Chris Cook, Boston’s chief of environment, energy and open space.
“We do have to play our part. That’s a moral obligation.” Premier Jason Kenney, speaking about the climate march in Calgary on Sept 27, 2019
Climate change is happening, and it is impacting us economically and across all sectors. Alberta farmers, gardeners, bird watchers, First Nations trappers, oil companies and remote communities that rely on ice roads in the winter, water managers, fishermen, trail guides and outfitters have all seen the changes happening. Alberta’s municipalities, First Nations, businesses, and nonprofit organizations will be profoundly impacted, and will all have roles to play in mitigation and adaptation. We can rise to the challenge, however, with a supportive, predictable policy from our provincial government.
Climate instability and increasing extreme weather events benefit none of us. According to the Insurance Bureau of Canada, Alberta has recently experienced three of the most costly disasters in Canada's history, with the Fort McMurray wildfires at $3.58 billion, the 2013 southern Alberta floods at $1.7 billion, and a 2020 hailstorm that hit Calgary and caused $1.2 billion in insured damage. More recently, our 2023 spring saw 30, 000 Albertans evacuated from their homes while over 1 million hectares burned. Municipalities and other communities need stable, predictable support to guard against extreme weather events, and to recover from them.
We’re also impacted by events beyond our borders. During three recent summers, Albertans have had to curtail outdoor activities for weeks, because of smoke blowing in from record-breaking wildfires in BC. In a clear example of cascading impacts, some of the BC fires of 2021 were so hot they baked and hardened the soil, so that rainfall would just run off rather than soak down into the ground. This in turn made worse the floods of November 2021, which cut off the Port of Vancouver from the rest of Canada by road and rail, adding to supply chain troubles already brought on by the Covid-19 pandemic.
At the same time, businesses and investors the world over have been responding to the climate crisis. Wind and solar power generated 10.3% of global electricity in 2021, twice the amount in 2015 when the Paris Agreement was signed. With zero fuel cost, renewables stabilize electricity prices over time. Rooftop solar, in particular, creates a lot of local jobs and has negligible transmission costs, while big solar farms take advantage of economies of scale. In 2021 both Amazon and Budweiser signed long-term contracts for Alberta solar power from what will be the largest solar farms in Canada.
Conventional wisdom long held that demand would continue to grow for oil, gas and coal, and that Alberta could service that demand. Global demand for internal combustion vehicles peaked in 2018, however, and is being challenged more by electric vehicles. Hyundai no longer sells internal combustion vehicles in Norway; will that be the last company, or country, to make that shift? Heat pumps outsold gas furnaces in the US in 2022; how many jurisdictions will now design policies to support this clean, efficient, and increasingly affordable technology? And the war in Ukraine is accelerating the energy transition not only in Europe, but also in the Global South, long thought to be the next market for oil and gas.
The world is moving to a low-carbon economy, and here in Alberta with our renewable resources, our skilled workforce and highly regarded education system, and with an entrepreneurial spirit that has defined us for decades, we can do our part in meeting the global climate crisis while also taking economic advantage of that shift.
To do so, however, we need a robust and credible climate plan from our provincial government, no matter who is the leader or which party is in power. This would include emission reduction targets, timelines including the key year of 2030, and accountability measures to ensure targets are met. It would describe the means of reducing emissions, whether by pricing or regulating carbon, or by subsidies, in each sector. It would sift the hype from the facts about blue hydrogen, CCS, or other wild card technologies, and aim for genuine, substantive emission reductions. It would include ways of cooperating with other levels of government, as well as our First Nations. It would describe avenues of working with and supporting communities in adapting to the levels of climate change and extreme weather events that we can no longer avoid. And it would offer a vision of a prosperous Alberta engaging in the shift towards a clean, low-carbon future.
Our Provincial Government did, in fact, respond to broad pressure to show some movement on this file. Environment Minister Sonya Savage released the Government's new climate plan in March 2023.
Prof Andrew Leach at the U of A called it "a plan to make a plan", Prof Sara Hastings-Simon at the U of C tweeted "The year 2000 called; they want their climate plan back", and the Pembina Institute said it "lacks key elements of a credible strategy". Clearly, this offering is not one that meets the challenges of the moment.
Signatories to Climate Plan Alberta will not receive emails, or flyers, or further requests to act. The only commitment is simply to let the organization's name be publicly listed on this website and in related social media posts, usually the day after signing, in support of the call for a robust and credible climate plan for this Province that we love.