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Oil sands companies pledge net-zero emissions

Last Updated Jun 9, 2021 at 7:39 pm MDT

CALGARY — Five Canadian oil sands companies say they will work together to reduce their emissions to net-zero by 2050.

The companies, who together operate 90 per cent of the country’s production, making the move after a trend of divestment and calls for a low-carbon future.

“These companies, I think are effectively saying ‘we see the challenge, we’re prepared to put our shoulder to the grindstone and meet the challenge. And investors should support us because we’re doing what governments and the public want to see us do.’” said Richard Masson, an executive fellow at the University of Calgary School of Public Policy.

The New York State pension fund, for example, recently yanked back its $7 million stake in Canadian oil sands.

But a professor of economics says this net-zero promise — won’t stem divestment.

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“It’s not stopping anybody from doing what they’re already doing. Right? Because they recognize that there is no plan there. So like I said, you can throw out any date you want. 2050—it’s just a nice round number,” said Moshe Lander, an economics lecturer at Concordia University.

Lander sees the announcement as a PR grab and strategy.

“It’s also a way to kind of push back against those that are against oil sands development. If they go ahead and divest, if others follow suit and divest, then you can say ‘well, we gave them a target, what more do they want? You see I told you, they’re out to get us.’”

But Masson sees the motivation being the social license to operate, with carbon capture a big part of the effort.

“There’s going to have to be many, many different solutions. That’s one of the big ones. And it seems like we have some momentum between industry and governments to work together on that.”

“I kind of rolled my eyes and thought: Are we still thinking that this is the solution to all of the problems with oil sands and its environmental impacts?” said Lander.

Lander believes investors would prefer to see more defined measurable goals, plans to meet them, and deadline dates.