Steven Guilbeault’s not-so-secret agenda

“I don’t have a secret agenda as environment minister,” he told reporters last week. But he has softened his public opposition to the pipelines now that he represents a government that has spent C $ 4.5 billion on the Trans Mountain pipeline, much to the chagrin of environmentalists, in an effort to secure construction of its proposed expansion. .

Switching to the green wallet is, at first glance, a better choice for the well-known environmentalist who has never owned a car. Guilbeault’s former post as Minister of Heritage was marred by poor communication that caused the government’s controversial bill to regulate the Internet to fail.

He arrives at COP26 barely a week after his new job. After Trudeau leaves on Tuesday, it will be up to Guilbeault to lead the Canadian delegation until the end of the two-week conference.

Because the main priorities of COP26 are mainly related to finance – securing the 100 billion dollars in climate finance for developing countries and establishing rules for the global carbon market – Guilbeault will have more cards to play when he returns from Glasgow.

As Minister of the Environment, he will have a say in the fate of major energy projects. This responsibility makes him a key player in a country that has the third largest oil reserves in the world, the majority of which is in Alberta.

Hours after Guilbeault was sworn in, Premier of the United Conservative Party of Alberta, Jason Kenney, warned that a “radical program would lead to mass unemployment.” In a rare display of party unity, the former premier of the province, NDP leader Rachel Notley, agreed.

“I share some of the concerns about some of the historical positions taken by [Guilbeault] in the past some of his anti-pipeline comments, it’s certainly troubling, ”she said.

In Canada, a delineation gives the federal government the power to regulate pollution and environmental standards, but the provinces have constitutional powers over production in sectors such as oil and gas. Current forecasts predict that Canadian oil and gas production will continue to increase until 2040, a baffling statistic for environmental groups sounding the alarm bells about the climate crisis.

Trudeau has repeatedly argued that Canada is doing its part. Canada increased its climate target under the Paris Agreement earlier this year, stepping up its commitment to reduce emissions from 30 percent from 2005 levels by 2030 to 40-45 percent. The government has also pledged to achieve net zero emissions by 2050.

“We will ensure, through legislation and regulations – something that we will have to develop – that oil and gas emissions in Canada are capped at current levels and decline over time,” Guilbeault said a day after taking the oath to his new portfolio.

An old hand in a new wallet

Guilbeault is making his international debut as Minister of the Environment in Glasgow, but he is no stranger to the UN conference. He attended its premiere in 1995 as a youth delegate; this will be his 19th COP.

During 30 years of advocacy, he founded the environmental group Équiterre in 1993 and then spent a decade with Greenpeace.

He entered federal politics in 2019, a star Liberal candidate in the riding of Laurier-Sainte-Marie in downtown Montreal. He called the move a “logical conclusion” after decades of fighting climate change outside of government. He had flirted with politics for years, having been featured as a keynote speaker at the Liberal Party’s biennial convention in Winnipeg in 2016.

Guilbeault was immediately given a seat at the Cabinet table, where he forged a reputation as a bridge in the environmental file.

The Trudeau government has frequently used Guilbeault’s environmental credibility despite not being his official portfolio until recently. Even as heritage minister, he made frequent appearances in pre-election funding announcements related to electric vehicles and answered questions in the House of Commons during debates related to the environment.

Guilbeault is Trudeau’s third Minister of the Environment in six years. Former minister Catherine McKenna was given the post in 2015 before Jonathan Wilkinson replaced her in 2019. McKenna told POLITICO Wilkinson was “low key” as environment minister.

The Trudeau Cabinet overhaul appeared to recognize this problem with the decision to move Wilkinson, the incumbent environment minister, to natural resources. The two departments have at times behaved like oil and water, issuing conflicting climate reports.

Early signs suggest that both departments are looking to resolve the issue by moving forward at the same pace.

Guilbeault and Wilkinson released a joint letter on Monday to a government-appointed advisory body formally requesting recommendations and advice to deliver on the Liberals’ promise to cap and cut oil and gas emissions.

Guilbeault’s appointment is a message that Canada is returning to a tougher approach to climate policy. He inherits a department with a great grip on the approval or rejection of large projects. This gives him a say in critical mining projects, an area the Biden administration has identified as a priority for the renewal of Canada-US bilateral relations.

The United States relies on China for high-capacity lithium-ion batteries, essential for electric vehicles. To alleviate this commercial dependence, the Biden administration has prioritized the development of a domestic lithium battery manufacturing industry.

Lithium is one of the 31 essential minerals that can be mined in Canada. It will be up to Guilbeault to weigh the environmental costs of tailings and mining waste against the economic and energy transition benefits of the intensification of the development and production of domestic batteries for electric vehicles.

Even in a race against time, approval of a major project in Canada can take years. The energy industry has long been concerned about uncertain political signals that may push back investment. This is why the Trudeau government ended up buying the Trans Mountain pipeline, a project that Guilbeault Équiterre’s organization had described as “deplorable” because it “seriously” undermines Canada’s ability to achieve its Paris objectives. Guilbeault called this a “point of disagreement” he has with the government.

It doesn’t help that there is latent hostility between federal and provincial governments that doesn’t exactly scream confidence in private sector investors.

“If you look at the story of how we have developed this country over the last century, most of the infrastructure within resource or resource economies has been funded by foreign sources of capital”, Peter Tertzakian, Director Assistant to the ARC Energy Research Institute. said at the Better Futures Coalition conference last week.

“If we’re just arguing and screaming and yelling at each other across provincial borders, as one of the many issues, who’s going to invest here?” I will not do it.

Intergovernmental tensions are expected to continue with provincial elections in Ontario and Alberta over the next two years, two provinces led by incumbent Conservative premiers.

New climate team at COP26

Guilbeault and Wilkinson are both with the Prime Minister at COP26. But the new Environment Minister advised reporters ahead of his flight to the UK not to anticipate new political or regulatory details at the summit. He believes Canada and the world must do more to slow the rapid rise in global temperatures.

The success of COP26 depends on countries’ willingness to ‘keep 1.5 ° C alive’ – the goal of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, which is seen as a threshold target that could prevent catastrophic warming that could fuel extreme weather events.

Guilbeault said on Friday he was “cautiously optimistic” but covered that speaking time doesn’t do much. “It’s not always enough to show up,” he said.

Beyond the 2030 targets, Canada will need more than talking points. The most difficult task, perhaps, will be figuring out how key departments, including the environment, natural resources, and transport, can work together to draft climate-related regulations and policies.

Monica Gattinger, director of the University of Ottawa’s Institute of Science, Society and Policy, says it would be self-sabotage for Canada to continue to develop energy and climate policies in isolation.

“These people are not necessarily in the same rooms together,” she told the Coalition for a Better Future conference. “It’s a huge problem.”

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