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| 08/20/15

Alberta holds breakneck consultation to be ready for UN talks


The Albertan government has established a climate change panel that is to hear from the provinces citizens over the next four months and produce a greenhouse gas emissions reduction plan ready for United Nations climate talks in Paris in December.

The panel, announced on Friday, will be speaking to representatives of industry, municipalities, academics, environmental NGOs, public health advocates, First Nations and ordinary citizens via public sessions to begin 24 August, and is also to launch an online survey to solicit opinions.

“The future of Alberta’s energy economy depends on getting this right,” said environment and parks minister Shannon Phillips said in a discussion document outlining the consultation’s work. “The old approach of talk without meaningful action has not worked. Doing more of the same would be the worst thing we could do.”

The five-member group has been tasked with reviewing the province’s current climate and energy policies and recommending a “comprehensive set of measures” to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

The consultation is open-ended, with the government setting no hard targets or schedule for implementation of a future climate strategy. But the government wants Canada to be able to head to the French capital at the end of the year with an idea of what the country’s most-carbon intensive provincial economy is going to do to curtail its contribution to global warming.

“We know we can’t afford to sit on the sidelines and wait for other jurisdictions to impose their approaches on us,” minister Phillips added.

The panel is to be chaired by Andrew Leach, the director of energy programmes at the University of Alberta School of Business. He will be joined by Gord Lambert, former head of sustainability for Suncor Energy, Linda Coady, who holds a similar position with Enbridge and is a former vice-president of World Wildlife Fund Canada, Stephanie Cairns, who sits on the board of the Pembina Institute, an Albertan environmental think-tank, and Angela Adams, the director of education for Unifor, Canada’s largest union, and a member of one of the founding Métis families in Fort McMurray, ground zero of the oil sands.

Echoing last week’s comments by federal NDP candidate Linda McQuaig that “a lot” of Alberta’s oil sands may need to be left in the ground, which produced a firestorm of controversy, when panel member Cairns was asked by reporters whether some of the oil sands should be left unexploited, she responded: “I think that’s part of the conversation we’ll have to have.”

Her answer immediately provoked criticism from the opposition Wildrose Party’s environment critic, Todd Loewen: “I think that’s very disturbing and unacceptable for anybody to comment in Alberta that the oil has to stay in the ground.”

Meanwhile both green groups and the oil industry gave the announcement a cautious welcome.

The Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP) said that it would work with the government to reduce emissions, but that the NDP should be “mindful of the cumulative cost” to the industry of government policies.

Greenpeace for its part said that it was concerned that the panel included representatives from the oil industry, but not from the renewable energy sector.

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