O’Regan defends Canada against COP27 criticisms

Newfoundland and Labrador’s federal cabinet minister suggested Friday that criticism of Canada’s climate change mitigation efforts is misdirected.

“Germany got rid of seven nuclear reactors and decided to start digging for coal again,” Seamus O’Regan told reporters following a funding announcement at the First Light friendship centre in St. John’s.

“Thanks, but hold your criticism. Holy cow. I’m still in awe.”

O’Regan was responding to news that 15 Canadian and two German environmental groups presented an open letter to Canada’s Environment and Climate Change Minister Steven Guilbault at the COP27 climate change summit.

“This is about emissions, and they got that wrong — and I think that they know that,” O’Regan said, pointing the finger at Germany. “So we’re going to work with them now … on hydrogen, on natural gas. We need to lower emissions together. There’s no perfect solution and no one has a perfect record.”

The letter focuses primarily on plans to expand liquid natural gas (LNG) production in Eastern Canada.

“Eastern Canada is already feeling the effects of climate change, with Hurricane Fiona, the second largest hurricane to hit the East Coast in three years having severe impacts,” the authors wrote. “Prime Minister Trudeau affirmed that the severity of Fiona’s damage is a product of climate change.“

The letter cited an Abacus poll that found 52 per cent of Atlantic Canadians agree climate should be a deciding factor in energy decision-making. That’s more than double the number who disagree.

Newfoundland does not produce LNG, but has come under fire for continuing to push for offshore oil development and exploration in the Orphan Basin.

That criticism was raised again in another salvo this week from the Sierra Club, which launched a new campaign called Equinor Out of Oil and Gas Alliance.

“Bay du Nord's approval sets a terrible precedent. Approval of this project has opened the door to even more fossil fuel exploration off the coast of Newfoundland and Labrador,” Mary Best, Atlantic regional organizer for the Council of Canadians, said in a release. “Since federal Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault rendered his decision in April 2022 allowing the Bay du Nord project to move forward, the C-NLOPB (Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board) has approved five more bids for licenses to explore for offshore oil.”

Three of the five licenses were secured by Equinor, the company behind Bay du Nord.

“The environmental impacts of Bay du Nord alone will be devastating. The potential for that harm to be multiplied fivefold is horrifying,” Best said. “At a time when we should be moving away from reliance on fossil fuels and into a period of just transition, we are significantly expanding and retrenching our stake in the fossil fuel industry. Rather than fighting for a liveable planet, we are actively destroying it.”

But O’Regan insisted the lower emissions from Newfoundland’s offshore oil are still the better of two evils.

“If we are going to need oil for the next 40 or 50 years, which we will … then they have to be the absolute lowest emitting ever. We are going to meet those targets that we have set. And we have to be even more ambitious about those targets," he said.

Peter Jackson, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Telegram