“Trying to meet emissions reduction targets in Canada without Alberta’s full support is like trying to leave the house with a toddler wrapped around your ankles. Sure, you might be able to move, but you won’t get far or go fast.”
Journalist Max Fawcett, former editor of Alberta Oil magazine
Thanks in no small part to years of engagement and pressure from local activists such as the Calgary Climate Hub, Calgary City Council declared a climate emergency and later passed, in a contentious vote, an extensive and meaningful climate plan. The City of Edmonton also passed a climate emergency and, after years of already taking modest low-carbon actions, is already somewhat further ahead of Calgary. Further south, the Town of Raymond has taken big steps in installing rooftop solar systems and has reached net-zero status, producing enough energy during the summer to offset their high grid-powered demand in the winter.
At the federal level the Liberals, meanwhile, have survived two elections with carbon pricing and climate action in their platform and they now promise a whole-of-government approach to dealing with the climate crisis. Of course they need their feet held to the fire to ensure they follow through on oil sector emissions caps, Just Transition legislation, home efficiency upgrades and numerous other programs, but there can be no doubt that the federal government is acting more seriously on climate change than Stephen Harper’s government ever did.
As energy journalist Markham Hislop of Energi Media has said, however, “Provinces have the constitutional jurisdiction to do much of the on-the-ground regulation and other policy work that needs to be done for energy and climate. The federal government can guide, fund, cajole and do all sorts of things, but they cannot direct.”
Alberta is head and shoulders above any other Canadian Province in our GHG emissions, and both the feds and our own municipalities need to have a cooperative partner at the provincial level in Alberta if we are to achieve anything close to our share of the emissions reductions that will keep hope alive for 1.5℃ of global warming, above pre-industrial levels. We’ve reached 1.1℃ of warming already, and look at the levels of droughts, heat waves, wildfires, and sea level rise that we’re seeing now. What horrors would the 2℃level bring us, a level previously thought to be relatively safe?
Cooperation on climate action, however, is pretty scarce in Alberta’s legislature. When the feds put out their climate plan in the spring of 2022, did Alberta’s politicians look for areas of common ground? Did they talk about Alberta’s own efforts, and perhaps a bold new plan? Sadly, no. As Max Fawcett noted in his article Trudeau’s ambitious climate plan runs right through Alberta, Premier Kenney and two of his Ministers attacked the federal plan; Environment Minister Jason Nixon called it “insane”. Opposition Leader Rachel Notley called it “a fantasy”. More recently, the simple words “Just Transition”, even without any detailed legislation on offer, caused Premier Smith to pick (another) fight with Ottawa, while Rachel Notley of the NDP urged the federal government to shelve the idea for the time being.
Climate is not just an environmental issue, however dire those consequences may be. Spurred by health warnings regarding both combustion fumes and leaks, many people are switching from gas stoves to electric and last summer, Victoria BC joined 50 US Cities, including New York City, which have banned the construction of natural gas infrastructure in new homes or buildings.
Climate is also an economic issue. Heat pumps outsold gas furnaces in the US in 2022. Eight Cities in California have banned the construction of new gas stations; will they be the last? Automakers are pivoting to electric vehicles, with $1.2 trillion in funds already committed between now and 2030. Electric buses are already taking over the market in local transport, especially in the developing world. The Foreign Policy Research Institute based in Philadelphia said this spring that “Russian President Vladimir Putin may be hailed instead as Putin the Green, the man who convinced Europe to give up dependence on fossil fuels.” China, the world's largest market, announced this summer that they will reach peak demand for gasoline in 2023, and for diesel in 2025. Where China leads, many countries will follow. And after a peak, comes a decline.
Meanwhile in Alberta our political leaders are talking about supplying persistent global oil and gas demand for decades to come. Does this seem like a good business plan to you?
Hoping to build upon that business plan, our Provincial Government, and oil industry groups like the Pathways Alliance who ask for billions in taxpayer dollars to subsidize carbon capture and storage projects, promise to bring us to net-zero emissions by 2050. Mother Nature, however, neither waits nor negotiates, and the climate crisis is worsening today, month after month and year after year.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) says we need to reduce GHG emissions 43% by 2030, and methane emissions 1/3 by the same time, in order to hold global warming to 1.5℃. Glowing 2050 targets are all well and good, but we need dramatic reductions far sooner. If we fail at that task, the consequences rise steeply.
So there’s a long way to go, and the key target year of 2030 is now only seven years away. We need a committed and multi-faceted campaign bringing pressure to bear for strong climate action at the provincial level.
There are, so far, 77 businesses, non-profit Associations and faith groups signed on to the Climate Plan Alberta website, urging a robust and credible climate plan from the Province. This is a non-partisan chorus of voices, and the message is intended for the Alberta Government regardless of which leader or party is in power.
The largest rally Canada has ever seen was organized on the issue of climate change. That one was in Montreal, but climate rallies were held across Canada on the same day, and in response Alberta Premier Jason Kenney said “We do have to play our part. That’s a moral obligation.” People taking to the streets is an essential tool in raising awareness and pressure to act.
Another way to engage more Albertans on these issues is to talk to them, and there are popular radio shows and podcasts that do that every week; some every day. CBC’s offers include West of Centre, Alberta@Noon, or Front Burner. Others include The Strategists, Real Talk with Ryan Jesperson, and the aforementioned Energi Media; we can reach out to all of these and urge them to do episodes focussed on the urgent need for Alberta climate action.
Alberta is head and shoulders above every other Canadian Province in our GHG emissions. Due to international climate action and the rapidly falling price of renewables and other clean technologies, fossil fuel demand is slowing and will begin to fall. No other Province is as vulnerable as Alberta to dramatic changes in the energy sector and, especially here, we need make climate the lens through which we make all our decisions going forward.