Tar Secret #3: Alberta exempts 96% of climate pollution from carbon fees or climate action

The "Tar Secrets" series delivers you essential climate facts missing from government and tar sands marketing spin. Previous articles in this series revealed tar sands impact v US coal and tar sands share of GDP.

In a nutshell

What the tar sands industry says

We are climate leaders: "Alberta is regulating GHG emissions in the oil sands region by being the only jurisdiction in North America with mandatory reduction targets for large emitters across all sectors." Specifically, Alberta requires large climate polluters to pay $15 for every tonne of CO2 that exceeds their limits.

What they leave out

Alberta exempts 96% of their provincial climate pollution.

Last year, only 2% of Alberta's climate pollution paid the $15 carbon fine. That worked out to just 24 cents per tonne of climate pollution in the province's economy. It was less than nine cents per barrel of tar sands bitumen.

In contrast, 70% of climate emissions in BC have to pay our $30 carbon tax.  The result is that BC charged 70 times more in carbon fees per tonne of climate pollution in their economy.

According to Environment Canada, Alberta's current climate policies are too weak to prevent their emissions from increasing dramatically by 2020. All of this increase in emissions will be caused by the tar sands industry.

The negative consequences of Alberta's ineffective climate policies will spread far beyond their provincial borders. Environment Canada projects that Alberta's surging emissions will equal 80% of our national failure to meet our global "Copenhagen Accord" climate commitment.

At a glance

My three charts below provide different views of Alberta's climate pollution problem. The first shows how Alberta climate policies have been applied to past emissions. The next two show Environment Canada (EC) projections for Alberta's climate pollution in 2020.

CHART 1: Alberta policies exempt 96% of climate pollution



  • 96% of emissions are exempt (black bars)
    As you can quickly see, Alberta exempts around 96% of their province's CO2 emissions from their $15 carbon fee -- or from any other action to reduce the pollution.
  • 2% paid carbon fine (orange bars)
    Of the 4% of Alberta's emissions that need to do something, about half decided to pay Alberta's $15 carbon fine
  • 2% reduced emissions (green bars)
    The large polluters responsible for these 2% of emissions opted to reduce emissions or pay someone else to do it, rather than pay the $15 carbon fine.
  • climate pollution has risen
    So far, Alberta's climate polices have not reduced the province's total climate pollution. Climate pollution has increased 6% since 2005, and 46% since 1990.

That is the past, what about the future? Take a look…

CHART 2: Alberta policies lead to soaring emissions

My next chart shows Environment Canada's 2020 projections for Alberta's climate pollution under current climate policies.



  • Canada's climate commitment (green arrow)
    Prime Minister Harper officially committed Canada to reduce climate pollution to 83% of 2005 levels by the year 2020. The green arrow shows this commitment applied to Alberta. The green line shows where Alberta pollution should end up in 2020 if they are to do their equal share in meeting our national commitment.
  • Alberta's projected emissions (grey arrow)
    Environment Canada projects Alberta's CO2 pollution will surge 25% higher under current climate policies.
  • 50% over target
    Alberta's emissions are projected to be 50% higher than their equal share of our national commitment. Their pollution excess above this 2020 target is projected to be 93 million tonnes of CO2 (MtCO2) per year.
  • tar sands expansion after 2005 (red bars) is driving failure
    Surging climate pollution levels from the tar sands industry are projected to cause all of the increase in Alberta's CO2 between 2005 and 2020. This extra tar sands pollution is also projected to cause 75% of Alberta's failure to do its equal share of our national commitment.


In 2009, Prime Minister Stephen Harper pledged that Canada would decrease our CO2 pollution by 17% of 2005 level by the year 2020. This is Canada's official climate target and is part of the "Copenhagen Accord" of nations. The USA has the exact same climate target under this accord.

However, Environment Canada predicts that under current climate policies Alberta's emissions will surge upwards by 25% instead. This "wrong way Alberta" surge will be caused by a 225% rise in tar sands industry pollution.

In absolute terms, the tar sands industry will increase climate pollution by 72 MtCO2 per year by 2020. For perspective, this is equivalent to BC and Manitoba deciding to double their combined provincial climate pollution levels in just 15 years.

My chart shows tar sands emissions in two different colours. Emissions equal to their 2005 baseline level are represented as dark brown bars. Emissions that exceed their 2005 levels are placed on top in bright red bars. Note:

  • The tar sands are projected to cause all of the increase in Alberta's emissions.
  • Alberta's emissions would actually fall 10% by 2020 if not for the expansion of tar sands pollution.

Alberta's ineffective climate policies are driving climate failure inside Alberta. Unfortunately, the impact spreads much wider than their borders, as my next chart shows all too clearly.

CHART 3: Alberta policies driving national climate failure

More in Climate Snapshot

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A flood of mega-carbon projects threaten to quickly turn British Columbia into one of the world's dirtiest economies.

Car Carbon series: cool new animation, plus the jaw-dropping impact it left out

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