Climate experts question N.L. government's $50K trip to Scotland for COP26

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Records show premier Andrew Furey attended the four days of the COP26 conference in Glasgow in November 2021. (Premier of NL/Twitter - image credit)
Records show premier Andrew Furey attended the four days of the COP26 conference in Glasgow in November 2021. (Premier of NL/Twitter - image credit)
Premier of NL/Twitter
Premier of NL/Twitter

As further details emerge about Newfoundland and Labrador's delegation to the 26th Conference of the Parties climate summit in Scotland, more experts are questioning the provincial government's involvement in the talks.

Records obtained by CBC through an access to information request show the bill for the provincial government's four-day trip to COP26 in November cost taxpayers just under $50,000.

The six-person delegation to Glasgow included Premier Furey and three office staffers, as well as one representative each from the Department of Environment and Climate Change and the Intergovernmental Affairs Secretariat.

The summit's official list of participants shows the province's delegation was the largest of any in Canada, with the exception of Quebec. Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Nunavut and the Yukon Territories sat out the meetings completely.

The list also indicates Furey was the only Canadian premier other than François Legault to attend the meetings.

A separate access to information request revealed the government's plans to attend COP26 were hastily hatched, with flights and hotels being booked just days before the event began.

Furey's attendance had already prompted environmentalist David Suzuki to critique his presence at the summit.

'Why show up?'

While in Glasgow for COP26, where nearly 200 countries gathered to plan a global transition to net-zero emissions by 2050, Premier Furey, in a phone interview with CBC, touted the benefits of Newfoundland and Labrador's "clean" oil in making that transition.

"No oil is perfectly clean," he said, "but we have some of the cleanest product in the entire world. It's a product that the world needs right now in terms of transition."

Angela Carter, a political science professor at the University of Waterloo and appointee to the province's net-zero advisory council, said it was "painful" to see the premier in Glasgow promoting the benefits of clean oil — something Carter says "doesn't exist."

Angela Carter/Twitter/@AngelaVCarter
Angela Carter/Twitter/@AngelaVCarter

"He could have done that from here," she said.

Carter said promoting fossil fuels at an event such as COP26 can be seen as a slight to countries like Barbados, which are extra vulnerable to the consequences of climate change.

"If the government was going to promote real climate action, then that would have been worth the investment," she said.

Carter said the premier would have been better off doing what Alberta premier Jason Kenney did, and sitting out the event completely.

"If you're not going to contribute to the discussion, then why show up?" she asked.

Clean oil is no oil, critic says

Joel Finnis, a climatologist within Memorial University's department of geography, says the idea of clean oil "doesn't hold a lot of weight."

"Ultimately what you're looking for is a way to extract oil and get it to markets with the minimal amount of actual energy consumption along that route," he said. "And unfortunately, that's never going to be us."

One reason for this, Finnis said, is that oil extracted in Newfoundland and Labrador's offshore has to travel significant distances to market — an issue other oil-producing regions like the Middle East don't have to deal with.

Overall, Finnis said fossil fuels are an "irrelevant" point in discussions about curbing consumption patterns.

Instead, he said, the focus should be on planning for a future where production is less necessary.

"I would say that a 'green oil' company is the company that's figuring out what's going to come after oil, because we ultimately have to move away from it," he said.

Representatives from the three government departments who traveled to Glasgow released separate yet identical statements on their trip, each of which said the province's attendance "provided valuable insight and input on current climate change initiatives and how the international framework is developing to mitigate the impacts of climate change."

The premier's office cited the government's climate-change plan and commitments to achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 as evidence the government is taking climate change seriously.

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

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