Alberta politicians and local organizations had mixed reactions after the federal government unveiled its newest Emissions Reduction Plan on Tuesday.
The plan, which was tabled in the House of Commons Tuesday, called for the oil and gas sector to cut emissions by 42 per cent from current levels by 2030 in order for Canada to meet its new greenhouse gas targets.
The plan uses economic and emissions modelling to gauge the most affordable and feasible projects to aid Canada’s target to cut emissions by 2030 by 60 per cent of what they were in 2005.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau also urged the Canadian energy industry to use the massive bump in profits from the current surge in prices to fund a transition to cut their emissions.
“With record profits, this is the moment for the oil and gas sector to invest in the sustainable future that will be good for business, good for communities and good for our future,” Trudeau said at the Globe Forum sustainability conference in Vancouver on Tuesday.
Public Interest Alberta, a non-profit advocacy organization based in Edmonton, said the federal climate targets are insufficient to avoid the worst outcomes of climate change. In a press release published on Tuesday, the advocacy group said a more ambitious goal is needed to protect the planet.
“While the 2030 climate target plan has some great investments including investments in conservation and in the Indigenous Leadership Fund, the plan lets oil and gas production off the hook,” Bradley Lafortune, Public Interest Alberta’s executive director, said.
“Quite simply, the goal of net zero by 2050 is insufficient… When oil and gas barons are comfortable with a climate target, it’s a surefire indication that it is not even close to ambitious enough.”
Meanwhile, the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP) said Canada’s energy sector is a key contributor to reducing global emissions while meeting the growing demand for natural gas and oil. CAPP’s executive vice-president Terry Abel said Canada can help lower global greenhouse gas emissions by exporting Canadian liquefied natural gas to displace the use of coal.
“At the same time, Canadian producers are global leaders in emissions-reducing technologies, including the advancement of carbon capture,” Abel said.
The Calgary Chamber of Commerce echoed CAPP’s stance and said the plan relies on a regulatory framework that supports stable and certain investments into technology for the oil and gas sector.
“While commodity prices have recently resulted in high-profit margins for energy, they are inflated by a tenuous geopolitical situation that we hope is short-lived,” the Calgary Chamber of Commerce said in a press release on Tuesday. “Industry will therefore require government investment in technology through public-private partnerships.”
Politicians urge Trudeau to recognize emissions reduction in energy sector
Provincial MLAs and MPs from all parties urged Trudeau to recognize the work Canada’s energy sector has taken to reduce carbon emissions.
Alberta NDP leader Rachel Notley slammed the federal Emissions Reduction Plan on Tuesday, calling it a “fantasy” that obstructs real solutions to combat climate change. She pointed to the party’s commitment to an economy-wide goal of net zero by 2050, which she said many energy producers have committed to.
“A real plan must protect Alberta workers and their families. A real plan must engage with Alberta’s energy industry,” Notley said.
“Without massive changes in technology across every sector and huge changes in global energy demand, reaching the 2030 target — in just over seven years — is fantasy.”
Calgary Nose Hill MP Michelle Rempel Garner said Trudeau should have respected provincial caps on emissions in specific industries instead of imposing a federal cap without provincial approval. Trudeau’s announcement failed to acknowledge the energy sector’s contributions to reducing carbon emissions in Canada, she said.
“(Trudeau’s announcement) should also have spoken to ways to reduce cost of living and provide Canadians with low cost, readily available alternatives… It failed to do so,” she said.
Reducing emissions in Alberta will be a challenge, experts say
Reducing emissions in Alberta’s oil and gas sector is a big challenge in itself, according to experts.
Sara Hastings-Simon, an associate professor at the University of Calgary who has studied climate policy and carbon pricing, said the emissions intensity of crude produced from the oil sands is still substantially higher than the global average.
“That’s not because of the lack of effort, but in large part due to the inherent nature resource… There’s still a lot of heavy lifting that needs to be done in that sector,” she said.
The federal plan also mirrors what many large oil producers have committed to, she said. There are a lot of opportunities for the Alberta government to invest in renewable energy sources, such as wind and solar projects, and alternative natural resources for electricity production.
The economic and partnership incentives outlined in the plan will benefit Alberta and enable it to build more alternative energy solutions.
“There is talk of commitment to building out ties between provinces and that would really benefit Alberta,” she said. “Many of these projects are also coming at a lower cost than fossil alternatives, so I see a real opportunity on the renewable energy side.”
But these types of investments are both a federal and provincial commitment, Simon said.
“There is a lot of provincial jurisdiction over the operation of the electrical systems within the province but the federal government does have a significant amount of jurisdiction. It’s something that they haven’t really exercised a lot in the past,” she said.
Alberta must also have an honest conversation about the carbon tax and other green energy policies to achieve these goals, Hastings-Simon said.
“I think a lot of the conversation in Alberta is missing the reality of how (carbon) pricing works. It leads to an uncertainty about the future of carbon prices,” Simon said. “There has to be a strong political consensus to provide market trust around carbon pricing. It will be a really good thing for climate policy in Canada.”