The Liberal government is heading into this month’s United Nations climate conference with a slightly altered message in hand, a year after branding Newfoundland and Labrador oil as being among the cleanest in the world.
It’s not a message the province has ditched altogether, though, Premier Andrew Furey told reporters Monday.
“Someone tried to make the case [that] I was over there with a big Texas oil belt buckle on, saying, ‘Get out of the way, here, free oil from Newfoundland’ — that wasn’t the case,” he said.
“We do have a product that is more valuable right now around the world with respect to its carbon footprint, while equally having opportunities in the renewable space.”
Last November, the premier touted Newfoundland oil at the climate conference in Glasgow.
“The world needs petroleum products right now,” Furey said at the time. “And we have some of the best in the world, some of the cleanest in the world. And we need to make sure that the world understands the product that we have.”
That statement drew criticism from scientists and activists who questioned the use of using a climate conference to promote the province’s oil reserves.
Furey dodged multiple pointed questions from a reporter Monday, however, about whether Environment Minister Bernard Davis — who’s speaking at the conference in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt, on Tuesday — would continue to flog the province’s offshore crude while abroad.
“I think we can have the mature conversation that we have a product that is needed during this time of transition, while transitioning,” he said.
This year, Davis is touting Newfoundland’s oceans as more than a source of fossil fuels. In a press release Monday, the province said Davis would speak to “opportunities to enhance the potential of our oceans as a carbon sink and a carbon capture and storage solution.”
“The Labrador current is a big sink,” Furey said. “It needs to be studied more aggressively. It needs to be studied to have an understanding of the carbon capture that happens.”
Jim Dinn, interim leader of the NDP, shot down this year’s Liberal marketing strategy.
“I think, at this point in time, to start grasping at the possibility of using the ocean as a carbon sink … is long past,” Dinn said.
“No one’s expecting that oil is going to be turned off today. But for God’s sake, if the plan is … ‘let’s hope that we come up with a carbon sink solution involving the Atlantic Ocean’ … I think we’re living in a fool’s paradise.”
Dinn said his party has pushed for broader legislative changes to meet climate targets.
“One thing that we’ve called upon them to do, and that they refuse to do, is to set up ‘just transition’ legislation, an office of a climate accountability and a climate change officer answerable to the House of Assembly,” he said.
That office would “oversee the transition from oil, but also oversee the transition to green energies, with the intention of making sure that at all stages workers and communities are protected and the environment is protected for future generations.”
Dinn said the Liberals have not yet accepted his party’s proposal.
Read More: Furey backs away — slightly — from ‘clean oil’ marketing strategy as N.L. minister speaks at COP27