Canada’s plan is to continue expanding our oil production to 2040

Part 3 in a series of 18 discussion papers

When the Federal Government on March 29, 2022, released its most recent climate policy statement called the 2030 Emissions Reduction Plan (ERP), the 233-page document included a detailed plan to continue increasing Canada’s oil production to 2030 and maintain high production levels for another 20 years after that. The plan envisions no significant reduction in Canada’s oil production levels before 2050.

Table 6.2 at page 213 of the ERP provides data that shows a 26% increase in our oil sands and conventional oil production this decade, rising from 4.411 million barrels per day (bpd) in 2019 to 5.567 million by 2030. The data is taken directly from the Canada’s Energy Future 2021 report, published by the Canada Energy Regulator (CER) on December 9, 2021.The ERP document adopts the production numbers shown in the CER’s “Current Policies Scenario”, but re-names it the “Reference Case”. Canada’s national energy agency, the Canada Energy Regulator (CER), every year releases an updated version of its Canada’s Energy Future report with detailed projections of Canada’s oil production to 2040 and 2050. Here are the most recent numbers. The CER did not release a new report in 2022:

The CER 2021 report explains that its “Current Policies Scenario” assumes “energy and climate policies that are currently in place” around the world remain unchanged. In other words, it represents a continuation of the high-level dependence of the global energy system on fossil fuels to 2050, and projects Canada’s oil production will continue to grow to 2040.The CER acknowledges that its scenarios do not model the lower oil production levels that would be required to meet the climate goal agreed to in the Paris Agreement in 2015:

The Evolving and Current Policies scenarios do not explicitly model climate goals or targets … the Current Policies Scenario is extremely unlikely to lead to the significant reductions needed to meet Canada’s Paris commitments. In the Evolving Policies Scenario, significant emissions reductions will be realized, but ambitious goals such as net-zero by 2050 are unlikely to be met.

Canada’s Energy Future 2021, p. 19

In stating that these two scenarios do not “explicitly model climate goals”, the CER is admitting that the scenarios it has publicly released (the “Current Policies” and “Evolving” Scenarios) do not identify the much lower and declining oil production levels in Canada over the next 20 to 30 years required to safely align our production with an effective global effort to stay within the 1.5°C warming threshold or within the 2°C warming threshold. If the CER has in fact developed other scenarios that do model oil production levels aligned with a 1.5°C world, they have never been disclosed to the public.

At a press conference on April 4, 2022, Canada’s Minister of Environment Steven Guilbeault confirmed that Canada’s new climate plan is “based on” increasing oil production:

… the plan we presented last week, the Emissions Reduction Plan, was based on the Canadian Energy Regulator projections that oil and gas production would increase in Canada between now and 2030 …

The ERP document portrays the CER as playing an important and responsible role in advising government and industry to ensure that Canada’s oil and gas production is safely developed in a way that is consistent with meeting the 1.5°C goal. The ERP (in a box on page 213) declares:

… a key objective of the 2015 Paris Agreement is to hold the increase in global average surface temperature to well below 2 degrees Celsius while pursuing efforts to limit the increase to 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial levels.

It goes on to say that Canada has adopted a goal of “net-zero emissions by 2050”, and continues:

The Canada Energy Regulator’s Canada Energy Future reports provide a framework for businesses to make investment decisions in the energy sector. Its projections are important for ensuring Canadian businesses are making investments consistent with a transition to cleaner energy sources.

— 2030 Emissions Reduction Plan, Environment Canada, p. 213

The above statement is grossly misleading. The CER 2021 report published on December 9, 2021, offered no analysis at all that explains the massive discrepancy between Canada’s current plan to continue expanding our oil production to 2030 and 2040 and the deep and rapid reductions that would be required to align our output to the 1.5°C goal. Even the CER’s “Evolving Scenario”, supposedly reflecting some eventual decline in global oil demand in response to future climate measures, forecasts that Canada’s oil production in 2040 will still be higher than it was in 2019. 

The Federal Government’s ERP does acknowledge (at page 48) that the IEA’s “net-Zero by 2050 Scenario” requires a 75% reduction of global oil consumption by 2050 (which is an accurate statement of the IEA’s finding with respect to what must be done 2050) – but it omits any mention of the 50% reduction required by 2040 or 25% cut needed by 2030. Accordingly, it excludes any discussion of the near-term need to sharply reduce oil production by Canada and the world’s major producers.             

Multiple Canadian experts and leading international scholars, energy economists and climate scientists, have repeatedly warned that Canada’s current plan to continue increasing its oil production to 2040 is incompatible with meeting those goals. 

On July 8, 2021, twenty-one energy economists and climate scientists, all deeply experienced and informed about Canada’s oil production projections and the emissions implications of continued expansion, sent a letter to the Prime Minister.* It cited in detail the findings of the IEA’s May 18, 2021 “Net-Zero Emissions by 2050 Scenario”, and was copied to the Minister of Environment and Climate Change, and to the Minister of Natural Resources, and to the Chair and CEO of the Canada Energy Regulator. They wrote: “Specifically, we urge you to mandate that the Canadian Energy Regulator model scenarios consistent with the IEA’s Net Zero by 2050 report. In plain English, that meant the government should immediately direct or instruct the CER to develop scenarios that will identify the much lower and declining oil production levels in Canada over the next 20 to 30 years that would be safely aligned with an effective global effort to stay within the 1.5°C warming threshold. The government and Ministers offered no public comment or response.

Six months later, on December 9, the CER published its new report Canada’s Energy Future 2021, releasing its most recent projections of showing Canada’s oil production to 2030, 2040, and 2050. Again, the CER excluded any scenario examining the lower and declining levels of Canada’s oil production that would be required to meet our 1.5°C or 2°C commitment under the Paris Agreement. On December 14, 2021, just five days after the CER 2021 report was released, four of Canada’s leading experts on climate policy and oil production published an article containing a devastating indictment of the irresponsible and misleading character of the CER’s new projections: “Canada’s energy regulator turns a blind eye to dangerous global warming”. They stated that the report has “failed to inform looming policy decisions”. The authors pointed out that the CER’s new “Current Policies” forecast for Canadian fossil fuel production (now enshrined in Canada’s ERP) is roughly aligned with the IEA’s recently published “Stated Policies Scenario” which, as the authors explain, “anticipates 2.6°C of warming, far beyond the Paris target”.

* Letter July 8, 2021, sent by twenty-one energy economists and climate scientists to the Prime Minister, the Minister of Environment, Minister of Natural Resources, and to the Canada Energy Regulator:

“Canada’s energy regulator turns a blind eye to dangerous global warming”, Kathryn Harrison, Mark Jaccard, Nicholas Rivers, and Angela Carter, December.14, 2021: