NDP says UCP MLA’s comments about climate change hurt Alberta’s ability to attract investment

Garth Rowswell, the UCP MLA for Vermilion-Lloydminster-Wainwright, speaks in the Alberta legislature on Oct. 28, 2020. CREDIT: Legislative Assembly of Alberta

After a UCP MLA’s statement in the Alberta legislature on Wednesday expressed skepticism about the effects of climate change, the leader of the Opposition called on Premier Jason Kenney to publicly reject the comments.

“The science on climate change is settled,” NDP Leader Rachel Notley said in a news release.

“We cannot expect to attract investment to this province when members of the governing party are denying the science of climate change.”

Notley was responding to comments made by Garth Rowswell, the UCP MLA for Vermilion-Lloydminster-Wainwright.

Rowswell’s statement referenced a letter to the United Nations secretary-general signed by 500 people — including some scientists — that argues there is no climate emergency and questions what impact climate change has had on the Earth.

“Michael Shellenberger, a famed environmental activist, argued against the alarmist rhetoric by the supposed experts,” Rowswell told the legislature. “It is important to recognize that the dominant narrative is not the only narrative.

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“In 2001, the government of Canada produced a pamphlet making several predictions from sea level increases to prairie crop yield devastation… It’s been 20 years and virtually all of these catastrophic predictions have proven not to be true. In fact, across the province, we are reporting above-average or record high yields.”

Rowswell added that he believes there is an effort by “extremist agitators and malcontents, who stand against capitalism and free markets, to undermine our great energy industry.”

“Access to fossil fuel-derived energy has been one of if not the greatest thing that has happened to the human race,” he said. “We need to expand the use of fossil fuels — not restrict them.

“I’m proud that the Alberta government eliminated the oppressive carbon tax and continues to fight the federal government on this front.”

Rowswell also noted that he believes the energy sector is critical to Alberta’s economic recovery and jobs in the industry will be there in the future, not just in the short term.

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Notley agreed that Alberta is a province that relies on the non-renewable energy sector, but added that she believes “it is critical that our efforts to reduce emissions are taken seriously.”

“The efforts of industry leaders and the public service will be utterly dismissed if statements like that from the governing caucus are allowed,” she said.

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On Thursday, a spokesperson for Environment Minister Jason Nixon told Global News “all MLAs are entitled to make member’s statements in the legislature,” and added the the premier and the government acknowledge that “mankind is contributing to climate change, and that Alberta must take action.”

“And we are taking action, namely through proven emissions-reducing technology funded by the industry-supported TIER program and improving avenues to develop cleaner-burning natural gas in the province,” Jess Sinclair wrote in an email.

“This is shameful,” Notley said of Rowswell’s remarks. “It’s damaging to our economy at a time when we need a new strategy to create jobs and spur growth.

“I call on Jason Kenney to immediately disavow these comments from his MLA.”

Watch below: Global News video from May 2020.

Click to play video: 'Norway’s wealth fund excludes oilsands investments over greenhouse gas emissions'
Norway’s wealth fund excludes oilsands investments over greenhouse gas emissions

Last year, Kenney told reporters that “broadly, the United Conservatives accept the scientific consensus around anthropogenic climate change.”

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“(But) there’s a spectrum of views about this,” he said. “This is not a party with some kind of rigid, ideological orthodoxy that everybody has to sign up to.”

READ MORE: Kenney says while he believes humans cause climate change, not all UCP members have to agree on that

This summer, a UN weather agency said the world could see average global temperatures 1.5 C above the pre-industrial average for the first time in the next five years.

The 1.5 C mark is the level to which countries around the world have agreed to try to limit global warming.

READ MORE: World could hit 1.5 C warming threshold in next few years, UN warns

An Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report has found “human-induced warming” reached approximately 1 C above pre-industrial levels in 2017.

Earlier this year, a report prepared by climate scientists and published on an Alberta government website projected the province will warm faster than the rest of the planet because of human activity.

READ MORE: Alberta government took six months to release alarming climate report 

Watch below: Global News video from February 2020. 

Click to play video: 'Alberta government releases report on province’s climate future'
Alberta government releases report on province’s climate future

“Projected changes will profoundly impact Alberta’s natural environment and have the potential to affect the province’s agriculture, infrastructure and natural resources, as well as the health and welfare of its inhabitants,” read the report, co-authored by Canadian climate scientist Katharine Hayhoe and postdoctoral research fellow Anne Stoner from Texas Tech University.

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Last year, the largest pension fund in Norway removed four Canadian energy names from its investment list and said it will no longer invest in companies that derive more than five per cent of their revenue from the oilsands, arguing oilsands development is not aligned with global warming targets under the Paris Climate Agreement.

READ MORE: Norwegian fund excludes four Canadian firms as it exits oilsands investments

“By going coal and oilsands free, we are sending a strong message on the urgency of shifting from fossil to renewable energy,” said KLP CEO Sverre Thornes in a statement.

–With files from Global News’ Mike De Souza and Heather Yourex-West, The Canadian Press’ Dan Healing and Lauren Krugel, and The Associated Press

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