OTTAWA, Ont. — What happens to COP promises once a summit wraps?
It’s a timely question for Canada which has yet to make good on its 2021 pledge to phase out new public financing for the foreign fossil fuel sector.
Natural Resources Minister Jonathan Wilkinson made the announcement at COP26 in Glasgow last year, which targets the unabated fossil fuel sector — companies that don’t use technology or measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
With December around the corner, his office insists the goal will be met.
“The federal government remains committed and on track to phase out international funding for fossil fuel by the end of 2022,” Keean Nembhard, Wilkinson’s spokesperson, said when asked about the status of the policy direction.
The promise, announced Nov. 4, 2021, teased vague exemptions “in limited and clearly defined circumstances” for projects “consistent” with the goals of the Paris Agreement or compatible with the 1.5 degree Celsius warming limit.
An alliance of countries, led by the United Kingdom and the European Investment Bank, spearheaded the COP26 initiative. They emphasized at the time that the commitment was designed to be “uncomfortable.”
Ottawa has offered few details about how it plans to phase out public financing for the foreign unabated fossil fuel sector.
It’s so far unclear what will happen to long-term contracts or what timelines the government will use to wind down new direct funding for the sector.
The policy was still being written in September. “Our intention is to certainly finish that work before the end of the year,” Wilkinson told POLITICO Pro at the time.
After the COP26 pledge, the Liberals showed up on the campaign trail with a promise to accelerate a G-20 commitment and eliminate fossil fuel subsidies by 2023.
Neither the natural resources or finance departments would confirm if the COP26-related policy direction has been finalized, nor would they provide an update on the process.
Documents were obtained by POLITICO Pro using an access to information request to see what goes into the making of the pledge. It shows the back and forth between departments and agencies and gives a glimpse into the difficulty of getting departments and agencies on the same page even on a single news release announcing the COP26 pledge.
The making of a COP pledge: The 150-page document shows a trail of revisions that shaped the public presentation of the COP26 promise. It tracks how a draft titled, “Canada commits to phasing out inefficient fossil fuel subsidies by 2022” turned into a wordier final version, “Canada announces commitment to end new direct public support for the international unabated fossil fuel sector by the end of 2022.”
“Inefficient” was scratched out because there is currently no official definition for the term.
The Canadian government initially suggested that a policy directive would be developed “in the coming months.” The timeline was nixed from the final public version.
The documents suggest the federal environment department and the natural resources department disagreed on how to promote the pledge. The departments have historically not worked well together, at times publishing incompatible climate reports and targets.
Natural resources released the documents which reveal edits and revisions from within their department. One comment flagged feedback from the environment department, requesting the announcement include a line to clarify that “Canada will no longer provide support via trade promotion & development assistance.”
The suggestion was rejected.
An unidentified official overrode the request, writing, “I think it would be prudent if we just kept it general and say that the government will develop a plan in the near future.”
— What else was scrubbed: Earlier versions mentioned Export Development Canada in more detail. The Crown corporation is mandated to support domestic businesses that export internationally.
The single mention of EDC in the release notes that it committed to net zero goals in July 2021. Documents show EDC had wanted to reference the fact its policy no longer provides new financing for foreign fossil fuel companies and projects.
EDC asked natural resources to include a line explaining that it “will continue to support Canadian exporters that provide products, services or technologies that help reduce the carbon footprint of these international companies.”
The line was rejected, though it popped up later, recycled in a net-zero report published by EDC this summer.
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