Column: Canada targeted (yet again) as a scapegoat for global climate change challenge

Canada being used as a pawn by those wanting to earn climate points

The recent decision by the Norwegian wealth fund, Norges, to pull its investments in Cenovus Energy and three of our oil sands peers is another example of Canada being used as a pawn by institutions attempting to earn climate points.

But these announcements are motivated more by public relations than fact. The data they used to assess Cenovus’s greenhouse gas performance is outdated and incorrect.

Here’s what Norges failed to consider in its decision. Cenovus has reduced the emissions intensity of our oil sands operations by approximately 30 percent over the past 15 years. We’ve set ambitious targets to reduce our per-barrel emissions by another 30 percent across our operations by 2030 and hold absolute emissions flat during that time. We are also focused on innovation that will help us achieve our aspiration of net zero emissions by 2050. Our peers have similar emissions reductions achievements and commitments.

The hypocrisy of the move by Norges is particularly rich, given the sovereign wealth fund amassed its $1 trillion value primarily from oil production profits. Moreover, Norway’s former energy minister is on record saying the country will produce oil for as long as oil is used. Energy is important to Norway’s economy, as it is to Canada’s.

The oil and natural gas industry accounts for the largest share of Canada’s exports and is the most significant contributor to the country’s gross domestic product. This country is amassing a huge deficit as a result of the COVID-19 response, with the parliamentary budget officer suggesting our national debt could hit $1 trillion. That’s more than $26,000 for every man, woman and child in Canada. Key to reversing this unprecedented debt load will be secure and stable tax revenue to support the economic recovery. Canada’s energy sector has contributed an average of $8 billion annually to provincial and federal government coffers and its strength is fundamental to ensuring this country emerges from the downturn stronger than ever.

Yet, the Canadian oil sands have become an easy target for primarily European investment firms and insurers who have made a big splash announcing they are severing ties with Canadian companies. Pulling out of the oil sands earns these firms headlines but doesn’t have an impact on their business because most of them were not heavily invested in Canada. Canada’s oil sands have long been the poster child for the anti-oil movement. It’s easier to attack a country that has a regulatory system designed to ensure transparency on its environmental, social and governance (ESG) performance than it is to go after oil producing nations such as Russia and Saudi Arabia where the commitment to regulation and transparency substantially lags Canadian expectations and standards.

As the leader of a Canadian company whose sector contributes billions to the national economy and directly and indirectly employs 800,000 people – including being the country’s largest employer of Indigenous people – I am standing up for our industry and for Canada. Enough is enough with these unwarranted attacks.

Cenovus and our peers are committed to doing our part to help meet Canada’s climate commitments and contribute to global climate change solutions. We’re investing millions in technologies to reduce our own emissions and collaborating with innovators around the world, including the support of initiatives like the NRG COSIA Carbon XPrize, which is focused on solutions to convert greenhouse gas emissions into valuable products and consumer goods.

Canada is the largest oil-producing jurisdiction in the world with a national price on carbon, and Alberta’s cap on oil sands emissions is an unprecedented commitment. Our industry is committed to achieving Canada’s 45 percent reduction target for methane emissions, addressing a greenhouse gas that is more potent than carbon dioxide. If investors are truly concerned about global greenhouse gas emissions, they should place greater value on Canadian oil and natural gas.

The world is undergoing an energy transition as action is taken to limit global temperature rise. Canada’s energy sector is going to play a key role in supporting the transition. But as we see today, energy and economic growth are inextricably linked and even the most aggressive emissions-reduction scenarios recognize that oil and natural gas will continue to be a significant part of the energy mix for decades to come. Canada has the world’s third largest oil reserves and a significant opportunity to provide the world with the low cost, lower carbon energy it demands.

Just as support for a strong energy sector has benefitted Norwegians, it’s essential for Canadians to recognize the importance of Canada’s energy sector in contributing to our collective economic future.

Alex Pourbaix is the President & Chief Executive Officer at Cenovus Energy

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