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Saskatchewan environment minister says first climate change review establishes baseline

Sask. releases climate resilience report
WATCH ABOVE: Saskatchewan releases its first evaluation of Prairie Resilience, the province’s plan to deal with climate change.

Saskatchewan’s environment minister is characterizing the first update of the province’s climate plan, Prairie Resilience, as establishing a baseline.

In November 2018, Environment Minister Dustin Duncan unveiled the 25 criteria they will be using to monitor the progress of Prairie Resilience. Some of the items are emissions associated with oil and gas, emissions from government buildings and the amount of electricity that comes from renewable sources.

The province graded itself on a scale of good, fair and poor progress. It gave 15 items good grades, ranked seven as fair and no previously established baseline for three items.

“Twenty-nineteen is really the base year, so I think the reports in 2020 and ongoing will really tell the story of how we’re doing,” Duncan said.

Duncan said they may have to revise certain benchmarks.

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Looking at emissions associated with the oil sector, emissions have dropped. The baseline in the report is 10.8 metric tonnes of CO2 equivalent (MtCO2E) in 2015. In 2018, the sector saw 9.1 MTCO2E. The goal is to reach 6.4 MTCO2E by 2025.

READ MORE: Saskatchewan’s climate resiliency plan aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions

However, the oil sector saw major declines in production starting in 2015 when the price of oil declined.

The province had 3,613 oil and gas wells in 2014, which fell to 1,820 the next year with the price drop. As of the end of 2018, the number of wells grew to 2,554.

“That’s a good example of a measurement that over time we will have to look to perhaps refine depending on what other factors may be affecting those different measurements,” Duncan said.

“In certain years those emissions might be down, but that might be a factor of world conditions, world prices, pipeline capacity, etc. So again, this is a starting point for us.”

Duncan added this is a “living document”, and the door is open to revising measurements as needed depending on what relevant information is available.

Certain goals are being hit, like sequestering carbon in farmland through modern agricultural practices. The current goal is to maintain sequestration at 5.6 million tonnes of soil organic matter. According to Environment and Climate Change Canada data, this sequestration level has held since 2013.

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The targets also look at economic indicators, like farm income and an emission to GDP ratio. The latter has no hard target beside a general decline over the years.

“Regardless of what we do with our emissions – and emission reductions are an important part of our plan – regardless of what we do in Saskatchewan, that’s not going to have a dramatic effect on the overall global picture,” Duncan said.

“That’s an argument we’ve heard before. It’s sort of if everyone else is peeing in the pool why should I stop?” Opposition Leader Ryan Meili said.

Meili did not have a chance to go over the government report Tuesday afternoon as it was released while the MLAs were in session.

He maintained previous criticism of the province’s strategy, such as not enough planning to help average citizens reduce their carbon footprint.

“[Canada’s] the ninth largest emitter in the world. Saskatchewan is the largest per capita emitter in the country. We should be showing leadership, and if we don’t how do we possibly go to China, the U.S. and others say you should do better?” Meili said.

Duncan added more details of the Prairie Resilience plan will be established later this year, such as how the technology fund for heavy emitters will work.