A recently uncovered ministerial briefing note obtained by Greenpeace Canada through a freedom of information request illuminates the oil industry’s stranglehold over thinking about climate change and the energy transition at Natural Resources Canada (NRCAN).

The most salient and striking part for me was how NRCAN completely fails to grasp that addressing climate change means getting off fossil fuels as quickly as possible.

In the paragraph below we see NRCAN staffers briefing Natural Resources Minister Seamus O’Regan and boasting about giving the oil industry new exploration subsidies. Reminder: Canada has committed to eliminating fossil fuel subsidies because they encourage the production and use of fossil fuels that’s driving the climate crisis.

Here they say we can’t achieve net zero emissions without the oil and gas sector. But oil and gas is CAUSING the climate crisis. 🤯 The majority of Canada’s emissions come from the production and use of oil and gas. We can’t achieve net zero WITH the oil and gas sector.

Legitimate negative emissions, say from sustainable reforestation, are scarce and needed to compensate for emissions that are truly hard to eliminate such as some agricultural and industrial process emissions. Ideally they should also support going beyond net zero to achieving net negative emissions, to maximize our chances of not exceeding 1.5˚C warming. We should not forget that even 1.5˚C of warming poses major risks for many communities and ecosystems, including coral reefs, small low lying island nations, and ice-dependent Arctic communities.

There simply aren’t enough viable negative emissions out there to compensate for the oil and gas industry’s massive emissions. Achieving net zero requires choosing truly zero emission options wherever possible.

The NRCAN briefing note says they’ll do whatever it takes to support workers. But what if really supporting workers means a PLANNED transition out of the fossil fuel sector? Spoiler alert: it does. Yet the federal government refuses to go there, despite their green recovery promises in last fall’s Throne Speech.

NRCAN and Minister O’Regan think oil and gas is the basis of economic recovery. They don’t seem to realize over-dependence on oil is a key economic PROBLEM here. They seem set on making this problem worse, rather than focusing on diversification away from the sunset industry of oil.

The Ministry of Natural Resources should be playing a central role in tackling climate change and guiding a rapid transition off fossil fuels, and it’s a serious failure on their part that they’re so captured by industry that they’re actually working to slow and undermine the transition by promoting the subsidization, financing and expanded production of fossil fuels.

They say the success of the sector depends on continued exploration. But peak oil demand is upon us, and we must plan for the new reality of declining oil demand, not the old world of increasing demand and unending exploration. The climate crisis and new technologies have fundamentally changed the landscape. The O&G industry has no successful future. 

They go so far as to say they are PLEASED there are more subsidies for more fossil fuels to make the climate crisis worse! That, my friends, is the oil industry speaking through NRCAN. Greenpeace has previously criticized the oil industry’s attempts to get subsidies for expanding oil production in Newfoundland, but apparently NRCAN didn’t get the message. We’re still stuck with a petrostate.

NRCAN seems to think that because oil won’t disappear overnight that anything goes, and that it’s ok to compete for global oil market share by subsidizing oil exploration and production in Canada. But the world has already discovered more oil than can be burned if we’re to avoid climate catastrophe. Every dollar and ounce of talent spent exploring for oil increases our oversupply of oil and stranded assets, and steals money and talent needed for the transition. And as one of the richest and most polluting countries in the world, we send a horrible message to others and undermine climate action globally when we fail to lead by example and transition away from fossil fuels as quickly as possible.

Send a message to Minister O’Regan and NRCAN and tell them to support a fossil fuel-free future.

This is a revised, blog-ified and slightly expanded version of the Twitter thread here.