Alice Munro among Nobel Prize winners urging Trudeau to deny Alberta oilsands project

Canadian author Alice Munro and dozens of other Nobel Prize winners around the world have joined the heated opposition facing a massive oilsands project in northern Alberta, decrying the proposed development as “a disgrace.”

Munro, Canadian biologist Jack W. Szostak and 40 other global winners from various fields signed a letter addressed to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland urging them to deny the Teck Resources Ltd. plan, as well as any expansion of the fossil-fuel sector.

“The mere fact that they warrant debate in Canada should be seen as a disgrace,” states the letter, which appeared on the Guardian’s website Friday.

“They are wholly incompatible with your government’s recent commitment to net-zero greenhouse-gas emissions by 2050. And with clear infringements on First Nations rights, such projects fly in the face of rhetoric and purported efforts towards reconciliation.”

The signatories call fossil-fuel projects “an affront to our state of climate emergency,” and say the “importance of leadership in the coming few years cannot be understated.”

A decision on the $20.6-billion, 260,000-barrel-per-day Frontier project is supposed to come next week.

The project is expected to produce about four million tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions per year over 40 years.

Those in favour of the proposal say it will create thousands of jobs and bolster Alberta’s struggling economy. Alberta Premier Jason Kenney said Friday it would create 7,500 jobs and $70 billion of government revenue.

He also touted “cutting-edge technology” that would allow the Vancouver-based miner to produce oil with half the carbon emissions of an average barrel produced in North America.

Kenney told reporters in Calgary that he suspected the signatories were presented with a distorted view of the Frontier project.

“Many interest groups have been misrepresenting the Canadian oilsands as being the equivalent of thermal coal for example, which is manifestly ridiculous. It is counterfactual,” said Kenney.

“Our challenge … is to show the world a path forward about how we can extract energy with a shrinking environmental and carbon footprint. That’s exactly what we’ll do.”

Meanwhile, the company itself said it was committed to fostering a low-carbon economy.

READ MORE: Teck Resources aims to be ‘carbon neutral’ by 2050

“Lower carbon oil from Frontier would replace higher carbon sources and contribute to reducing global emissions,” spokesman Chris Stannell said in an emailed statement.

Kenney also said the project was supported by 14 nearby First Nations and Metis communities and suggested the expected benefits would directly improve the lives of Indigenous people.

Nevertheless, opposition has been fierce.

Critics have raised questions about how the mammoth dig would impact woodland caribou, old-growth forests, and waterfowl habitat.

And in public letters sent last week to the federal government and other chiefs, Athabasca Chipewyan Chief Allan Adam said he was worried that Alberta’s failure to consult and take meaningful action on environmental concerns could jeopardize the project.

Munro won the 2013 literature prize while Szostak won the 2009 prize in medicine. Other signatories include Bangladeshi banker Muhammad Yunus, who won the peace prize in 2006, South African-born novelist John Coetzee, who won the literature prize in 2003, and Austrian writer Elfriede Jelinek who won the 2004 literature prize.

The Prime Minister’s Office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The Canadian Press

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