions differently than it hits others. And obviously a place like Alberta, Alberta, with where the economy depends has a significant component and a lot of jobs that are linked to the oil and gas industry. We certainly have that in different parts of the United States, too. We talked a moment ago about a just transition in the sense of who bears the burden of policy like a carbon tax. When you think about a just transition that involves parts of Canada potentially being negatively impacted economically by a move away from oil and gas, how do you think about the solution set politically, but also as a matter of economics and good policy and and an equitable policy to make sure that that those communities are, you know, not dislocated any more than necessary and that there really are transition plans that are that are that are effective and pragmatic. There’s a lot of promises that have been made, but these are hard things to do in practice.
Steven Guilbeault [00:31:00] You’re absolutely right. It is. It is much easier said than done, which is why we we have just introduced in our parliament just transition legislation, which was introduced both by our Minister of Labor and our Minister of Natural Resources. I was involved on the periphery of that because I already have a lot on my plate and Prime Minister thought I needed to focus on a little bit. We have in Canada parenthesis, but when when a cabinet is formed in Canada, the Prime Minister will give instructions to all of the cabinet minister. They’re called mandate letters. Since 2015, these documents are public documents. They used to be very secret. And in the past they are, interestingly enough, some of the most consulted documents on the government website. And my mandate letter is the second longest after our finance minister in in Canada. So I already lots to do. But the reason we introduced legislation that was largely co-developed with workers in Canada from across the country, but specifically from those regions of the country that will be more affected by it, by the transition to ensure that we we have from a from a government and policy perspective, an organized manner of looking at not to transition, because I think we are seeing rapid changes in terms of investment, in terms of technologic technology development and and in many ways, I mean, certainly if you look at coal, coal is declining everywhere in the world is declining in the U.S. it’s declining rapidly. In Canada, we have legislation to be out of coal by 2030. We will get there before that. And it’s declining perhaps well, almost everywhere in the world, with the notable exception of of China. So so that transition is happening. And either we try and we may not always succeed, but we try from a from a public policy point of view to find mechanism to to accompany those workers and communities. Because often when we talk about transition, we tend to focus on on workers, rightly so. But it’s not the same would be true in the U.S. We have communities in Canada that are still very dependent on coal. We have communities that are very dependent on gas or oil. So how do we work with the workers and their communities to. And we started doing that on on coal. We we we struck a panel in 20 and 2018 composed of coal workers, trade unionists, environmentalist, economist and people from the industry that visited communities across the country that would be impacted by the coal phase out. And we sat down with them and said, okay, well, what what does what do you need as a worker? What does your community need? What what do new economic opportunities for you or your region look like? How the federal government can can assist to to help make those a reality? And and I think I mean that from a model that’s more or less what it looks like. We you need to have you need to sit down with folks and have those conversations and figure out what what a new future looks like. And as as difficult as some of those conversation can be, I think when we’ve done this, people have really appreciated the effort made by by including them in the decision making process and not just us, you know, lawmakers in Ottawa trying to decide everything from my from our ivory tower. And I think we need to do more of this. And again, I don’t think we’ll get it right all the time, but I think we can get it right some, if not often.
Jason Bordoff [00:35:03] That’s really interesting perspective. I was I was thinking about the we’ve been talking about the impact of, say, oil and gas activity from an emissions standpoint. You know as well as anyone, extractive industries can have impacts on on the local environment, on biodiversity, on ecosystems, on first nations groups. And and the clean energy transition is going to need a lot of mining. And that’s a lot of Canada has a lot of those resources for mining activity. And I was wondering, particularly given your background in the environmental movement and Greenpeace, how do you think about the massive increase in mining that is probably necessary? We should do recycling. We should reduce demand where we can, but that’s not we don’t want to fool ourselves that we’re not going to need more mining. How do we do that in in a way that actually does protect the environment at the same time?
Steven Guilbeault [00:35:57] That’s an excellent question. And you’re right. I mean, you’re absolutely right. There may be a time down the road where we will have enough of those mineral in circulation that we we won’t need new mining, but we’re not there and we’re we’re nowhere close to being there. So in Canada and the reality, I understand, might be different parts of the United States, but most of these mining resources are on the traditional lands of indigenous people. And so one of the things we’re doing very differently in Canada now as per even 7 or 8 years ago in terms of impact assessment, is including indigenous peoples as well as as local communities and the impact assessment of these mining projects and in many instances embedding them in, in in the process. So not just consulting them. As Environment Minister, I’m responsible to approve many of these projects, not all of them, because again, in Canada, when it comes to impact assessment, the federal government will assess about 10% of large projects that are presented every year. Many of them will go through a provincial impact assessment process. But I recently approved a lithium mine near James Bay. So northern Quebec and the the local indigenous nation, the Cree Nation, was embedded in in in the panel that the federal panel that did the impact assessment, they rolled up part of the assessment themselves. The community did a referendum to decide whether or not they wanted this mining project in their community. And after all of that, we got green lights on across the board. The project was able to go ahead and and we’ve seen a couple of other instances in an Ontario marathon, another project on sort of on the western side this time of the of James Bay. Same time same type of process for for for for for the approval of of this mining operation. But it does mean that in some instances the local community, the indigenous community will tell us we don’t want this project. Yes, it could be economic benefit, but we feel that the social and environmental impacts are greater than the potential benefits. And I think as a society, we have to be willing to accept that some projects will go ahead, but some may not go ahead. And there’s no point in trying to shove down the throat of of communities or indigenous nations that that don’t want these projects. We have we believe we have enough opportunities across across the country to be able to to meet the growing demand. And that’s certainly what we’re working towards. But we have to think of mining, those mining projects being done, being approved in the first instance and being done in a very different way than than mining was was done before.
Jason Bordoff [00:39:12] My frequent coauthor, Megan O’Sullivan at Harvard and I were recently led a task force to with the Aspen Institute to develop a mining strategy for the United States. We looked carefully at several of the examples in Canada, talked in the report about the concept of free, prior and informed consent. I think that’s part of what you what you were just talking about and also the importance or opportunity or different models for thinking about how Indigenous groups have equity in projects. So people see the upside and the economic opportunity. And I was wondering, you could talk a little bit about what Canada has done there.
Steven Guilbeault [00:39:47] We are seeing more and more companies will propose. It’s true for mining, It’s true we’re seeing it a lot for renewal, renewable energy project infrastructure project like transmission lines, developers will. Will offer part ownership and even sometimes like majority ownership of projects to indigenous communities, even when they cannot provide some of the equity that would be required to do that. And we’re finding that those indigenous nations having the ability to invest in some of these projects is actually an impediment. So some companies are voluntary, willing to do that, not all of them. So one of the things we are looking at is the creation of a national fund that would be supported by the federal government for indigenous communities to to invest in, in critical mining projects, in renewable energy projects, in transmission lines. And I’m hoping that in the coming months we will be able to announce that this fund is up and running and will be able to support community communities because there is clearly a need. Many of these communities are still on average much poorer than in their Canadian equivalent. So there is a there is an economic gap there that we there are many issues, but clearly this is one we can we can help solve fairly easily compared to many other of the challenges that we see there.
Jason Bordoff [00:41:25] You talked about how much is on your very full plate. One of those, I suspect, is where many people in the climate world will be in two weeks in Dubai. And what’s going to happen at the UN climate meetings? Can you talk a little bit about what you expect, what you’re hoping for or what a success look like, and what do you expect? Those may not be the same thing depending on whether we’re headed in a good direction. But talk a little bit about what you’re what you’re working on and what your expectations are for Cop this year.
Steven Guilbeault [00:41:55] I’ve attended. I think Cop 28 will be my 21st or 22nd cop. My first one was was Cop one in Berlin and in 1995 as a young climate activist. So I either I’m addicted, I’m I’m a repeat offender or something, but I more seriously, no matter how much criticism people might direct at the at the international process on climate change, no matter its flaws, which are numerous, I will admit we are condemned to work together to find solutions. No single country, whether it’s the U.S. or China, as big as they are and as mighty as they are when it comes to investment or technology can solve this on their own. So we we’re condemned to find common solutions. And and and as I was saying earlier, collectively, we we’ve done some of the work we need to do to do more of it. I so I have a tendency and it may be one of my numerous flaws to approach this with a sense of optimism. And and to their credit, I think that the the UAE and the Cop 28 president, Dr. Sultan El Al Jabbar, have done a lot of work to to set the right conditions to enable a successful outcome or to accept successful outcomes coming out of Cop 28. It reminds me a lot of what we saw the Brits do in the lead up to to to Cop26 in Glasgow. Lots of engagement with countries all around the world, north and south, left, right and center, long time ahead, getting countries to to to work with them to help build consensus, find or imagine possible solutions. Also look at what some of some of our what are some of the issues and are we able to find solutions before we get to Dubai. So, as you know, I’ve been asked to be one of the co facilitators for for one of the working group. There was there’s eight of us assisting the Cop 28 presidency. We started our work some as as early as last June, others we started more towards the end of of of August. I I’m paired with my my colleague from, from Egypt. Minister one We’ve had meetings with, I’d say 70, 80 countries in the last few weeks. Two days ago we were meeting last week. My apologies. We were meeting with civil society organizations, international civil society organizations, trade unions, environmentalists, youth business academics. And I think this this own wells, I think that the presidency is trying to build consensus on a certain number of issues. What is successful? What does a successful cop look for? Me, I think I mean, clearly, we need to make progress on on all of the key elements of the of the Paris agreement financing being one of them, obviously. And and the issue of the $100 billion goal that that that developed nations were supposed to provide in in 2020. We’re not there yet, although the OECD is leading us to believe that we will get there this year and that that’s a very important element. But but also, you know, how do we mobilize private sector capital? And it’s interesting, if I can make a parallel between the climate cop and the biodiversity cop, last one took place in in Montreal. We’ve had a really hard time on climate change agreeing and finding mechanism to draw in private capital to fight climate change. But there’s been lots of resistance. We did that almost in a nutshell Cop15 in Montreal. And I say almost in a nutshell because there hadn’t been a whole lot of work in preparation on the specific elements before countries met last December in Montreal, under the Chinese presidency, Canada was was hosting the conference. So we were working closely with China. But it basically in a matter of weeks, not not just a cop. There was some work done prior to the cop, but we agreed to mobilize $200 billion per year by by 2030 from all sources. It was a very rapid, efficient conversation on climate. We’ve been talking about this since Paris in 2015, and we’ve made almost no progress. It’s a bit difficult to to understand, but but the fact that we were able to agree on that at Cop 15 in Montreal and. The fact that four of the eight core facilitators that the president has tapped on the shoulder to help him would cop 28 were also co facilitators in Montreal, four for four for the CBD. Cop, cop 15. Gives me hope that maybe we will be able to to make some some movement on that. So financing very important loss and damage. Clearly another very important issue, Canada. We were very early on before Cop 27, we started arguing that we needed to have we needed to make progress on loss and damage in ways we haven’t since we started talking about this many, many years ago. And I think we we made some progress in in Egypt. We need to make more progress. Those of your listeners following closely this issue will know that there was an agreement at the end, the working group that was created in Egypt to continue the negotiations between Cop 27 and Cop 28. So I think this is another positive sign.
Jason Bordoff [00:48:01] Do you mind if I ask? I don’t want to interrupt, but what does progress look like? Loss and damage is a little tied to what you were talking about before, which is finance the view from the developing world. And, you know, I think when you think of the risks on the horizon for this cop and beyond the growing, the sense that there is a very large and growing portion of the world that is saying $100 billion was, you know, that that’s too little, too late. The IEA says we need a trillion by 2030 to be on track for decarbonization. And there’s no loss and damage. And now you’re going to have carbon border adjustments and tariffs on all of our exports. And the impacts of climate are here and now, and we’re suffering the brunt of those. And we didn’t cause this problem in the first place. And, you know.
Steven Guilbeault [00:48:45] You make it sound you make it sound easy, Jason.
Jason Bordoff [00:48:47] I don’t mean to make it sound easy, but I’m curious how you react to, you know, that that view and and what is what can countries that are larger emitters historically kind of what what should they be doing? What can they do And so coming back to again, what is even progress on loss and damage look like? Is it a writing really large check for compensation and putting it in a fund somewhere, which I’m not sure that’s going to happen? And would that would that address what I just described anyway?
Steven Guilbeault [00:49:15] First, I mean, all of the points that you mentioned are valid and the people who are saying that from the Global South, they’re right. That being said, the solutions are are less obvious. So that the decision in Sharm el Sheikh last year on loss and damage was basically to focus. The global South wanted a fund dedicated to loss and damage. And that was part of the agreement in Cop 27. Myself and many of my peers said were happy to, you know, move forward with the creation of a fund. But we we need to to take a holistic view of how we deal with this issue. So it’s about early warning system. It’s about insurance mechanisms. It’s about rapid deployment of capital in in countries that are affected by by extreme weather events and also slow onslaught of of of climate impacts. So there’s more immediate there’s more long term. And and a fund supported by public dollars from from the north will not be sufficient I think for most countries in the south. I wouldn’t say all of them, but I’d say for most of them they understand that it cannot be about liability towards towards countries in the north because there’s no government. I would never be able to agree to putting Canadians liable to decades of us using more than our fair share of of our allowed emissions. And it’s not particularly just from a moral point of view, but the reality is, even if I was to commit to that, I wouldn’t be minister of environment for much longer or our government wouldn’t be government for much longer if we did that. And it’s true of the U.S. and it’s true view up in Europe and Japan and in other nations. So once we once we’ve agreed on that, what are the solutions? Well, so we can put more money on the table and more public dollars on the table. There’s probably for for some specific elements, there’s probably some private sector money that we can that we can find for to answer some of some of these issues. Not not all of them, but but some of them. And we need to look at the entire U.N. architecture to see what what reforms are necessary at the U.N. level to be able to provide the type of. Support that will be that is needed and that will continue to be needed. But you are right, Jason. I mean, we are not ready to face the level of impacts we are seeing and we will continue to see in many parts of the world a case in point to the floodings in Pakistan. And and, you know, whether from an emergency preparedness for an emergency response, from a reconstruction point of view, that the global infrastructure is not ready to tackle that. So I think it’s a problem that will take some time to solve because it’s a multifaceted problem and the solutions are also must be multifaceted. It won’t be we won’t you know, it won’t be coming from from from government or public. Public interest simply simply can’t. You know, it must be a package that be agreed to. There must be something. So we’ve spoken about loss and damage, which is some for those less familiar, some of an extreme case of, you know, beyond adaptation to climate change in the South. And then obviously I, I, I finish with this, but it has to be at the heart of our conversation. How do we accelerate mitigation? How do we accelerate the reduction of our emissions? Because unless we can do that, then there will be more extreme weather events and more cost to adapt and more cost in loss and damage. And I, I was disappointed. Last year in Sharm el Sheikh. We did very little progress when it came when it comes to mitigation. But things like the agreement that we saw at the G-7 and on on, you know, agreeing to triple renewables and even if I remember correctly, the G20, I think there is a global momentum to agreeing to ambitious targets on mitigation. I’m sure we will be talking about, you know, phasing out of unabated fossil fuel by boat by 2050. And we’re very comfortable with that conversation, even though we’re a large oil and gas producer. And we’ve encourage all of the other or most of the major oil and gas producers in the world to engage on this debate, whether it’s the U.S., Norway, the UAE and others as well.
Jason Bordoff [00:54:15] Yeah, there’s a lot we did not yet get to, including some of things you just talked about and different technologies that are important to Canada’s plans for nuclear, hydrogen, carbon capture. But maybe we can have you on again after and we’ll will debrief on Cop as well. You as you said, you have a lot on your plate and you’ve been very generous with your time to spend an hour with us talking about all of this. And I appreciate very much all the work you’re doing and and your candor and sort of being, you know, not glossing over the challenges. These are not easy problems, as you said. And then I think you were you were pretty straightforward with everyone listening about about how difficult and challenging these issues are. And there are no easy answers for all of us, including people sitting in an important policy role like the one you have. Minister Guilbault, thank you for for the work you’re doing and thanks for making time to talk with us today.
Steven Guilbeault [00:55:05] Thank you very much, Jason. It was a pleasure.
Jason Bordoff [00:55:11] Thank you again, Minister Guilbault, and thank you for listening to this week’s episode of Columbia Energy Exchange. The show is brought to you by the Center on Global Energy Policy at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs. The show is hosted by me, Jason Bordoff and by Bill Loveless. The show is produced by Erin Hardwick from Latitude Studios. Additional support from R.J. Johnston, Victoria Prato, Chris Batai, Lily Li, Natalie Volk and Kuli Roy Campanella engineered the show. For more information about the podcast or the Center on Global Energy Policy, please visit us online at Energy Policy, columbia.edu or follow us on social media at Columbia Energy. And please, if you feel inclined, give us a rating on Apple Podcasts. It really helps us out. Thanks again for listening. We’ll see you next week.
When it comes to energy and climate, Canada is a key player and a land of contrasts. It gets more than 80% of its electricity from low-carbon sources and has a hefty carbon tax. It’s also a major oil and gas producer, and has resources for the metals and minerals needed for a clean energy transition.
As the urgency of the climate crisis grows, the Canadian government has committed to accelerate its climate goals. At the same time, the importance of oil and gas to the Canadian economy, along with the thorny politics of climate, makes reducing its reliance on fossil fuels difficult. Canada also faces challenges balancing energy production and critical mineral mining with a commitment to upholding the rights and sovereignty of First Nations communities.
How is the Canadian government planning to meet its climate goals? What would a just energy transition look like for the country? And what are its leaders hoping to achieve at COP28?
This week host Jason Bordoff talks with Steven Guilbeault about recent developments in Canadian energy and climate policy, and what he is hoping to achieve at COP28.
Guilbeault is Canada’s Minister of Environment and Climate Change, and an elected member of Parliament. He previously served as Minister of Canadian Heritage. Prior to serving in Parliament, he was the senior director of Équiterre, Quebec’s largest environmental organization, which he co-founded in 1993. He has also worked as a director and campaign manager for Greenpeace, and was a strategic advisor to Cycle Capital, a Canadian clean technology fund.
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