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In Depth

| 01/14/16

Alberta’s hard fight for reinvention


Many environmental groups initially cheered Alberta’s groundbreaking new climate plan, though some green campaigners are now voicing conerns over part of the plan’s impact on Canada.

In late November Alberta Premier Rachel Notley stood alongside oil industry executives and environmental organisations when she announced a new climate policy that would phase out coal by 2030, invest in renewable energy, introduce an economy-wide carbon tax, and cap emissions from the tar sands at 100 megatons, up from its current 70 megatons output.

The sticking point for critics is the cap, which in reality is a green light for the industry to increase its emissions 43 percent. Further unease has also been created by unsubstantiated allegations by the National Post of secret backroom deals being made between four big oil companies and green groups—in essence, industry acceptance of a cap in exchange for a backing down on opposition to new oil pipelines.

The claims have reportedly infuriated oil and gas producers that were not privy to the apparent negotiations and environmental activists who have denounced the détente as “unacceptable”. The Vancouver-based blog DesmogCanada joined the fray last week, saying “there was no deal of the sort” described, after checking with the groups mentioned in the article.

Premier Notley, however, did express hope during the announcement that now that her province was getting serious about limiting emissions, people would give Alberta the benefit of the doubt and would now be mount less opposition to pipeline development.

Tim Gray, Toronto-based executive director of Environmental Defence, told the Post that the government was concerned that having a lower cap on emission would require cancelling projects already under development, resulting in heavy liabilities for taxpayers.

“We agreed that we would support that publicly. And the oil companies agreed they would live within that cap.”

However, the reality of that cap should be viewed in the context of failed legislation that may be revisited. In 2010, the House of Commons passed a climate change bill (over the objections of the then minority Conservative government) that would see Canada reduce its emissions by 80 percent on 1990 levels by 2050. The Conservative-controlled Senate later defeated the bill, but the target still stands as the presumed floor for any future climate legislation that might be introduced by Justin Trudeau’s new Liberal administration, given that they voted for it the first time around.

An 80 percent cut would mean that the country as a whole has 118 megatonnes of greenhouse gases left to pump into the atmosphere between now and the middle of the century. But with Alberta’s cap being 100 megatonnes, this would mean that every other province has only 18 megatonnes to play with.

The significance of what Alberta’s new government has achieved, however, and its courage, should be celebrated, according to environmentalist Tzeporah Berman, an adjunct professor York University Faculty of Environmental Studies. In an opinion piece published in the National Observer she said, “just because a policy is great does not mean there is not more work to be done.”

And as noted during a recent PICS sponsored talk by Dr. Catherine Potvin who leads the Sustainable Canada Dialogues network; “Remember, a good negotiation is one that everyone is unhappy with, because if one group is very happy with the outcome of something, there is another group that is very unhappy.”

In depth

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Climate news and analysis that's relevant for you, every week.