By Janet Keeping, leader of the Green Party of Alberta
Leaked Cabinet documents show Ontario poised to take aggressive measures to get off carbon. The Ontario government plans a host of measures ranging from ending the use of natural gas to heat homes to converting provincial vehicles to electric power. There could be changes to the program before its formal adoption. But it looks like Ontario will be taking truly robust measures to meet the challenges of climate change. There is a message in this for Albertans: we too must take decisive steps to lower our dependency on fossil fuel industries or risk becoming an ever more stagnant backwater as businesses and jobs go elsewhere.
It’s well-known: there is a vast difference between Ontario’s and Alberta’s GHG emissions. With 38.5 % of Canada’s population, Ontario is responsible for 23% of Canadian emissions. With a far smaller percentage of the population (11.7 %) Alberta is responsible for a whopping 37% of national emissions. The implications are grim for Alberta: we have an even bigger task ahead of us. And pleading exceptional circumstances in our defense – it’s true that many of our emissions result from producing resources consumed elsewhere – will be to no avail when renewable energy investment money flows to Ontario and the other jurisdictions moving with the times and Alberta is left in the much impoverished and environmentally damaged dust.
Here’s the unavoidable thing: the future belongs to renewable energy. The Alberta government should stop wasting time and political capital on cheerleading for pipelines that will probably in any event never to be built (for lack of local and indigenous support, if nothing else) and get quickly with the renewable energy program.
For a whole host of reasons – climate change is but one important one; soil, water and traditional air pollution are some of the others – the oil sands should diminish in size and rate of production. And if that were to happen, no new pipelines would be needed.
And, no, to say the oil sands should diminish does not mean the industry should face immediate demise. It should not be all or nothing for oil and gas in Alberta, but slower and less. Some oil and gas will be needed for a long time to come – maybe forever – but in ever smaller volumes.
Not only is expansion of the oil sands wrong, it is also self-defeating: as economist Jeff Rubin puts it, if the oil sands continue to expand, the Canadian economy will become “obsolete and non-competitive.”
The evidence of climate change is relentless. On the same day we learn of the bold Ontario plan, The Guardian newspaper tell us that April 2016 was the hottest April ever and that it was “the seventh month in a row to have broken global temperature records. The latest figures smashed the previous record for April by the largest margin ever recorded.”
It’s a painful irony that Alberta has been hit by extreme weather events – floods, drought and fires – harder than any other province in recent years. As I write the Fort McMurray fire continues to rage, circling back and threatening the city again. And yet the cheerleading for oil sands expansion and every pipeline in sight to facilitate that expansion also continue apace.
The writing on the wall could not be clearer: GHG emissions have to be cut, indeed slashed. It is really, truly too bad that Alberta has been held so far back by its so-called “advantage” (lots of oil and gas). But “too bad” isn’t going to cut it with investors who are looking to put their money with the future’s winners not losers.
Alberta has to make real change, and for sure the ND government’s lame and embarrassingly named “Climate Leadership Plan” doesn’t make the grade, for the simple, mind-boggling reason that it does not reduce Alberta’s GHG emissions. And no amount of breast-beating over our “great” oil and gas history will distract from the fact we are climate change laggards.
The tragedy is it doesn’t have to be this way. Alberta has as much or more renewable potential than any other jurisdiction in Canada – we have wind, solar and geothermal galore. But the dead weight of oil and gas drags us down, pins us down and so far isn’t letting us go. The NDs have the political and legal power to get out from that suffocating grasp but they – from the premier to the energy minister on down – have been intimidated by the oil and gas industry and now seem to sing from the same industry song sheet.
As Ontario and other parts of Canada set themselves up to flourish in the new renewable energy era, Alberta’s political leaders declare themselves fans of all things pipeline and leave promising renewables, such as geothermal, languishing without the legislative framework that would give them the chance to take-off.
It’s time for real climate leadership in Alberta, not sloganeering.
An abbreviated version of this blog was published by Troy Media here: http://www.troymedia.com/2016/05/18/by-janet-keeping/