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Jessica Wilson of Greenpeace Canada’s Arctic Campaign says that Arctic drilling must be off the table if US and Canada are serious about meeting climate goals

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SHARMINI PERIES, EXEC. PRODUCER, TRNN: It’s the Real News Network. I’m Sharmini Peries coming to you from Baltimore. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s visit to Washington, DC this week was received with much fanfare in Washington. And upon landing, before any work actually began, President Obama and Justin Trudeau had a joint press conference. Here’s what they had to say. BARACK OBAMA: I’m especially pleased to say the United States and Canada are fully united in combating climate change. As the first U.S. president to visit the Arctic, I saw how both of our nations are threatened by rising seas, melting permafrost, disappearing glaciers, and sea ice. So we are focusing on making sure the Paris agreement is fully implemented. JUSTIN TRUDEAU: The president and I have announced today that we’ll take ambitious action to reduce methane emissions nearly by half from the oil and gas sector, reduce use and emissions of hydrofluorocarbons, and implement aligned greenhouse gas emissions standards for heavy-duty vehicles, amongst other plans to fight climate change. PERIES: But what was actually accomplished at this meeting? One of the items on the agenda was the continental climate strategy to deal with greenhouse gas emissions that both countries had committed to in Paris. And going to Paris was one of the first items on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s agenda once he took office in January. And so, on to talk about what was accomplished is Jessica Wilson. She is the head of Greenpeace Canada’s Arctic campaign. Jessica is a former journalist. Thank you so much for joining us, Jessica. JESSICA WILSON: Thanks for having me. PERIES: So, Jessica, give us a rundown on what was on the agenda and what actually got accomplished at this meeting. WILSON: Absolutely. Well, I think after, after they got, they got over all of the hockey jokes that political speechwriters have obviously been holding on to for 19 years or so, there were some really encouraging announcements, far more so than anything we were accepting. The number one in terms of overall greenhouse gas emission reductions was, of course, the methane announcement. They’re really trying to cap and to limit methane across the board, but particularly in the Arctic. Most of the methane that they’re talking about comes from flaring or leaked emissions, and the methane in those cases is just wasted, just goes into the atmosphere. And methane is, of course, 20-25 times more potent than CO2. So this is a very, a very huge, also very beautifully simple reduction, and we already have the existing technology, so that’s going to make a big difference very quickly. But I think the most interesting stuff is actually the Arctic announcements. For the first time we’re seeing two world leaders, two world Arctic leaders, making an attempt to square the climate math with their fossil fuel futures. And we haven’t really seen this happen before. So when they talk about all-new projects will need to align with their national and international climate commitments, that’s a very big deal. And if it means what we hope it means, and what it seems to mean on the face of it, that will mean no Arctic oil. We cannot have Arctic oil projects in a 2 degree world, never mind the 1.5 degree cap that these two leaders are hoping to keep us two. PERIES: Now, Jessica, most scientists studying this issue are saying what’s in the ground must stay in the ground. Was there any talk of that at the conference, which is critical? For example, the United States funds the fossil fuel industry, or subsidizes it to a tune of $2 billion a year, and much of that is the same in Canada. That is a very important issue in terms of containing fossil fuel emissions into the air, and meeting the Paris targets. Your thoughts on that? WILSON: Well, I think they’re being very careful and political in their language, so they didn’t quite go so far as to say, you know, we need to keep two-thirds of our even found oil sources in the ground. But that is sort of implicit within the language around these, these projects will have to make good on our global and national climate commitments. So the subtext there is that, is that unburnable oil will stay in the ground. And that includes Arctic oil as well as, you know, another, a number of other, more extreme kinds of fossil fuels. And I think the real hope lies in the language around just transitions to a clean energy economy. And this sort of cross-border cooperation on clean energy, on more electric vehicles, on trying to create the green jobs of the future, that’s a very, very good thing, and very positive to hear from Prime Minister Trudeau and President Obama. PERIES: Now, one of the key things that they had to really tackle is drilling in the Arctic. And upon returning from the Paris summit, President Obama signed off on a lot of leases for drilling in the Arctic. The Chevron case is the one that stands out the most, because it was so visually–the protest against it was so visually beautiful in many the parts of the U.S., as well as in the Arctic. Now, can you tell us if that was on the agenda in terms of discussion, drilling in the Arctic, which is a critical issue in order to contain emissions in the continent? WILSON: Well, I have no doubt that Arctic drilling in one form or another was certainly on the agenda. I think within a sort of, a broader scope of, of meeting these commitments and of trying to make some tough decisions on where our transitional energy will come from as we transition to a clean energy economy. I think the proof will be in the pudding for the U.S. in particular when Obama releases the five-year plan, which I think is just a couple of weeks away. That five-year plan, if he was serious about the words that we heard yesterday, can not and must not include Arctic drilling. Now, we saw what happened, of course, with Shell in the Alaskan Arctic over the last several years. They made quite the mess of it, despite assertions that they were Arctic-ready, and at the end of the day, pulled out after $7 billion U.S., so I think Canada has a lot to learn from that experience. And we’re seeing, across the Beaufort Sea, in the Canadian part of the Beaufort Sea as well as the U.S., a variety of oil companies, BP, Chevron, and of course Shell as well, starting to grapple with and realize that Arctic drilling is not at all simple. It’s not cheap. And it comes with hugely significant risks and dangers that I don’t think the industry is prepared to handle. So we’re really hopeful that Obama will continue on the trajectory of what he was doing before with Alaska, which was sort of parking those lease sales for the foreseeable future, and we’ll just have to wait and see what that five-year plan says. But we’re hopeful that it will square with what he said yesterday, and Arctic drilling will be left off the table. PERIES: All right. On Monday we did an interview with Rick Salutin, who is a very prominent journalist and figure in Canada, who actually said all of this that took place over this week will mean nothing when the leadership in the United States will change, obviously in the next year. So these were all optics. Do we have any reason to believe that the agreement that they are talking about will have some life? WILSON: Well, from what President Obama said yesterday, this is meant to be an agreement that will stand the test of time, regardless of the political whims of the day. But you know, your guess is probably as good as mine. I think that the Paris commitments are going to be much bigger than whichever president it is. So unless the next president of the day wants to make a complete about-face on this and really fly in the face of the international community, then we remain hopeful. And of course, you know, in our ideal world we’ll have a Bernie Sanders presidency, and I’m sure things will just get better and better. PERIES: All right. Jessica Wilson, I thank you so much for joining us today, and I’m sure you’ll be keeping an eye on this, as will we, and we hope you join us again. WILSON: Thank you very much for having me. PERIES: And thank you for joining us on the Real News Network.


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Jessica Williams is the head of Greenpeace Canada's Arctic campaign. A former journalist, Jessica made the switch to communications for Greenpeace 8 years ago when she heard that Dick Cheney was visiting the tar sands and her editor wouldn't let her write the story with a critical lens.