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Climate deal hastens Canada’s fossil fuel transition

Despite its limitations, the global climate accord reached in Paris over the weekend will hasten Canada’s “managed transition” to a cleaner economy while stoking growth in renewable energy, business and environmental leaders said Monday.

“The ball is in the oil industry’s court,” said Dale Marshall, national program manager for advocacy group Environmental Defence.

He said the Paris agreement ramps up pressure on northern Alberta’s oil sands, Canada’s fastest-growing emissions source, to minimize carbon footprints dramatically over time in a way that eases impacts on jobs and growth.

This is a managed, multi-billion dollar, multigenerational transition,” Marshall said.

The Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, said it is “ready and willing” to contribute to Canada’s climate change plans, with economists noting that falling oil prices have already cut into oil patch investment and helped curtail CO2 emissions from the sector.

Trevor Tombe, an assistant economics professor at the University of Calgary, said the oil sands have made progress in reducing emissions and in shifting production from strip mining for bitumen to less carbon intensive stream extraction.

He noted as well that any new oil sands projects will be subject to far more stringent emission controls than in the past

Tombe cited incentives to lower emissions under Alberta’s new carbon tax regime, adding that further investment to develop cleaner technologies should be bolstered by ongoing federal and provincial support.

He also said a global consensus around the price per ton of carbon would provide a level of business planning certainly for industrial emitters.

Robin Campbell, president of the Coal Association of Canada, said the industry can cope with the “pretty ambitious goals” set in Paris, noting for example that the deal recognized carbon capture as a viable technology to fight climate change.

With demand for coal in the developing and parts of the developed world remaining strong, he said Canada is in a position to contribute cleaner coal technologies that can be exported worldwide.

Spokespeople for the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association and the Canadian Homebuilders Association both cited progress in lowering carbon footprints while advocating a voluntary cooperative approach, rather than mandatory emissions caps and tougher building codes.

Environmental advocates, however, called for regulations in Canada to assure the temperature increase target under the Paris accord can be met within the agreement’s accelerated timeline.

“Voluntary approaches haven’t worked that well in the past,” said Friends of the Earth Canada CEO Beatrice Olivastri, suggesting a regulatory framework could well emerge from provincial and federal talks on implementation of the Paris emissions reduction target.

The agreement endeavors to limit temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius and supports a global emissions peak and decline by mid-century.

Erin Flanagan, federal policy director at the Pembina Institute, said it marks an important moment in the global transition to a low-carbon economy.

“Canada must now match its international commitments with strong actions at home,” said Flanagan, who called the Paris deal long on targets but weak on implementation.

The agreement requires the national signatories to report their emissions targets and to review those targets every five years, but it does not include binding greenhouse gas emission targets, reportedly due to the objections of a number of the largest emitters.

Still, the agreement commits nations to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, with Canada moving from obstruction to contribution, Olivastra said, though she noted that the international shipping and aviation industries “are once again missing in action.”

Robert Hornung, president of the Canadian Wind Energy Association, said Canada’s wind industry is already emerging as a global leader and further expansion will include full consultation with affected communities.

He added that a more aggressive transition to carbon neutral energy production will be a boost for all non fossil fuel suppliers, including solar and nuclear.