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Ottawa accused of undercutting climate change effort by subsidizing fossil fuels

WATCH: Protesters disrupted a U.S.-sponsored event promoting fossil fuels on the sidelines of U.N. climate change talks in Katowice on Monday.

Canada’s soft spot for the home-grown oil and gas industry is one of the obstacles preventing the country from becoming a climate leader, groups are claiming at a global climate change conference in Poland on Monday.

“The science is telling us we have to pretty drastically reduce production of oil and natural gas, and in the face of headwinds in Canada around the price of oil and opposition from communities and opposition from First Nations, Canadian governments have really bent over backwards to try to help the industry with all these subsidies,” said Dale Marshall, a program director with

Environmental Defence. Environmental Defence, along with other Canadian climate groups, attended the global climate-change conference, COP24, in Poland on Monday with an agenda of calling out the federal government for letting the oil and gas industry undermine Canada’s efforts to be a climate leader.

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Environmental Defence, along with Stand Earth, released a report at the conference to show that emissions from the oil and gas sector continue to rise and intensive lobbying from the industry means about 80 per cent of those emissions will be exempt from the federal carbon price.

According to the report, if oil and gas production continues to increase at current rates, it will be nearly impossible for Canada to meet its Paris Agreement targets. Canada’s target under the Paris Agreement was set at 30 per cent reduction in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from 2005 levels by 2030.

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In an interview with Global News, Marshall gave the example of Bill C69, an environmental reform bill, which the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers is lobbying to kill.

Marshall adds that while the federal and provincial governments continue to support the industry in the form of huge subsidies, most recently including a $4.5-billion pipeline purchase, the industry continues to claim it doesn’t get any federal support — something he says is incredibly frustrating.

“The oil and gas industry, it’s fair to say, is one of the only things standing in the way of Canada showing leadership on climate change,” he maintains.

Environment Minister Catherine McKenna arrived in Katowice, Poland for the COP24 talks today where the nations of the world are aiming to agree on rules for how the Paris climate-change agreement will be implemented.

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Canada is also there pushing an anti-coal alliance to wean the world from coal power by 2050. Canada, however, needs to also show leadership on oil and gas, Marshall said, which are far bigger problems for Canada’s emissions targets than coal is.

A representative from the Office of the Minister of Environment and Climate Change, Sabrina Kim, told Global News that the federal government is committed to implementing Canada’s climate plan.

“We’ve taken a Team Canada approach, supporting ambitious action by provinces, cities and towns, businesses, Indigenous peoples and individuals. Our actions include phasing out coal; investing in public transit, energy efficiency and renewable energy; and ensuring pollution is no longer free,” wrote Kim in a statement.

In addition, Kim stated that the minister’s office is also doubling the amount of nature protected in Canada with an eye towards achieving zero-plastic waste, and advancing sustainable finance tools.

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McKenna says coal industry in the U.S. not growing despite Trump’s claims
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Canada is also there pushing an anti-coal alliance to wean the world from coal power by 2050 but Marshall said Canada needs to also show leadership on oil and gas, which are far bigger problems for Canada’s emissions targets than coal is.

According to Marshall, while there are many positive initiatives happening at the federal level, Ottawa continues to fail to address the “elephant in the room.”

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“In every other respect there are really good initiatives happening in Canada, and yes, the oil and gas sector continues to get a free pass and that’s unfair. It’s unfair to other sectors and it’s unfair to other Canadians who are facing climate policies and are seeing the oil and gas industry be let off the hook,” said Marshall.

“It does take courage to step up and do what’s necessary.”

–With a file from Rebecca Joseph and the Canadian Press.