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Irving Oil calls for climate accountability, but where are its emissions numbers?

Irving Oil saw emissions increase at its two refineries between 2019 and 2020, according to company reports. But no figures for 2021 have been released. REUTERS/Devaan Ingraham
Irving Oil saw emissions increase at its two refineries between 2019 and 2020, according to company reports. But no figures for 2021 have been released. REUTERS/Devaan Ingraham (Davaan Ingraham / reuters)

Irving Oil president Ian Whitcomb says companies must be held accountable for stated climate change goals. However, sustainability reports from the family-owned Canadian oil giant have not disclosed greenhouse gas emissions past 2020.

Irving operates Canada's largest oil refinery in Saint John, N.B., as well as Ireland's only oil refinery. The company also runs more than 1,000 fuel stations spanning Eastern Canada, New England, and Ireland.

Speaking to a business audience at the annual Toronto Global Forum, Whitcomb called for companies to abandon "aspirational goals" in favour of measurable ones when it comes to efforts to cut emissions.

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"Let's start talking about what actions we're taking, and what we've actually accomplished in 2022 and 2023. I think the notion of accountability is how we all run our businesses," he said on Monday. "What we need in this conversation now is, who is actually achieving something today, and what progress are they making against the goal that they published."

According to Irving's 2021 sustainability report, the most recent one published by the company, its goals include to "strive for [a] 30 per cent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030" and "actively support the achievement of net-zero emissions by 2050."

However, the report omits greenhouse gas figures for 2021, citing "timelines needed to review the data." An Irving spokesperson told Yahoo Finance Canada the 2021 data will be included in next year's report.

Overall emissions from the industry continue to be the fastest growing source of emissions in Canada, and Irving is a big part of that problem.Sven Biggs, Canadian oil and gas programs director at Stand.earth

According to figures published by Irving, Scope 1 GHG emissions at the Saint John refinery increased more than five per cent between 2019 and 2020. Scope 1 emissions at the company's Whitegate Refinery in Ireland climbed more than nine per cent.

Sven Biggs, Canadian oil and gas programs director at Stand.earth, says it's "ironic" that Irving's president would raise the issue of transparency on climate goals.

"The oil industry in general in Canada, they talk a good game about reducing emissions. But when we do see hard numbers there are very few reductions at all," he said in a phone interview. "Overall emissions from the industry continue to be the fastest-growing source of emissions in Canada, and Irving is a big part of that problem."

Biggs' assessment follows news last week that Royal Bank of Canada is under investigation by the Competition Bureau of Canada. A Sept. 29 letter from the bureau says the inquiry "seeks to determine the facts relating to allegations that RBC has contravened the Act by making false or misleading environmental representations."

According to the non-profit environmental law organization Ecojustice, RBC's financing of fossil fuel companies in 2021 topped $34.4 billion in loans and underwriting, and included $50.4 billion in investments.

However, Whitcomb says the oil and gas sector has a responsibility to take the lead on energy transition. To that end, Irving has invested in hydrogen capacity at its Saint John refinery in a bid to lower emissions. A 5-megawatt electrolyzer from New York-based Plug Power (PLUG) is expected to be fully operational by late-2023, according to an Irving press release.

Last month, the company announced plans to team up with Ireland's Simply Blue Group to explore renewable energy options at its Whitegate Refinery. The collaboration could include green hydrogen production and offshore wind development.

"We will accomplish the first leg of our carbon reduction goal of 30 per cent with technologies we are implementing today. And we know they'll work," Whitcomb said.

"We're doing carbon capture at our refinery in Whitegate. We are processing used cooking oil and animal fats to make biodiesel, which is virtually a carbon-free product," he added. "We [will be] among the first refineries to put green hydrogen into our system next summer, and we are finalizing contracts to capture methane gas from landfills in New England and Atlantic Canada."

Jeff Lagerquist is a senior reporter at Yahoo Finance Canada. Follow him on Twitter @jefflagerquist.

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