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Environmental groups push Redford to beef up greenhouse gas emissions policies

Alberta Premier Alison Redford speaks to reporters as she arrives for meetings on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, April 10, 2013.
Alberta Premier Alison Redford speaks to reporters as she arrives for meetings on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, April 10, 2013. AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta

EDMONTON – The Redford government should set the record straight on Alberta’s inadequate greenhouse gas emissions policies and should open up closed-doors talks on new targets, says a coalition of more than 20 environmental and public advocacy groups.

In a letter to Premier Alison Redford, the 22 groups protested Redford’s speeches in the U.S. and newspaper advertisements that portray Alberta as a leader in fighting climate change when, in fact, the province will not meet its own targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

The group decided to write the letter after the government suddenly floated a new idea — dubbed “40 by 40” — to increase the carbon levy to $40 a tonne and reduce emissions by 40 per cent. That was days before Redford headed to Washington to pitch for the Keystone pipeline.

“That just felt like greenwashing as fast as you can. It’s just a bit frustrating,” said Chelsey Flook of the prairie chapter of the Sierra Club.

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The letter says that the hasty “40 by 40” proposal is “is wholly inadequate. The province’s efforts to date are not showing climate leadership.”

Redford wants Alberta be an environment leader, said Flook, so she should “engage Albertans at home in a policy discussion that will actually get us there. But this conversation is mostly happening in the U.S.”

Meanwhile, in Alberta, the energy department is talking in private with the energy industry and is not consulting with Albertans on proposals for new emission targets, Flook said.

Also, the discussion on fighting climate change needs to broaden to include renewable energy, conservation and a carbon levy closer to $100 a tonne, she said.

While speaking in the U.S., Redford often boasts of the fact Alberta was the first jurisdiction in Canada to implement a carbon levy, the $15 a tonne on big industry for emissions above a set level. But that policy has been a failure, said Flook.

In February, government admitted it will not meet its goal of reducing carbon by 50 megatonnes a year by 2020. So far, emissions were reduced by a total about five tonnes a year for a total of 32 tonnes over the last six years.

Redford has also touted the success of carbon capture and storage, yet two of the three projects have been cancelled, she noted.

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“It’s difficult to watch your leader go to another country and make a great case for itself but back home everyone is waiting for announcements on these issues,” she said.

Mike Hudema of Greenpeace, which also signed the letter, had sharper words, saying the premier is telling “half truths” on the province’s environmental record.

“Alberta will not meet its own target and they are weak targets,” said Hudema, saying the province is falling behind other provinces in fighting GHG emissions.

While it’s true oilsands producers have reduced the amount of GHG emitted per barrel by almost 30 per cent, overall emissions have jumped as production goes up. At current rates, they will be up by 500 per cent between 1990-2020, said Hudema.

British Columbia has a tougher carbon tax on a broader range of energy users and Ontario has shut down its high emission coal plants while Quebec and California have a price on carbon, he said.

To show leadership, Alberta needs a much higher carbon levy, he said.

“It would be much better if we had a government that addressed the climate crisis, instead of waiting for the U.S. government,” he added.

The letter to Redford urges Alberta to take the lead: “If Alberta doesn’t face the challenge, who will?”

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“Despite your rhetoric, the world is not on course to preserve a stable climate for our children,” says the letter.

“The world must transition urgently to a low carbon economy. Alberta can either lead the way or be caught unprepared as other markets move ahead.”

The letter is signed by First Nations groups, regional environmental groups including the Peace River Environment Society, the Central Athabasca Stewardship Society, West Athabasca Watershed Society, the Springvale Surface Rights Association and advocacy groups like the Council of Canadians, Toronto Climate Change and West Coast Environmental Law.

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