Canada says it could possibly struggle local weather change and be main oil nation. Huge fires might drive a reckoning

FORT MCMURRAY, Canada — Throughout a Could wildfire that scorched an unlimited swath of spruce and pine forest in northwestern Canada, Julia Cardinal misplaced a riverside cabin that was many issues to her: retirement venture, reward from from her husband, and someplace to stay by nature, as her household had performed for generations.

“That was our dream residence,” mentioned Cardinal, a member of the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation, as she scanned the cabin’s flattened, charred stays in September. “It’s like a displacement.”

Hundreds of wildfires in Canada this 12 months have incinerated an space bigger than Florida, releasing into the ambiance greater than thrice the quantity of carbon dioxide that’s produced by Canada in a 12 months. And a few are nonetheless burning.

Residence to dense forests, sweeping prairies and almost 1 / 4 of the planet’s wetlands, Canadian leaders, together with liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, have lengthy insisted the nation can exploit its pure assets whereas defending biodiversity and main the worldwide struggle in opposition to local weather change. However the seemingly infinite hearth season, which created hazardous air in lots of U.S. states hundreds of miles away, is placing a highlight on two facets of Canada that more and more really feel at odds: the nation’s dedication to preventing local weather change and its standing because the world’s fourth-largest oil producer and fifth-largest gasoline producer — fuels that when used launch carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gasoline that traps warmth within the ambiance and intensifies the dry situations for wildfires to swallow tens of millions of acres.

“They’re portraying Canada as environmental,” mentioned Jean L’Hommecourt, an environmental advocate belonging to the Fort McKay First Nation. “However the greatest supply of the carbon is right here.”


Canada is amongst roughly 100 nations which have pledged by midcentury to succeed in “zero emissions,” or take as a lot greenhouse gasoline out of the ambiance because it contributes. Finally 12 months’s U.N. local weather convention, generally known as COP27, it additionally joined different wealthy nations to vow extra money for growing international locations to struggle local weather change.

But to the identical convention, Canada introduced the second-largest delegation of fossil gas executives of any nation on the planet, an evaluation by The Related Press discovered. Eleven executives from main Canadian oil, gasoline, and metal corporations, together with Enbridge and Parkland Company attended COP27 — the place international locations set local weather priorities and timelines for decreasing emissions of greenhouse gases. The one nation to ship a bigger delegation of fossil gas executives was Russia, AP discovered.

“We’re not there to drive an agenda, however we do have a perspective to supply,” mentioned Pete Sheffield, chief sustainability officer at pipeline and pure gasoline large Enbridge Inc., echoing what different Canadian vitality executives advised The AP about their attendance at COP27.

One such perspective is that Canadian oil producers can hold extracting oil at present charges, and with the assistance of expertise, clear up their very own operations so the nation can nonetheless hit its local weather targets. However even when Canada’s oil producers handle to take action, their plans don’t think about the greenhouse gasoline emissions that end result from when prospects use their merchandise to energy automobiles, warmth properties, take flights, and so forth.


Within the western province of Alberta, the place many ferocious wildfires burned, enormous deposits of thick crude oil, combined with tarry sand, sit beneath the forest and close to the snaking Athabasca River. Extraction from this space, known as the “oil sands,” makes use of enormous quantities of vitality, making Canada’s oil — most of which is extracted right here — a number of the world’s dirtiest.

In Alberta, the trade’s mark on the panorama is profound: over an space bigger than New York Metropolis, oil corporations have carved chunks of earth into open-pit mines plunging a whole bunch of ft deep, created lake-sized chemical runoff swimming pools and left otherworldly stacks of neon yellow sulfur byproduct. On the edges of roads within the oil sands, air cannons growth periodically to maintain birds away from the huge poisonous ponds and scarecrows dressed as oil staff float above them.

On a current morning, dozens of oil staff boarded a constitution airplane in Calgary that will take them deep into Alberta’s wilderness the place black bears, caribou, and moose roam. There, operators boarded buses to grease sands initiatives, the place they’d work 7-, 14- or 21-day shifts.

Throughout different weeks, the fires in Alberta burned so shut that oil corporations needed to briefly shut down oil and gasoline manufacturing, and common Canadians couldn’t safely breathe the air. In September, smoke from wildfires within the neighboring provinces of British Columbia and the Northern Territories blanketed Fort McMurray, an Albertan metropolis of 68,000 the place group facilities bear the names of oil corporations. The skies had been a hazy, rust shade.

“That is to the purpose the place you don’t even need to be exterior,” mentioned Brittnee McIsaac, a faculty instructor who usually needed to hold her college students inside for recess as a result of it was too harmful to breathe the smoke-filled air.

McIsaac, whose husband works within the oil trade, mentioned that the smoke this 12 months, mixed with a serious wildfire in 2016, have made extra folks on the town involved about local weather change, even when many residents get their paychecks from the close by oil patch.

“It actually takes a toll on the psychological well being; simply how dreary it’s every single day,” she mentioned of the smoke.

Nonetheless, Canadian producers don’t have any plans to decelerate. Since 2009, oil sands extraction has grown. Right this moment, Canada produces about 4.9 million barrels of oil a day, with oil and gasoline contributing virtually a 3rd of the nation’s emissions in 2021. Oil and gasoline make up about 5% of Canada’s GDP, whereas in Alberta, the center of Canadian oil nation, the sector accounts for about 21%.

Carmen Lee-Essington, vp of Cenovus’ oil sands operations, mentioned the corporate plans to extract all of the oil beneath floor at their Dawn plant. Cenovus estimates that might final till 2070. That’s many years after when scientists warn that the world must have moved past fossil fuels and rely virtually totally on renewable types of vitality.

“When that point comes, we’ll abandon the ability right here. We’ll decommission it, the steel and all of the infrastructure that you simply see might be shipped off-site,” mentioned Lee-Essington.


A part of Canada’s reasoning to provide a lot oil and gasoline within the twenty first century is that it’s a steady democracy with stricter environmental and human rights legal guidelines than different oil giants that the West has traditionally relied upon. Canada is the biggest international provider of oil to the U.S., exporting an quantity equal to 22% of U.S. consumption.

However local weather scientists warn that present ranges of oil and gasoline manufacturing will imply Canada gained’t attain web zero emissions, by no means thoughts the extra contributions to local weather change from wildfires alongside the best way.

Scientists at Local weather Motion Tracker, a gaggle that scrutinizes nations’ pledges to cut back emissions, label the nation’s progress as “extremely inadequate,” stressing that Canada must implement its local weather insurance policies a lot sooner to succeed in its personal targets. For the high-carbon vitality sector, a lot of the plan rests on the build-out of carbon seize, a expertise that pulls in carbon dioxide, both on the supply of emissions or from the air. However carbon seize is vitality intensive, costly and years away from working at scale.

“There’s no manner Canada can attain our 2050 goal if oil and gasoline doesn’t do its justifiable share,” mentioned Steven Guilbeault, Canada’s minister of atmosphere and local weather change.

The wildfires, which scientists say will burn extra and longer because the planet warms, will add to the problem of slicing emissions. In addition they pose vital well being dangers to Canadians and anybody who is available in contact with the smoke.

In June, a hearth obtained near the subarctic, largely indigenous hamlet of Fort Chipewyan, in northern Alberta. A former fur buying and selling settlement, it abuts one of many world’s largest inland deltas. In hotter months, the village can solely be reached by boat or airplane, for the reason that primary highway into city is fabricated from ice that melts within the spring. When the wildfires approached, residents first tried fleeing by boat, solely to appreciate that water ranges on the large Athabasca Lake had gotten so low, they couldn’t go away. Quickly after, the Canadian navy despatched its plane to evacuate folks to Fort McMurray, the place a whole bunch of individuals stayed for weeks.

Within the blaze, Julia Cardinal and her husband Joyful Cardinal would lose their cabin, which was a couple of 45-minute boat experience from Fort Chipewyan. A number of months later, the trauma of the hearth continues to be vivid.

“That was our residence,” mentioned Julia Cardinal, as she walked over the burned cabin, figuring out the pots, pans and nails that survived the blaze. “There are some issues we’ll by no means, ever substitute.”

Nonetheless, the couple’s emotions are sophisticated. Whereas they perceive the position of local weather change within the fires, and the affect of oil on the local weather and lakes and rivers surrounding them, they don’t seem to be fast in charge the trade. Joyful Cardinal was an oil sands employee till retiring three years in the past.

“That’s the place my cash comes from,” he mentioned.


AP knowledge journalist Mary Katherine Wildeman contributed to this report.


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