Alberta’s climate plan a milestone, but needs faster implementation
The Government of Alberta today announced a package of measures designed to show the world the province is serious about addressing climate change. The package includes a commitment to phase coal out of the electricity system by 2030, a 30% renewable portfolio standard for 2030, a $20-$30/tonne economy-wide carbon tax (for 2017-2018 except for oil and gas sector starts in 2023), investments in energy efficiency, clean technology and renewable energy using carbon tax revenues, and a cap on oil sands emissions of 100 million tonnes (Mt) by 2030. Today’s announcement is a truly a milestone, but is it enough to bring provincial and Canadian greenhouse gas emissions to levels that represent our fair share contribution to climate protection?
Alberta’s greenhouse gas emissions have increased 53% since 1990 . Environment Canada projections for oil sands emissions are 74 Mt for 2015 . The 100 Mt cap allows for up to 30 Mt of emissions growth, which appears to be offset by the coal phase out and the Renewable Portfolio Standard. We do not yet know the expected effects of the economy-wide carbon tax (with exemptions for trade exposed industries), and energy efficiency program but cuts are most likely from transportation and buildings.
Many questions arise from today’s announcement by Alberta. Combined with the announcement that Saskatchewan will pursue a 50% renewable energy portfolio in its electricity sector by 2030, but nothing else, and British Columbia’s expected announcement regarding its new climate package, we see the potential for every province to put forward climate plans that appear to generate deep reductions but that are close to business as usual . The federal Government must show leadership in establishing an approach based on the interests of humanity. Questions that must be answered include:
- What are the implications of a 100 Mt growth cap for the oil sands for reaching deep reductions in carbon pollution in Canada? How will a national reduction target be achieved if Alberta (and Saskatchewan) continues to increase or only slowly flatten their emissions?
- How do 2030 provincial targets square with the need to generate near-term action between now and 2020 and for 2020 to 2025 if we are to stay within the global carbon budget needed to avoid dangerous global warming?
- What are the implications of a growth cap for the oil sands and a national approach to carbon pricing? Will Alberta secure a carbon allowance asset that is unfair to other jurisdictions?
The federal Government needs to lead within its jurisdiction to establish a national approach to climate protection in Canada. It needs to:
- Provide incentives to encourage early cuts in carbon pollution (i.e., between 2015 and 2020 and from 2020 to 2025) so that the country gets on track to its fair share contribution to keeping global warming from reaching dangerous levels (at least 35% below 2005 by 2025 and a $4 billion in international financial support).
- Advance federal standards for the phase-out of coal-fired power plants so that it is achieved in ALL provinces burning coal to generate electricity (New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Saskatchewan ad Alberta) by 2025.
- Establish a national approach to carbon pricing that includes a floor price and a schedule for increased reductions to 2025 and 2030. The federal Government needs to do the hard work to reduce the cap on oil sands emissions in line with a national target and carbon pricing regime that is fair to Alberta, to other provinces, and to all Canadians.
- Intensify efforts to cut energy production emissions, including through flaring and fugitive emissions and covering all greenhouse gases, and to do so before 2020.
- Make innovation a priority in the upcoming federal budget to drive low-carbon and zero-carbon investments throughout the economy using the tax system, the Low-Carbon Economy Trust, and infrastructure spending, particularly to expand and integrate electricity/buildings/vehicles.
Today’s announcement by Alberta is a milestone for climate action in Canada. It is the first time Alberta has offered such a comprehensive package, but the growth cap on oil sands is essentially business as usual. More needs to be done to bring Canada’s actions in line with the global need to avoid dangerous global warming. The federal Government must act with courage to responsibly protect the public interest through a national framework that gets Canada on track to doing its fair share to protect the climate.
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