Two new reports call for end to subsidies and phase-out of Canada’s oil and gas industry

Two new reports expose Canada’s continuing financial support of the fossil fuel industry and call for a phase-out. These appeared in the same week as the federal government reported Canada’s latest National Inventory of Emissions to the United Nations’ UNFCC, showing that the oil and gas industry is the top source of carbon emissions in Canada.

The first report, by Environmental Defence, is Paying Polluters: Federal Financial Support to Oil and Gas in 2020 , released on April 15. It estimates that the government has provided or promised at least $18 billion to the oil and gas sector in 2020 alone, including  $3.28 billion in direct subsidy programs and $13.47 billion in public financing. Paying Polluters decries the lack of transparency – especially for funding through Export Development Canada  – but nevertheless attempts to list the tax subsidies and direct spending programs, in an Appendix at the end of the report. In addition to obvious subsidies, the tally includes loans for pipeline construction, research into new technologies for cleaner processes, job subsidies for reclamation of oil wells, and even policing costs for pipeline construction – think $13 million taxpayer dollars paid to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police to protect the construction site of the Coastal GasLink pipeline.

Environmental Defence concludes with five recommendations, including a call for greater transparency, and for “a roadmap to achieve Canada’s commitment to phase out inefficient fossil fuel subsidies before 2025, and shift these investments and public finance towards supporting a path to resilient, equitable zero-carbon societies.” It should be noted that the government first pledged to phase out these subsidies in 2009. The report is summarized, with reactions, by Sarah Cox in The Narwhal, on April 16.  

A second report, Correcting Canada’s “One-eye shut” Climate Policy, was released on April 16 by the Cascade Institute. It summarizes Canada’s history of fossil fuel production, and refutes those who argue that we are a small country whose emissions don’t compare to those of China or the U.S. Calling on Canada to accept its global responsibility, the authors state that “Canada’s 2021-2050 oil and gas production would exhaust about 16 percent of the world’s remaining carbon budget. Canada is indeed a “carbon bomb” of global significance.”  This is the first of many hard-hitting, frank statements in the report, including a highly critical discussion of the “fool’s gambit” of hydrogen production, and an assessment that “A highly resourced and well-organized “regime of obstruction” has developed in Canada to block effective climate action and ensure increased fossil fuel extraction.”

Correcting Canada’s “One-eye shut” Climate Policy references the Environmental Defence  Paying Polluters report, agreeing with the call for a phase-out of government support and subsidies. It also offers more information about subsidies – for example, an estimate that the provincial supports, including royalty credits, constitute an additional estimated $4.2 billion a year. Other less-than-obvious examples of support for oil and gas:  subsidies that encourage fossil fuel consumption, like aviation or mobility investments,  and over $250 million  directed to four oil sands major companies under Canada’s Emergency Wage Subsidy during Covid-19.  The report states that Imperial Oil alone received $120 million in wage support while concurrently issuing $320 million in dividends. Yet on the issue of oil and gas jobs, the authors state that in 2019, the oil and gas sector represented just 1 percent of direct employment in Canada, and 5.5 percent in Alberta. “To save costs, the industry has aggressively cut jobs, by 23 percent over the 2014 to 2019 period, even as oil and gas production increased by 24 percent, reaching record highs, over that same period.”

The One-Eye Shut report goes further, offering specific policy options within the federal jurisdiction to phase out the industry, including: “prohibiting the leasing of federal lands and waters for fossil fuel production and infrastructure; implementing a “climate test” on all new fossil fuel projects and removing federal impact review exemptions; canceling the Trans Mountain expansion pipeline; divesting federal public investment funds from fossil fuel production; and removing federal subsidies and public financing that supports fossil fuel exploration, production, or transportation, including federal funding for technologies that delay a transition away from oil and gas.”

Correcting Canada’s “One-eye shut” Climate Policy: Meeting Canada’s climate commitments requires ending supports for, and beginning a gradual phase out of, oil and gas production  is a Technical Paper written by University of Waterloo professor Angela Carter and PhD. Student Truzaar Dordi, and published by the Cascade Institute.   Participating Institutions include the Corporate Mapping Project, University of Waterloo, Royal Roads University, and the McConnell Foundation.

How phasing out fossil fuel subsidies can contribute to Canada’s green recovery

Recovery Through Reform is a new series by the International Institute for Sustainable Development, assessing Canada’s green recovery spending from COVID-19 with a focus on the issue of fossil fuel subsidy reform, and an eye on the upcoming federal Budget 2021 consultations. The first of three Briefs,  Assessing the climate compatibility of Canada’s COVID-19 response in 2020 evaluates energy-related spending in Canada in 2020 – specifically federal government commitments for electric vehicles, public transit, building retrofits, hydrogen, and fossil fuels. Using data from the global Energy Policy Tracker, the Brief quantifies federal government recovery spending, noting that transparency is a problem – especially in the case of the financing provided by Export Development Canada and the Business Development Bank of Canada. Spending trends in Canada are compared to flagship policies France, Germany, and the United Kingdom – including a discussion of the financial support for fossil fuels. The Brief concludes with recommendations – including a call “to apply the  principles from the IISD report Green Strings: Principles and Conditions for a Green Recovery From COVID-19 (2020), including transparency and inclusion of support for just transition for workers and communities.  Other recommendations are to end fossil fuel subsidies, and to measure recovery ambition against international standards rather than “domestic precedence”.

The second Brief in the Recovery through Reform series is Advancing a Hydrogen Economy. This report examines the question of promoting and incentivizing hydrogen, and calls for the government to ensure that any subsidies for hydrogen are in line with the government’s commitments to phase out “inefficient fossil fuel subsidies by 2025” and meet net-zero by 2050.  “Based on IISD’s analysis, subsidies for hydrogen based on natural gas without significant levels of carbon capture and storage (CCS) should not be eligible for government assistance. Subsidies for blue hydrogen should only occur if blue hydrogen can meet the same level of environmental performance (including emission intensity) and is at or below the cost of green hydrogen.”  (a more thorough discussion appears in a January 2021  blog from IISD: Should Governments Subsidize Hydrogen? ). 

The third report in the Recovery through Reform series is Export Development Canada’s role in fossil fuel subsidy reform, which argues that despite EDC’s well-known history as a supporter of the oil and gas industry, it could be an important actor in Canada’s green recovery.   The Brief documents the existing situation of poor transparency and dirty investments, stating: the EDC “provides an average of over CAD 13.2 billion in support for oil and gas every year, representing over 12% of finance committed by the institution.”  It also notes: “So far, EDC has provided over CAD 10 billion in loans for the Trans Mountain Pipeline and expansion via the Canada Development Investment Corporation.” Further, “When it comes to fossil fuel support, EDC is one of the worst-performing export credit agencies in the world, as it has provided more oil and gas finance than any other G20 export credit agency.”  Despite this track record, the Brief calls on the EDC to change its ways by matching the performance of other international financial institutions, phasing out fossil fuel subsidies, and setting clear targets for climate action-related investments.  

LNG, fossil subsidies as issues in B.C. election on October 24

British Columbia will vote on October 24, and climate and environmental issues are prominent in the Party Platforms of the ruling New Democratic Party (NDP) , the Green Party, and to a much lesser extent, the Liberal Party, which lacks any specific emissions reductions targets, and endorses LNG development.  

The NDP is running on its record and its 2018 CleanB.C. Plan; Sarah Cox wrote a detailed review in The Narwhal in September, “So there’s going to be a fall election in B.C.: has the NDP kept its environmental promises?” . A key NDP commitment  is to reach  net-zero emissions by 2050, but according to David Hughes at the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (and many others), that won’t be possible with the current NDP policy to support the LNG industry –  explained, for example, in BC’s Carbon Conundrum Why LNG exports doom emissions-reduction targets and compromise Canada’s long-term energy security (July) . A related report, Subsidizing Climate Change:  how BC gives billions to corporate polluters  was published by Stand.earth in September, reporting that B.C. is second only to Alberta in subsidies to the oil and gas industry, at $557 million in 2018 (the last year for which data is available).  The Dogwood Institute also reports on this in “Tax-payer funded climate change” (Oct. 2) and “BC NDP candidates quiet as oil and gas subsidies soar (Oct. 7).  The NDP platform promises only “a comprehensive review of oil and natural gas royalty credits”. And on another hot-button issue, the Site C Dam – The Narwhal summarizes two critical reports that call for it to be scrapped in an October 15 article, and even the right-wing C.D. Howe Institute published Site C – the case is getting weaker .

For quick summaries and comparisons of all party platforms, see The Tyee “Where they Stand: Climate Change” , or an Explainer on climate and environmental issues in The Narwhal (October 19) .

Export Development Canada continues to undermine climate change goals, using Covid-19 recovery to fund Coastal GasLink pipeline

Reforming Export Development Canada:  Climate-Related Risk Management and the Low Carbon Transition  is an important new report released on June 9,  commissioned by advocacy groups Above Ground and Oil Change International.  The report analysis was conducted by consultancy Horizon Advisors, who calculate that the crown corporation Export Development Canada (EDC) has provided roughly $45 billion in support for the oil and gas sector since 2016, compared to $7 billion for clean technology. “These investments not only undermine Canada’s international climate efforts but also increase EDC’s exposure to carbon risks.”  The report recommends that the government amend the Export Development Act to bar EDC from supporting any fossil fuel energy projects, including new fossil fuel infrastructure such as pipelines, and that the agency should “stress-test its investment decisions against Canada’s climate targets.”

The Reforming Export Development Canada report is not the first time EDC has been examined for its fossil-friendly investment strategy  and criticized for undermining Canada’s climate change progress. Oil Change International and Above Ground published  Risking it All: How Export Development Canada’s Support for Fossil Fuels Drives Climate Change in 2018,  which documents investments of more than $10 billion a year to oil and gas between 2012 and 2017 ( twelve times more support than it offered for clean technologies).

Fossil fuel companies cashing in on Covid-19 Recovery Funds in Canada and worldwide

RiskingItAllcoverDianne Saxe, the former Environmental Commissioner of Ontario, cited the 2018 Risking it All report in her April 2020 Opinion piece in the National Observer, reacting to the federal $750 million Emissions Reduction  funding as part of the Covid-19 Recovery stimulus.  Environmental Defence voiced similar suspicions in their April response :  “… hidden inside this new law were changes that will make it easier for Canada’s export credit agency, Export Development Canada, to funnel billions more towards domestic oil and gas operations — without public scrutiny.”

And sure enough, following the recovery stimulus announcement,  in May EDC signed an agreement to loan up to $500 million to Coastal GasLink pipeline  – the same pipeline project which Wet’suwe’ten First Nations had blockaded, causing RCMP arrests which triggered Canada-wide solidarity  protests and crippling rail blockades  in Ontario and Quebec in the winter of 2020.  (And despite objections from the Wet’suwe’ten  Hereditary chiefs, reported in the Toronto Star ). “Meet Export Development Canada , the secretive crown agency financing the big oil bailout” (May 27) is a blog by Environmental Defense Canada, calling  out EDC investments and calling for greater transparency.

Oil Change International and Friends of the Earth U.S. address this ongoing issue Still-Digging-Cover-Image-pdf in  Still Digging: G20 Governments Continue to Finance the Climate Crisis , released on May 27.  From the Oil Change International Press release: “G20 countries have provided at least $77 billion a year in public finance to oil, gas and coal projects since the Paris Climate Agreement was reached. This government-backed support to fossil fuels from export credit agencies, development finance institutions, and multilateral development banks is more than three times what they are providing to clean energy. China, Japan, Canada, and South Korea are the largest providers of public finance to oil, gas, and coal, together making up over two-thirds of the G20 total.” The report is endorsed by Environmental Defense Canada and Climate Action Network Canada , among many others.

From Still Digging, a warning:

“with the health and livelihoods of billions at immediate risk from Covid-19, governments around the world are preparing public spending packages of a magnitude they previously deemed unthinkable.…. The fossil fuel sector was showing long-term signs of systemic decline before Covid-19 and has been quick to seize on this crisis with requests for massive subsidies and bailouts. We cannot afford for the wave of public finance that is being prepared for relief and recovery efforts to prop up the fossil fuel industry as it has in the past. Business as usual would exacerbate the next crisis—the climate crisis—that is already on our doorstep.”

Fossil fuel and LNG subsidies in B.C., and an alternate viewpoint on the issue

The International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD) maintains an ongoing initiative, the Global Subsidies Initiative , to research fossil fuel subsidies worldwide.  Their most recent publication relating to Canada is  Locked In and Losing Out: British Columbia’s fossil fuel subsidies. The authors calculate that BC’s fossil fuel subsidies reached  $830 million Cdn.  in 2017–2018, with no end in sight. Despite B.C.’s clean energy image, the report documents the significant new support granted by the current B.C. government to encourage the liquefied natural gas (LNG) industry.  Locked In and Losing Out calls for the provincial government to create a plan to phase-out its own subsidies, and coordinate with the federal government in its current  G20 Peer Review of fossil fuel subsidies, launched in 2019 and administered by Environment and Climate Change Canada.   In August 2019, the IISD also released its Submission to Environment and Climate Change Canada’s Consultation on Non-Tax Fossil Fuel Subsidies calling for Canada to re-affirm its long-standing  G7 commitment to reform fossil fuel subsidies by 2025 and provide a detailed action plan to achieve the goal.  

new labor forumAn alternate view

Sean Sweeney of Trade Unions for Energy Democracy takes an alternate view on fossil fuel subsidies in “Weaponizing the numbers: The Hidden Agenda Behind Fossil-Fuel Subsidy Reform” appearing in the January 2020 issue of  New Labor Forum. As might be expected, Sweeney challenges the findings and assumptions of the International Monetary Fund (for example, in a 2019 working paper by David Coady ). He also takes issue with some progressive analysis – notably, he cites  Fossil Fuel to Clean Energy Subsidy Swaps: How to Pay for an Energy Revolution (2019) and Zombie Energy: Climate benefits of ending subsidies to fossil fuel production (2017)  – both published by the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD).  After a brief discussion of the main concepts, Sweeney concludes:

“For activists in the North, making fossil-fuel subsidies a key political target is a mistake. It buys into the IMF’s obsession with “getting energy prices right” which targets state ownership and regulation of prices. Such an approach may lead to a more judicious use of energy, but it would not address the mammoth challenges involved in transitioning away from fossil fuels, controlling and reducing unnecessary economic activity, or reducing emissions is expeditiously as possible.

The problem is fossil fuel dependency, not underpriced energy. Raising the price without alternative forms of low-carbon energy available for all will not produce the kind of emissions reductions the world needs. This does not mean that progressive unions and the left should support subsidies for fossil fuels—especially when the beneficiaries are large for-profit industrial users or billionaire Lamborghini owners cruising the strips in Riyadh or Shanghai. But there is a need to be aware of what the IMF and the subsidy reform organizations are proposing, and what these proposals might mean for workers and ordinary people, especially in the Global South.”