Alberta set to fail on emissions targets: Pembina report

A new report from the Pembina Institute calls for a shift in Alberta’s greenhouse gas policies, and the province says they’re open to suggestions.

Oil sands operations in Fort McMurray. Photo by Eryn Rickard.

Alberta is on track to fall short of emissions targets for 2020 unless they take steps to adjust current greenhouse gas policy, according to a new report from the Pembina Institute.

“By 2020, Alberta’s climate policies were expected or committed to reduce emissions by 50 megatonnes below business-as-usual,” said Pembina policy director Simon Dyer, one of the report’s authors. 

Their analysis found that the Alberta government’s current regulations “fall far short of its emissions targets”, with increasing oil sands development presenting major roadblock.

In a media briefing this morning, Dyer outlined three of the major policy initiatives the province has taken on to reduce emissions, including Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) efforts and the Specified Gas Emitters Regulation (SGER) – which essentially puts a price on carbon for large emitters. While he acknowledged Alberta for being the first jurisdiction in North America to put a price on emissions, he suggested that the current policies don’t pack enough punch to reach climate goals.

“[The province] doesn’t really have a high enough price on pollution to incent the kind of reductions that we need to see,” Dyer said.

“Alberta has built a car here, but it’s missing the engine of a strong carbon price or a strong signal to reduce greenhouse gas pollution.”

Under existing SGER rules, companies emitting more than 100,000 tonnes of greenhouse gases per year are required to reduce emissions by 12 per cent. If they don’t meet those targets, emitters can also comply by purchasing offset credits and making payments into the Climate Change Emissions Management Fund (CCEMF), to be invested in reduction efforts and developing new efficiency technologies.

“The Pembina Institute certainly supports the idea of using this carbon pricing to achieve further emission reductions, and the Climate Change Emissions Management Corporation (CCEMC) does seem to be investing in a full range of technology types and recognizing the need for near-term reductions,” said Dyer, though he noted that the group managing the fund has its weaknesses.

“The CCEMC board is currently dominated by large emitter industry representatives," he said. "And it doesn’t really have strong representation from clean technology or transportation sectors.”

Pembina’s recommendations include strengthening the CCEMC by encouraging involvement from clean economy sectors, along with increasing the current ceiling carbon price from $15 per tonne to $30 or more. The authors also paid special attention to tar sands development, recommending that officials moderate the approval rate for new oil sands projects.

Jessica Potter, a spokesperson for Alberta Environment and Water, said the government is open to these recommendations and welcomes the opportunity to engage with environmental groups.

“We appreciate the constructive criticism from the Pembina Institute, and we’re looking forward to talking with them further,” said Potter. “This is a positive thing.”

Potter agreed that there’s still more to be done to push forward and meet emissions targets. But the notion of limiting development in the oil sands may not be an easy sell.

“The oil sands are in a position to meet the growing global demand, and it’s increasing. It has to be met somewhere,” Potter said.

“We’re a major energy-producing jurisdiction, but we have responsible and stringent environmental regulations. So we think we’re in a good position to meet that global demand while being responsible.” 

As for boosting the price on carbon, Potter says it’s something the government will carefully consider.

“We’ve always said that our price on carbon was a starting point. We support a higher price on carbon, but other jurisdictions need to be on board,” she said.

According to Dyer, the Pembina report was not meant to throw out the province’s current policies but to provide constructive feedback to help make them stronger. However, to meet ambitious goals by the year 2020, environmentalists say the province will have to act fast in making some key adjustments.

“The absolute growth in greenhouse gas emissions from Alberta between the period of 1990 to 2009 exceeds any other jurisdiction in the US or Canada,” said Dyer.

“So it’s obviously critically important that Alberta has strong policies in order to address this trend.”

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