The failure of the Net-Zero Advisory Body

Part 10 in a series of 18 discussion papers

The Net-Zero Advisory Body was created under the Canadian Net-Zero Emissions Accountability Act, passed into law on June 30, 2021. It might have become an important “independent” voice to provide Canadians with an informed assessment of Federal climate policy.  The role of the Advisory Body is defined by section 20 of that Act, witha mandate “to provide the Minister with independent advice with respect to achieving net-zero emissions by 2050”.

The Advisory Body’s responsibility is to advise the government about the implications of climate policy decisions by the Federal Government. In this instance, that would require assessing and questioning whether the government’s promised “emissions cap” for the oil sands will achieve any significant reductions in the volume of emissions released by the oil industry if the level of Canada’s oil production continues to increase.

In late January 2022, the Standing Committee on Natural Resources began holding a series of hearings which it describes as “A study of a plan to cap oil and gas sector emissions”.

The Natural Resources Committee has 12 members: 6 Liberal Party Members of Parliament, 4 Conservatives, one member from the NDP, and one Bloc Quebecois. It was clear from the proceedings over the first few days of the hearings that none of the Conservative or Liberal members were prepared to entertain any suggestion that the proposed “cap” on emissions should be allowed to impair the industry’s plans to continue growing Canada’s oil production for many more years. Based on their interventions, questions, and stated views during the hearings, the position held by almost all the MPs is that oil production in Canada will continue to increase, and should continue to increase, for another 20 or 30 years.

Only two members, Mario Simard who is the Bloc Quebecois MP for Jonquiere and Charlie Angus, the NDP MP for Timmins-James Bay in Ontario, questioned the wisdom of adopting a new climate plan for the oil and gas sector that seeks to cap emissions, but allows oil production levels to continue increasing.

At its hearing on February 9, 2022, the Committee called the two Co-chairs of the Net-Zero Advisory Body to testify. Co-chair Dan Wicklum was questioned at length by the Committee members. Based on Wicklum’s answers, it became immediately clear that the Advisory Body had decided that it will not make any recommendations or express any views about whether there is any need for a cap on Canada’s oil production when it provides policy “advice” to the Ministers. Mr. Wicklum repeatedly assured the Parliamentary Committee that “we (the Advisory Body) do not have an opinion on that”; “we are not going to talk about production”; and “that is not our mandate”. Co-chair Marie-Pierre Ippersiel was also questioned by MPs. She did not dissent from Wicklum’s testimony. The Advisory Body had made up its mind that in fulfilling its advisory role it can ignore the issue of Canada’s oil production levels.

The Advisory Panel has chosen to remain silent on the most salient issue in Canada’s climate policy, namely the future path of our oil production, the one issue that, in terms of Canada’s contribution to global emissions, will more than anything else determine our fate.

On March 21, 2022, the Advisory Body publicly released what it described as its Submission to the Government of Canada’s 2030 Emissions Reduction Plan. In a section described as the “Oil and Gas Line of Inquiry”, the Advisory Body members set out what they describe as their “key guiding principles to inform the development of the Government of Canada’s quantitative five-year targets for emissions reductions in the oil and gas sector”. These stated guiding principles explicitly exclude any scrutiny or criticism of the Government of Canada’s recently re-affirmed plans to continue increasing Canada’s oil production for another 10 or 20 years.

The Advisory Body has therefore excluded from the scope its responsibilities any need to address the climate implications of the downstream emissions from Canada’s rising volumes of exported oil. Their advisory role (as they define it) is limited only to emissions released into the atmosphere during extraction and processing activities in Canada. Here is how the Advisory Body describes its “guiding principles”:  

They are designed to apply to scope 1 and scope 2 emissions from the oil and gas sector. Applicable scope 3 emissions are addressed through other NZAB lines of inquiry. Consistent with the CNZEAA definition of net-zero, exported emissions are excluded.

— Net-Zero Advisory Body, Submission, March 2020, page 20 (emphasis added)

Accordingly, the Advisory Body says it has no responsibility to think about the impact or consequences of the rising volume of downstream emissions from Canada’s exported oil.    

The Advisory Body offers several justifications for choosing to exclude any consideration of the climate implications of current plans by government and industry to continue increasing Canada’s oil production for another 10 or 20 years. Their Submission document refers to the formal “request for advice” sent by the Ministers to the Advisory Body on November 1, 2021.     It describes the Ministers’ request in this way:

This request for advice was focused on reducing emissions associated with the production of oil and gas products, rather than their use, and rather than reducing emissions specifically by reducing production. It was also specific to targets rather than caps.

The members of the Advisory Body have passively accepted that they have no mandate to advise the Federal Government on matters related to “reducing [oil] production”. The Advisory Body’s explanation is that it need not ask those questions because, it says, it has no responsibility to consider Canada’s “exported emissions” (by which it means the downstream emissions from our exported oil).

Many leading climate scientists and energy economists in Canada have spoken out and warned of the need for cuts in Canada’s oil production. The appointed members of the Advisory Body Donner have chosen to remain silent.

The position taken by the entire membership of the Advisory Body is deeply disappointing. Their silence has inflicted a serious blow to efforts by many good people (including many Canadian climate scientists) who have endeavoured to focus serious public discussion on Canada’s plans to continue expanding its oil production, and the global impacts of that expansion.

The link below describes in more detail the statutory responsibilities of the Net-Zero Advisory Body, which derives its mandate from the terms of the Canadian Net-Zero Emissions Accountability Act (not from instructions given by the Minister of Natural Resources and the Minister of Environment). It also examines the testimony given by the Co-Chair of Advisory Body at the meeting of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Natural Resources on February 9, 2022, when apparently on behalf of all members of the Advisory Body, he abdicated any responsibility to consider or give advice on the issue of Canada’s rising oil production.