Tory climate change plan ‘shockingly irresponsible’

Alberta to allow emissions to increase for 12 more years

As the energy industry cheers the provincial government’s recently announced “climate change action plan” as a reasonable way to cut emissions the plan is getting a markedly different reception from opposition parties and environmental watchdogs who describe it as “backwards-thinking” and “shockingly irresponsible.”

The plan which Premier Ed Stelmach says “ensures environmental protection while allowing for continued economic growth” allows greenhouse gas emissions in the province to increase for 12 more years. “To put it bluntly we were just shocked by [the plan]” says Marlo Raynolds the Pembina Institute’s executive director. “It’s so shockingly irresponsible.” Alberta currently produces just under one-third of the country’s total greenhouse gas emissions much of which comes from the oilsands.

The government says its plan is realistic and will reduce “projected emissions” by 50 per cent by 2050. According to the plan carbon capture and storage — an expensive technology that’s still being developed — will account for most of this reduction. “The premise of the plan acknowledges that it takes time to scale up the technology to get it in place” says David Pryce a spokesperson for the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers. “So when you look at the targets that are put out they get tougher over time and that’s to accommodate the lead time that you need.”

The reduction of “projected emissions” is much different than a reduction of current emissions. By 2050 emissions will only be cut by 14 per cent of 2005 levels according to the plan. This goal falls well short of Kyoto targets as well as targets set by the federal government. (Harper has said Canada will reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 60 to 70 per cent by 2050.) “It’s so wimpy” says Raynolds. “The commitments at the provincial level do not allow us to make our already weak national commitment.” By contrast B.C. plans to cut emissions by 33 per cent of current levels by 2020. “Provinces like B.C. are really trying to be proactive on reducing greenhouse gas emissions” says Raynolds. “But every initiative and every effort they make will be for naught if Alberta doesn’t do its fair share.”

Opposition parties have panned the plan as a big mistake from a faltering government. “It’s essentially confirmed our own sense that the leadership is really absent in this province either because of fear of affecting business or because of an ingrained doubt about the validity of climate science” says Liberal MLA and environment critic David Swann. “Within five years of being elected we would have a hard cap on emissions coming out of Alberta.” However Swann says he’s not sure exactly what that hard cap would be. One option he says would be to cap emissions at projected 2013 levels. The other option he says would be to “pick a fixed limit that appears to be achievable.” “I don’t know yet which one we’ll choose” says Swann.

Julie Hrdlicka the Alberta NDP candidate in the riding of Calgary Fort says the “backwards-thinking” Conservative plan shows a disregard for the people of the province. “[The Conservatives] are so arrogant and they’re so privileged they have no idea about what’s happening in the lives of Albertans” says Hrdlicka. “And they quite honestly don’t care. This lack of environmental initiative is one prime example of who they really care about — and that’s the oil industry.” The NDP is calling on the government to slow oilsands development to a more sustainable pace.

Days after the climate change plan was released Stelmach took even more heat for skipping a January 29 meeting of Canada’s premiers in Vancouver to discuss climate change. (The premier was in Alberta on the 28th but left that evening so he could make funding announcements on the 29th while the other premiers discussed climate change.) The Globe and Mail called Stelmach’s absence an “inexcusable snub.”

Raynolds says growth in the oilsands should be limited until carbon-capture technology has been fully developed and is in common usage — “no further approvals of new projects until we figure this out” he says. “The number of projects that have approvals right now is huge and we don’t even have the construction person-power to build what already has approvals between now and 2015.”