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Arctic Drilling Ban Reveals Crucial Difference Between Obama and Trudeau on Climate

By Adam Scott for Oil Change International.

The historic announcement by President Obama and Prime Minister Trudeau that both countries would ban oil and gas development in Arctic and Atlantic waters was a major victory to protect our oceans and the people who depend on them, and a real victory for our climate.

But the difference between how the White House and the Prime Minister’s Office explained this announcement reveals a major rift between the leaders in their understanding of how to address the climate threat.

At the end of November, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau failed a key test of his understanding of what is required to stop climate change by approving the Kinder Morgan and Line 3 pipelines. During his speech he defended his actions:

“I have said many times that there isn’t a country in the world that would find billions of barrels of oil and leave it in the ground while there is a market for it.”

But just weeks later, the U.S. did exactly that. As part of President Obama’s announcement to permanently ban oil and gas development in the Arctic and Atlantic oceans, the White House released a fact sheet explaining its justification.   

“…if lease sales were to occur and production take place, it would be at a time when the scientific realities of climate change dictate that the United States and the international community must be transitioning its energy systems away from fossil fuels.”

In essence, the White House is saying that further offshore oil and gas development in these areas fails a climate test — that these projects aren’t in line with the action needed to meet international goals to fight climate change. This is a crucial signal that President Obama and his team are finally beginning to understand that action to restrict the supply of fossil fuels is ultimately required to reach a safe climate future.

Notably, the joint statement from both leaders on their effort to block Arctic drilling mentioned climate but failed to point out this crucial justification for the decision. This points to the fact that Trudeau isn’t aligned with Obama on climate action.

Prime Minister Trudeau continues to cling to an ideological and dangerous assertion that his government has no responsibility to restrict fossil fuel supply in the middle of a global climate crisis. 

As Trudeau travels across Canada this week to defend his decision to allow massive new tar sands pipelines, he continues to make wildly contradictory statements.  He frequently says that ‘responsible resource development can happen in concert with solid environmental protections’ in the context of allowing new pipelines and tar sands growth to continue. He says this in spite of strong evidence that allowing the pipeline projects would directly compromise both domestic and international climate obligations.

He also continues to argue that his pipeline approvals are baked into his Pan-Canadian climate framework, in spite of the fact that Trudeau’s climate plan is projected to fall short of its 2030 emissions targets, with his government eyeing the purchase of fake international offset credits to make up the gap. This implies that the government knowingly undermined their own efforts when they approved new pipeline projects.

There’s a pipeline shaped hole in Trudeau’s climate plan.

It gets worse. Trudeau continues to put himself on the wrong side of history by aligning himself with President-elect Donald Trump in support of the Keystone XL pipeline, a project which President Obama rejected over its potential to exacerbate climate change and threaten communities along its route.

Trudeau’s view fully ignores the fact that new pipeline projects would lock Canada into rising production of dirty oil and associated climate pollution for decades to come. Because it will be so difficult and disruptive to cut production once those investments have been made, Trudeau’s endorsement of projects that lock-in carbon could put the Paris Agreement goals out of reach — aggravating suffering and harm caused by climate change for millions of people around the world.

It’s time for Trudeau to take a hard look at the legacy his ally President Obama is trying to leave behind. While Obama’s record has been far from perfect, he has in the 11th hour finally begun to demonstrate a clear understanding that success on climate change means keeping fossil fuels in the ground.

Trudeau now has to choose if he wants to join Obama’s legacy as a climate leader or follow Trump’s troubling path towards putting the interests of oil companies ahead of the global community.

Image: Trudeau and Obama at the UN General Assembly. Photo: Justin Trudeau via Facebook

Like a kid in a candy store
When those boxes of heavily redacted documents start to pile in, reporters at The Narwhal waste no time in looking for kernels of news that matter the most. Just ask our Prairies reporter Drew Anderson, who gleefully scanned through freedom of information files like a kid in a candy store, leading to pretty damning revelations in Alberta. Long story short: the government wasn’t being forthright when it claimed its pause on new renewable energy projects wasn’t political. Just like that, our small team was again leading the charge on a pretty big story

In an oil-rich province like Alberta, that kind of reporting is crucial. But look at our investigative work on TC Energy’s Coastal GasLink pipeline to the west, or our Greenbelt reporting out in Ontario. They all highlight one thing: those with power over our shared natural world don’t want you to know how — or why — they call the shots. And we try to disrupt that.

Our journalism is powered by people just like you. We never take corporate ad dollars, or put this public-interest information behind a paywall. Will you join the pod of Narwhals that make a difference by helping us uncover some of the most important stories of our time?
Like a kid in a candy store
When those boxes of heavily redacted documents start to pile in, reporters at The Narwhal waste no time in looking for kernels of news that matter the most. Just ask our Prairies reporter Drew Anderson, who gleefully scanned through freedom of information files like a kid in a candy store, leading to pretty damning revelations in Alberta. Long story short: the government wasn’t being forthright when it claimed its pause on new renewable energy projects wasn’t political. Just like that, our small team was again leading the charge on a pretty big story

In an oil-rich province like Alberta, that kind of reporting is crucial. But look at our investigative work on TC Energy’s Coastal GasLink pipeline to the west, or our Greenbelt reporting out in Ontario. They all highlight one thing: those with power over our shared natural world don’t want you to know how — or why — they call the shots. And we try to disrupt that.

Our journalism is powered by people just like you. We never take corporate ad dollars, or put this public-interest information behind a paywall. Will you join the pod of Narwhals that make a difference by helping us uncover some of the most important stories of our time?

If Canada wants to be an international biodiversity leader, it has to start at home

Rodrigo Estrada Patiño is program director at Greenpeace Canada. Stephen Hazell is president of Ecovision Law and was executive director of both Sierra Club Canada...

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