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Alberta’s New Head of Climate Change Plan, Diana McQueen, Blows Smoke While Province Fails to Act

“We will continue to have a strong economy while meeting the 2020 [climate] targets … and we will meet those.”

It was a bewildering statement, like something out of a poorly scripted political drama. The idea that within the next five years, Alberta  the province responsible for over 35 per cent of the country’s greenhouse gas emissions in 2012  would meet its emissions targets would be laughable if it weren’t so pathetic.

But that’s what was said.

And by Diana McQueen, a former minister of environment, no less. By the very person who’s now leading the revision of the province’s oft-delayed climate change framework.

Back in 2008, the Alberta government, then headed by Progressive Conservative leader Ed Stelmach, brought forward a fairly weighty climate change strategy. Goals were set, policies outlined.

“Our targets,” wrote Stelmach, “are based on sound research not wishful thinking.”

The strategy promised that by 2020, the province’s annual emissions would fall by 50 megatonnes below “business-as-usual” numbers  in 2008, that number was  232 megatonnes per year.

But according to Environment Canada’s most recent projections for emissions, Alberta’s annual output will instead grow to 287 megatonnes a year — an overall increase of 55 megatonnes, which means that the target (a 12 per cent increase from the 2005 number) will be missed by a full 27 Mt.

Removing bitumen from the oilsands will account for a great majority of that increase, the report noted. The resulting emissions from that process will practically wipe out all the reductions in Canadian emissions accomplished by retiring coal-fired power stations.

In other words, unless emissions from the Alberta oilsands are dramatically tempered in the next five years, the bitumen extraction industry will come close to single-handedly undoing all the hard work done by the rest of the country to rein in greenhouse gas emissions.

In the next five years, Ontario is projected to reduce its emissions by 37 megatonnes, Nova Scotia by eight, Quebec by six.

Alberta could wipe out all of that (and New Brunswick’s contributions while we’re at it).

But McQueen asserts that Alberta will live up to its goals.

McQueen’s Troubling Climate History

It’s not the first time McQueen, the former mayor of Drayton Valley, has made statements that were out of touch with reality.  

In 2011, when McQueen was environment minister, she denounced Kyoto because it “didn’t work for Canada without all the large emitters at the table.”

Then in 2013, McQueen told a Belgian news agency that the province had “taken some very strong movements … with regard to monitoring.”

But the Alberta Environmental Monitoring, Evaluation and Reporting Agency (thankfully reducible to the easy acronym of AEMERA), designed under McQueen’s watch, has been roundly criticized as a failure.

Alberta’s auditor general, Merwan Saher, condemned the agency’s work in his October 2014 report, noting the organization’s report for 2012-2013 took an egregious length of time to be made public. Saher said the report “lacked clarity and key information and contained inaccuracies” and that there was little actual information on the implementation of the monitoring program.

Now that Prentice has slashed Saher’s budget by a cool half-million, we can expect less review of the agency’s shortcomings.  

The agency serves as the primary body to oversee the responsibilities suggested in its title and yet the chair of the board is Lorne Taylor, former environment minister under Ralph Klein, and a serious hater of Kyoto. He gets paid $50,000 a year for that job, which requires a once-a-month, six-hour meeting.

On a side note: AEMERA is now looking for a new chief executive officer! Apply today. Warning: Might be a stressful gig.

Alberta’s False Climate Starts

Other nonstarters have plagued the governing party on its road to meeting 2020 targets.

In April 2013, then-premier Alison Redford hinted at an augmented carbon levy. The Specialized Gas Emitters Regulation (SGER), which has remained untouched in specifics since its inauguration in 2007, charges large emitters (those who emit more than 100,000 tonnes a year) a mere $15 for 12 per cent of all total emissions.

Definitely not a carbon tax. But it’s something, right?

Specifically, Redford briefly proposed a 40/40 framework as an addition of sorts to the regulation: that is, $40 would be charged for 40 per cent of emissions. Not at all in the realm suggested by the Pembina Institute – which recommended a legitimate carbon tax between the range of $100 and $150 per tonne  but again, an improvement! Unfortunately, that concept was quickly forgotten.

But none of the aforementioned examples – the monitoring agency or increased carbon levy – come close to the dashed promises of carbon capture and storage (CCS).

CCS was the foundational element of Alberta’s 2008 climate plan. The province committed $2 billion to the controversial technology.

Interestingly, now-premier Jim Prentice, called CCS a “science experiment” during his campaign for party leader but has since gone on to describe the technology as “game-changing” during a pro-Keystone XL pipeline tour in Washington, D.C.

Prentice did not mention that the remaining $700 million allocated to CCS advancement would be diverted for other purposes.

The abandonment of CCS leaves Alberta with effectively no plan to reduce per-barrel emissions from the oilsands, which have been on the rise since 2011 according to the Canadian Association for Petroleum Producers (CAPP). 

Which brings us back to McQueen.

She stated — as a public servant presumably expected to tell the truth to constituents — that the province she represents will achieve the respectable emissions reductions by 2020.

In reality, the oil and gas sector has increased emissions by more than 100 per cent in the opposite direction. And no one, including McQueen, seems to have any idea about how to turn that around. 

Image Credit: Diana McQueen via Twitter

James Wilt is a freelance journalist based in Winnipeg, Manitoba. He holds a journalism degree from Mount Royal University in…

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