A climate change plan released on January 24th by the Alberta government to reduce 200-megatonnes of greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 is just the first step in the long road the province must travel to curb its greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. At this stage the plan resembles more a 'statement of intentions' and lacks all important details on how the targets will be reached. Many feel it does not adequately address oil sands-related greenhouse gas emissions or Alberta's actual share of Canada's total emissions.
The plan identifies three areas of focus for emission reductions: carbon capture and storage, conserving and using energy efficiently and greening energy production.
Carbon capture and storage is the process of capturing carbon dioxide emissions and injecting it into the ground where the CO2 remains trapped in geological formations. To date, there have bee no carbon capture and storage projects implemented for large scale operations such as the oil sands.
Alberta Premier Ed Stelmach, said that Alberta, with its unique porous geological formations, will become North America's first jurisdiction to develop a comprehensive program for carbon capture.
According to a press release from the Alberta government, new and next generation technologies could deliver 70 per cent of the 200-megatonne reduction by 2050. Up to $500 million could be directed towards this initiative.
'Leading Canadian experts, economists and policy analysts support carbon capture and storage as the most promising means of reducing our greenhouse gas emissions,' said Alberta Environment Minister Rob Renner. 'Alberta has three Nobel Prize-winning scientists already working in this area, which shows we have the capacity to be a world leader.'
According to the plan 12 per cent of Alberta's reductions will be achieved through energy conservation and efficiency. As part of this plan Alberta will:
- Provide incentives for energy efficiency to help Albertans reduce their greenhouse gas emissions;
- Develop energy efficiency standards in building codes for homes and commercial buildings;
- Support for municipalities and other groups in finding ways to reduce emissions, including land use planning;
- Develop strategies to help the agricultural and forestry sectors to reduce emissions will also be implemented.
'Albertans have told us they want to do their part in reducing emissions,' said Energy Minister Mel Knight. 'Through the development of conservation and energy efficiency programs, we will invest in ways to inform and support Albertans in becoming more energy efficient.'
Greening energy production
The Remaining 18 per cent of Alberta's proposed emission reductions will come from increasing invesents in clean energy technologies and expanding the use of renewable and alternative energy sources.
Alberta plans to:
- Fund projects that reduce the cost of separating carbon dioxide from other emissions in order to support carbon capture and storage;
- Support research on new oil sands extraction processes that use less energy, less water and reduce tailing ponds;
- Focus on testing and implementing new clean energy technologies through the new Climate Change and Emissions Management Fund.
'With this plan, Alberta will achieve real reductions within a realistic timeline,' said Renner. 'Alberta did its research before setting reduction targets, then put a solid plan in place to achieve them. Cutting our greenhouse gas emissions by 50 per cent by 2050, will result in real reductions of 14 per cent below 2005 levels.'
Despite a positive first step in announcing a plan many feel that it falls short in many aspects particularly addressing the full impact of oil sands and the low reduction target which contrasts federal government goals.
The Alberta government's plan is set for intensity-based targets, which are based on emissions reductions per unit of economic activity, thus allowing absolute emissions to rise if production increases. This is a particular problem with the oil sands, where production is expected to increase three to five-fold over the next decade and GHG emissions are projected to grow to 400 million tonnes by 2050, largely due growth in the oil sands sector.
Environmentalists unanimously feel that the oil sands pose a significant threat to the climate change battle and that any plan Alberta develops must pay close attention mitigating the emissions that are produced from extraction.
Carbon capture and storage is known as an expensive, energy intensive solution and does not address alternative energy, conservation, site remediation or water quality issues resulting from oil sand operations. Carbon capture and storage can also increase the energy needs of an operation by up to 40%.
'Carbon capture and storage is a high-cost option with long lead times,' said Mike Hudema, an energy campaigner with Greenpeace. 'Sequestration programs will prevent invesent in more cost-effective green energy solutions to global warming.'
The green energy portion of the plan has little focus on renewable energy technologies and instead promotes the continued use of fossil fuels and Alberta oil sands by researching less energy intensive methods of oil extraction and carbon capture.
Alberta is home to 10 per cent of Canada's population, but is responsible for 31 per cent of the country's total GHG emissions making it the largest greenhouse gas emitter in the country.
As the nation's largest GHG emitter Alberta's plan also falls short of helping Canada achieve overall emission reductions of 60% by 2050 as desired by the federal government.
Critics have stated that Alberta's low reduction target will force the rest of the country to carry an unfair burden in the climate-change battle, while Liberal environment critic David McGuinty said Alberta's announcement proves the federal targets are not credible.
Alberta's plan has drawn further attention to a larger issue: the lack of a cohesive and detailed climate plan between provinces and the federal government.
According to Tom d'Aquino of the Canadian Council of Chief Executives some businesses are becoming hesitant about investing in Canada because of the 'policy chaos' on climate change being created by the federal and provincial governments.
'This is affecting invesent plans,' he said. 'How can you make invesent decisions on a 15 or 20 or 25-year horizon if you are living in a country that is totally fragmented on environmental policy? The danger is that of some people saying if Canada can't get it together, maybe we should go somewhere else. People have actually said that to me.'
The Alberta Plan will be one of many climate change related matters considered when provincial premiers gather in Vancouver this week for their The Council of the Federation meeting. Alberta's Premier Stelmach is quoted by Canadian Press at the start of the Vancouver meetings as saying the Alberta plan to cut emissions by 14 per cent by 2050 is balanced and good for his province.
'Our plan is one that will deliver. It's a real plan for a real problem,' he is quoted. 'Albertans are buying it.'
A government information brochure can be found here.