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Climate change: New minister says natural resources must evolve to include renewable energy, biofuels

OTTAWA – In a country intent on helping slow global warming without destroying its economy, Canada’s newest Minister of Natural Resources says his department is no longer seen as primarily a ministry. on fossil fuels.

However, Jonathan Wilkinson also said that the Liberals did not choose the oil and gas sector to do some of the unfair heavy lifting in the fight against climate change because all the industries that contribute to the problem are should be part of the solution.

Wilkinson’s tumultuous three-week removal from the cabinet made him the fourth natural resources minister in the past six years. Now, after leading the environment department with a mission to combat climate change, he is in charge of the department that regulates and promotes many products that cause climate change.

But when the 56-year-old former Clean Tech CEO took over Natural Resources Canada, some took it as a signal the department was going to grow to prioritize clean technology in a way it hasn’t.

“I agree with that,” Wilkinson said, in an interview with The Canadian Press, about his priorities for the new job.

“I think the way we define natural resources in the future really has to include renewables, it has to include hydrogen, it has to include biofuels. I totally think the old conceptual way. about the division, it’s just about oil and gas and mining, not how we think about it going forward.”

The thrust between the fossil fuel industries on which the world, and Canada, have relied for decades, and science to blame for burning fossil fuels for a warmer planet and associated climate destruction. perspective, was on full display in two parts last week at the United Nations COP26 climate talks in Scotland.

Environmental advocates vehemently argue that the only way to keep global warming from becoming a disaster is to eliminate the use of fossil fuels altogether. The creation of the Coalition Beyond Oil and Gas, an initiative to completely phase out fossil fuels, was one of the most talked about initiatives after COP26.

The Government of Quebec signed on as an associate member but Canada did not.

Wilkinson, who spent days at COP26 promoting Canada’s position on phasing out fossil fuel subsidies, but promoting the development of hydrogen, said the stances are all-or-nothing polarizing. for oil and gas production is very difficult. He said he still sees Canada as having a role for some fossil fuels as long as they don’t contribute to greenhouse gas emissions.

That includes, he said, using bitumen for non-flammable uses such as asphalt or carbon graphite, and extracting hydrogen molecules from natural gas, as long as that is done with technology first reduce and then eliminate the greenhouse gas emissions resulting from that process. .

“Those are the things we should be looking at because at the end of the day we care about good economic outcomes and zero carbon emissions,” he said. “So I think that’s the way people need to think about it, instead of taking the pole position, which is no fossil fuels or fossil fuels going on forever.”

Wilkinson is less optimistic about the future for most oil, and there is no path in Canada to continue using coal because the technology and geology needed to capture and store its emissions will not fit. pocket money and prepare for the 2030 deadline to phase out all “undiluted” coal power sources.

“In terms of oil,” he said. “I mean, it’s primarily a transport fuel and we’re all committed to actually using non-vehicle vehicles.” “And so over time you’re going to see a decrease in the amount of oil used, burned for transportation purposes. That’s just logic.”

In general, carbon capture technology is also not a big and long-term solution to allow the continued burning of fossil fuels for energy, because the geological formations needed to store the gas are not, Wilkinson said. exist everywhere.

His priority in the first months of his new job was to work with the oil and gas provinces to develop the limits on oil and gas production emissions that the Liberals promised in the recent election.

Former Prime Minister Stephen Harper recently accused the Liberals of targeting oil-producing regions to fulfill their climate change goals, because those regions did not vote for the Liberals. Wilkinson doesn’t mention Harper directly, but dismisses the sentiment.

“Some people say we have eliminated the oil and gas space, and I actually say that is not true,” he said. “If you read the rest of the planet’s climate, for example in the transportation space, we’re told to stop selling internal combustion engine vehicles after 2035 for the same reasons.”

He said one of his priorities is working with affected areas to ensure the transition away from fossil fuels is positive.

This Canadian Press report was first published on November 16, 2021.

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