Climate Change Advisory Panel needs broad mandate

Terms of Reference for Alberta’s Climate Change Advisory Panel

Submission by Green Party of Alberta to the Government of Alberta (Premier Rachel Notley; Minister of Environment, Shannon Phillips; Minister of Energy, Marg McCuaig-Boyd) and Dr. Andrew Leach, Chair of Alberta’s Climate Change Advisory Panel

Janet Keeping, Leader, Green Party of Alberta, July 8, 2015

[Note:  This document has been sent to the above named people with the request for a response.]

Introduction

The Green Party of Alberta is eager to see Alberta’s Climate Action Strategy be as good as it can be.  To that end, we want to see the terms of reference for the Advisory Panel be broad enough to accomplish the government’s stated goal of moving to “take leadership on the issue of climate change.” [1]

The kind of response needed to meet the challenge of climate change is societal in scope:  Alberta’s Climate Action Strategy needs to address more than just how the province and its citizens will reduce their GHG emissions.  It needs also to address how that goal is to be achieved in a way that nurtures the best forms of community and economic development.   The mandate of Alberta’s Climate Advisory Panel should reflect the full breadth of the problem.

We recognize there is insufficient time between now and the December negotiations in Paris to develop policy on all the matters that will eventually have to be addressed in the province’s Climate Change Strategy.  Nevertheless, besides providing input to the government on those policies that can be reviewed fully in the next few months, the Advisory Panel should be asked to report on the matters that remain to be addressed, even if it is only to note that they form part of the needed response and will have to be acted on in the near future.

The substantive goal of the province’s Strategy is obvious – to guide government action to reduce Albertans’ emissions of GHGs.  But there are two other important functions.  One is to inform and provide leadership for Albertans on the full range of changes that will need to be made to reduce those emissions.  The fuller the report of the Advisory Panel, the better informed Albertans will be as to what lies down the road, beyond the first crucial steps to be taken in the lead up to Paris.

The other function of the Strategy is to repair the damage that has been done to Alberta’s reputation globally by years of inaction and misleading propaganda by previous governments.  Premier Notley has noted the mistrust of Alberta that has developed on climate change.  The Alberta government has to go to Paris this fall with as comprehensive, intelligent and sincere a plan as possible to start to undo the reputation damage we have all suffered on the climate change front.  That plan should reflect the full range of measures needed to address climate change, even though precise policy determinations will (probably) not have been made on all aspects of it.  We have to show the world we actually understand the dimensions of the problem Alberta faces as a very high per-capita emitting jurisdiction, if we are to be taken seriously as part of the solution rather than a significant part of the problem.

Our comments in this document on the broad approach we believe the Advisory Panel should take to its work can be illustrative only.  We have not had sufficient time since the Advisory Panel was announced to prepare anything more comprehensive.

In giving our thoughts on the scope of the Panel’s work, we are guided as always by six Green principles:  ecological wisdom, non-violence, participatory democracy, respect for diversity, social justice and sustainability (http://greenpartyofalberta.ca/principles/).

Topics and questions that should be addressed by the panel

The following illustrate the scope of the mandate we think should be given to the Advisory Panel:

  • What steps should the Alberta government take to discourage the burning of carbon?
    1. What is the best way to put a price on carbon that is both comprehensive and sufficiently high so as to reduce emissions and make a significant contribution to moving the global benchmark for responsible carbon policy in the required direction?
    2. How can Alberta’s Climate Change Strategy maximize its effectiveness, particularly through a carbon pricing mechanism, by working in concert with other jurisdictions willing to jointly raise the level of ambition and commitment? For example, BC’s carbon tax has been at the same $30/tonne since 2012; would BC be willing to start slowly notching that upwards while Alberta moves more quickly, in order to reach a common price of $50/tonne by, say, 2020?
    3. How quickly can the province move to eliminate provincial subsidies to the fossil fuel industries? There are obvious subsidies, such as the excessively low royalties currently charged on coal;  others are more subtle;
    4. What can the Alberta government do to halt the expansion of the rate of oil sands development and to reduce it to a sustainable level? Is it feasible, for example, to buy back some of the leases already sold to industry?
    5. What is the fastest feasible time-table for phasing out coal-burning electricity plants in the province?
    6. Is there a role for burning natural gas as a transition between coal and renewables, or has the moment for that transition passed?

 

  • What positive steps should the provincial government take to increase the absorption of carbon by natural methods?
    1. Which land-uses should be promoted in the province to maximize absorption of carbon, for example, leaving forests and other absorptive vegetation intact?
    2. Which land-uses should be discouraged because they reduce eco-systems’ capacity to absorb GHGs?

 

  • How can the emission of other GHGs, such as methane, be effectively reduced?

 

  • How can the provincial government make it easier for Albertans to reduce their GHG emissions?

 

  1. How can the Alberta government do more to support energy conservation, the cheapest “source” of clean energy?
    1. Is Alberta government doing enough now to encourage retro-fitting of existing buildings? If not, what more should be done?
    2. Are building codes applicable in Alberta sufficiently stringent on energy conservation?
  • Are financing institutions playing an effective role in moving Albertans to greater energy conservation? Should property appraisals be required to take a “stranded assets” approach to valuation so buyers are alerted to the risk that energy-wasteful buildings will be worth less in the future?
  1. How can the provincial government ensure a more energy-conserving approach to urban development? For example:  provincial law could require that cities develop in less carbon-intensive ways, for example, by imposing density requirements in both new and established parts of our cities (resulting in less driving), and by requiring municipalities to charge developers the full allocation of costs to service the lands under development (making urban sprawl more costly);
  2. Are there parallel, realistic policy options for rural Albertans?
  1. What should the Alberta government be doing to support renewable energy development and use?
    1. How can Alberta’s legislative framework be made fair and workable for all renewables viable in Alberta? For example:
      • For geothermal energy drilling and production – there is no such framework now leaving geo-thermal at a significant disadvantage;
      • Public utility regulation could encourage micro-production from the point of view of pricing. How should the fixed costs of utilities be allocated so as to not discriminate against micro-producers?  Public utility regulation could also allow for a broader range of generation technologies, for example, not just micro-solar but also micro-wind;
      • Should builders be required by law to offer a renewable package to new home buyers, for example, solar panels and micro-wind?
      • How could provincial law facilitate more democratic forms of ownership of community-based renewable energy production, for example, co-op ownership of community-scale solar or geothermal projects?
      • How can provincial law ensure that the scale and nature of electricity-generating projects undertaken are most appropriate for the given location (the greenest solutions are usually as small and locally-controlled as possible)?  For example, geothermal could be the energy source for appropriately-sized communities where the resource is particularly good.  In other locations, community solar or wind farms could be appropriate;
    2. Should the provincial government use some of the proceeds of the carbon pricing system adopted to directly support renewable energy R&D, through universities, colleges, institutes of technology and grants to industry?
  • Should the provincial government use some of the proceeds of the carbon pricing system adopted to defray any resulting increased costs to low-income Albertans?
  • How can the Alberta government act to reduce GHG emissions in a manner that encourages to the maximum possible extent satisfying and sufficiently well-paying employment in the province? It is well-known that in, general, renewable energy industries create more jobs than the fossil fuel sector,[2] but how can the Alberta government act to the best advantage of Alberta workers in the transition from a high-carbon to a sustainable economy?  Other cross-cutting considerations are important too, such as the need always to protect the health of Albertans.  However, while most Albertans understand that greener is more healthy (pretty much by definition), they often fear (erroneously, but understandably) that greener (moving away from fossil fuels) is a threat to their employment and that of their children;

Conclusions

The Green Party of Alberta’s primary goal in making this submission on the Advisory Panel’s mandate is to urge the provincial government, and the Panel, to take a holistic, well-integrated approach to formulating Alberta’s response to climate change.  GHG emissions from Alberta sources must be reduced, of course.  But at the same time, the social and human development aspects of responding to the challenge of climate change must be addressed.

It is a whole way of life that has brought us to the point that we are threatened by our climate;  it is a whole way of life that needs to change to deal with that threat.  If the Government of Alberta reflects this understanding in development of its Climate Action Strategy, it will indeed be seen as having taken leadership on climate change.

[1] “Province takes meaningful steps toward climate change strategy,” Announcement by Alberta Government, June 25, 2015.

[2] See for example, http://cleantechnica.com/2015/06/23/investment-renewable-energy-yields-jobs-fossil-fuel-sector/

Comments 1

Leave a Reply