McKenna Under Fire for Dodging Energy East Questions in Paris Press Briefing

At a press briefing in Paris on Wednesday Environment and Climate Change Minister Catherine McKenna was asked to describe how Canada’s support of a new goal to limit the rise in global temperatures to 1.5 degrees Celsius squares with the government’s apparent support for the Energy East pipeline.

McKenna told a gathering of reporters that she prefers not to speak to individual projects.

“I don’t like just looking at one particular development. We are looking at how we are going to make progress towards a low-carbon economy," she said.

McKenna added Canada is currently reviewing the National Energy Board environmental assessment process.

“The Energy East pipeline is a part of that,” she said, although pipeline opponents were disappointed last month when Natural Resources Minister Jim Carr said reviews already in progress will continue on, rather than being restarted under a new and more robust regime. 

McKenna added Canada is committed to doing its “fair share” alongside other nations to combat climate change. 

The TransCanada Energy East pipeline is proposed to carry oilsands crude from Alberta to New Brunswick. With a capacity of 1.1 billion barrels of oil per day, the pipeline is larger than the recently scrapped Keystone XL pipeline and nearly twice the size of the Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline.

According to Environmental Defence, a Canadian environmental group, the pipeline is expected to ship 750,000 to one million barrels of unrefined oil out of Canada every day. The group also estimates the pipeline will increase Canada’s carbon emissions by 32 million tonnes a year, the equivalent of adding seven million new cars to the road.

Adam Scott, climate and energy program manager with Environmental Defence, said the Liberal government will need to consider the climate impacts of the pipeline when making a decision on the project.

“Energy East alone would push Alberta through its emissions cap,” Scott said from the Paris climate talks. “Collectively, proposed new fossil infrastructure projects would make it impossible for Canada to meets its climate commitments.”  

Canada has come out in support of a proposed 1.5 degrees Celsius warming target based on new research that shows current efforts to limit temperature increases to below two degrees may not be enough to avoid a sea level rise that would be catastrophic for small island nations.

The Canadian Youth Delegation held an action in the hours after McKenna's briefing to celebrate the end of the fossil fuel era.

Delegate Ben Donato-Woodger said the celebration was in light of Canada’s 1.5 target support.

Canada has effectively put an end to fossil fuels, he said.

“The only way Canada can do its fair share of the 1.5 degree maximum is by stopping the expansion of the tar sands, ensuring no new tar sands are built and beginning a justice-based transition to a low carbon economy,” Donato-Woodger said.

“We really hope they know they’ve just cancelled every pipeline in the country," he said.

"We hope they let Kinder Morgan and TransMountain know that.”

Nimra Amjad of the Canadian Youth Delegation serves COP21 attendees wine at a fossil fuel 'retirement party.' Photo: Carol Linnitt

The Liberal government has yet to release a new national climate framework and has been criticized for bringing former Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s climate goals to Paris.

McKenna said the Liberal government is keen to work with the provinces and territories to identify new climate commitments.

She added action taken by the provinces has been “very encouraging.”

In Paris this week Manitoba announced it will join Quebec and Ontario in a North American carbon trade market.

McKenna said the federal government will consider “a whole range of solutions” in the creation of an “ambitious pan-Canadian plan.”

Bronwen Tucker, member of the Canadian Youth Delegation, said by focusing on the broader national picture McKenna seemed to be dodging the Energy East issue.

"Talking about an ‘overall economy approach" is a cop-out for steering the climate conversation away from the massive fossil fuel infrastructure projects that are still slated to go forward,” Tucker said.

“The Energy East pipeline is bigger than Keystone XL and building it would allow enough expansion of the tar sands that staying in line with a goal of two degrees Celsius would be a challenge, let alone our new pledge for 1.5 degrees Celsius,” Tucker said.

“So sure, we need to look at the emissions in all parts of our economy, but if we're going to do that, the government also needs to stop avoiding naming specifics." 

This article was updated to reflect the route of the Energy East pipeline.

Image: DeSmog Canada/Keri Coles

Carol Linnitt is a journalist, editor, illustrator and co-founder of The Narwhal. Carol has been reporting on energy and environmental…

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