As support for the separatist Wexit Alberta movement grows, so too does an image of Alberta, independent from Canada. As a country, Alberta would lead in greenhouse gas emissions per capita, nearly tripling that of higher emitting nations, academics say.
According to the 2019 World Population Review, at 62.4 tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e) in Alberta more than doubles the emissions of Saudi Arabia at 16.85 tonnes per person. By contrast, Australia had 15.83 and the United States had 15.53.
In 2017, the government of Canada listed Alberta’s emissions per capita as the second highest among the provinces – more than three times the national average of 19.4 tonnes per capita. Its most recent data showed Alberta accounted for nearly 40 per cent of Canada’s total greenhouse gas emissions.
As one of the highest emitters in the world on a per capita basis, Alberta’s quest for separation might be putting more pressure on itself to reduce its emissions than it realizes, said Nicholas River, a professor at the University of Ottawa and Canada Research Chair in Climate and Energy Policy.
Currently, there are no international rules that govern the amount of emissions a country can produce. Climate policy is basically done on a voluntary basis by countries, River said. While, as a country, Alberta would be free from Canada’s climate policies and carbon tax, it would still be subject to global pressure.
“If Alberta were to secede, it would be subject to the same peer pressure as other countries are subject to, and potentially as one of the now biggest emitting countries on a per capita basis in the world, they would be subject to even more peer pressure.”
Félix-A. Boudreault, partner and co-founder of Sustainable Market Strategies, said Alberta’s high levels of per capita emissions come from their reliance on oilsands, heavy oil production and coal-fired electricity generation, whereas other provinces like Ontario and British Columbia rely on hydro-electric generation and have fewer large industrial emitters.
Globally, he said there is a “clear trend towards transitioning to a low-carbon economy,” which could spell trouble for the would-be country.
“Alberta being extremely resource-rich, like fossil fuels, resource-rich and with a relatively small population, it makes the ratio totally out of whack,” he said. “Their economy is so focused on the one resource. It’s not a good position to be in when you want to be a country.”
Wexit is a burgeoning political movement stemming from Western Canada’s dissatisfaction with the federal government.
The recent western separatist movement is spearheaded by Albertan Peter Downing, who wants a referendum on separation from Canada. On Monday, Elections Canada said it received Wexit Canada’s application for federal party status. Over the weekend, hundreds gathered for a Wexit rally in Edmonton, and penned letters to Alberta’s Premier Jason Kenney.
Albertan separatism was first established in the early 1900s, but it re-surged following comments from Trudeau about phasing out Alberta’s oilsands, a key driver of the province’s economy. According to the government of Canada, Alberta’s oilsands have an estimated $313 billion of capital investment to date, including $10.4 billion in 2018.
Boudreault, who wrote a study called By the Numbers: Canadian GHG Emissions, said the environmental impact of the oilsands was a key component of Alberta’s greenhouse gas emissions. According to Boudreault, the oil needs to be heated in order to be extracted from underneath the tar, which takes up more energy.
“They would face a very difficult situation where their product is constantly targeted as being dirty,” Boudreault said of Alberta. “It’s difficult to see how they could significantly improve that performance just because of the nature of the product, the fact that it’s such a heavy type of oil.”
“It will always require more energy or some type of solvent technology that doesn’t really exist yet at the commercial scale,” he said.
But Downing disagrees, saying an independent Alberta could encourage its students and engineers to further develop carbon capture and storage technology, which involves trapping carbon dioxide at its emission source, transporting it to a storage location (usually deep underground) and isolating it.
“Alberta is not the problem,” he said. “We would definitely pump more money into research and development to improve that technology further, to make it the most competitive technology in the world and allow that to be exported to markets like China and India to solve real problems, real pollution problems.”