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ST. JOHN'S, N.L. — Newfoundland and Labrador is not on track to hit its 2030 greenhouse gas emissions targets, according to briefing notes issued to Premier Andrew Furey ahead of his November trip to the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Glasgow.
Newfoundland and Labrador committed in 2019 to reducing emissions to 7.4 million tonnes by 2030, or 30 per cent below its 2005 emission levels.
Current provincial emissions sit at about 11 million tonnes, briefing notes obtained by The Canadian Press through access to information legislation say. That means emission levels would have to drop by about 32 per cent by 2030 to hit the mark.
And though Furey told CBC News in November that he was at the UN conference in part to promote the province's offshore oil industry as a low-carbon energy solution, the briefing notes advised the topic may not be popular.
"Low emissions oil and gas development may not be the focus of attention at COP26," one note says. "Newfoundland and Labrador may get questioned by ... experts about its carbon pricing system, particularly exemptions, and about its views on oil and gas development."
The climate change conference, often referred to as COP26, ran from Oct. 31 to Nov. 12. Furey was the only premier from Canada's top three oil-producing provinces to attend; Alberta and Saskatchewan premiers Jason Kenney and Scott Moe stayed home.
The Canadian Press requested all briefing, speaking and communications notes provided to Furey in preparation for the conference and received over 70 pages of information in response.
The notes advise Furey that countries are being asked to set more ambitious 2030 emission reduction goals.
In suggested talking points for Furey, the notes say, "Existing actions will be insufficient for us to reduce our emissions to achieve our 2030 target. We need to do more." Data from the federal government shows Newfoundland and Labrador's emissions have increased from 9.5 million tonnes in 1990 and 10.5 million tonnes in 2005.
The briefing notes also say provincial 2030 targets are not in line with Canada's latest goals of reducing national greenhouse gas emissions by 40 to 45 per cent below 2005 levels. That would require the province to reduce total emissions to 6.3 million tonnes.
Memorial University climatologist Joel Finnis said while the province's emissions may seem small in comparison to somewhere like Alberta, its carbon footprint is "huge" relative to its size.
Estonia, for example, has about two and a half times the population of Newfoundland and Labrador but roughly the same yearly emissions, according to a report from that country's government.
Finnis, an associate professor of geography, said he wasn't surprised to hear the province may miss its 2030 deadline. Taking meaningful action to reduce emissions will come with costs and massive readjustments the province, so far, doesn't seem to want to face, he said.
"We're going to have to accept a lot of inconveniences and sacrifices," he said in a recent interview. "But it's way better to make these sacrifices today than to deal with the uncontrollable consequences that would come from ongoing climate change."
The government's repeated narrative about the province's "low carbon" offshore oil is "nonsense," he added. "And it frankly, doesn't help us move the situation forward."
On Monday, the provincial government released an update on its climate change action plan and acknowledged the 2030 goals were in peril. "Best available information suggests that, in the absence of additional actions in this decade, the 2030 target may not be achieved and our ability to achieve net zero (greenhouse gas) emissions by 2050 will be challenged," the update says.
Both the briefing notes and Monday's update point to the recent establishment of an eight-person committee to advise the government on how it might hit the 2030 targets.
"We're pushing as hard as we can to hit every target we possibly can," Environment Minister Bernard Davis said in an interview Monday. He pointed to a provincial push, including a rebate program, to encourage the use of electric vehicles as an example of action government is taking to meet its 2030 deadline.
As for the province's oil sector, Davis said the world is in the midst of an energy transition. "Hopefully that transition period will be as quick as we possibly can make it," he said. "But let there be no doubt, there is a need for oil and gas right now in the global community. We've got to pivot, and find ways to create technologies that don't require that."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 20, 2021.
Sarah Smellie, The Canadian Press