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Alberta moving from oil to clean energy: “We know we can lead again”, says minister

Date
15 January 2016
Alberta moving from oil to clean energy: “We know we can lead again”, says minister

LONDON: Canada’s biggest oil-producing province is moving toward clean energy “because we know that Alberta can lead again,” says Shannon Phillips, Minister of Environment and Parks, Alberta, in a new exclusive Climate TV interview from The Climate Group.

Over the last 60 years Alberta’s oil sector has soared to become a pillar of its economy, following the 1970s boom in oil prices and its discovery of some of the largest oil reserves in the world – as well as its vast natural gas resources.

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But inevitably, the industry had a huge impact on Alberta’s air quality. According to Canada’s Environment and Climate Change ministry, the province’s greenhouse gas emissions grew 53% since 1990, primarily because of the increase in production of petroleum products for export markets. In 2013, its emissions exceeded 250 megatons (Mt) of CO2, representing 36.8% of the national total of 726 megatons of CO2eq.

However, Alberta started taking bold steps in the right direction in 2007, when it became the first North American jurisdiction to put a price on carbon - even if it applied only to large emitters. The fund, collected from industries emitting 100,000 tonnes or more of greenhouse gas emissions, was used to lower such emissions.

“The Government of Alberta recognizes that today action on climate change is not only inevitable for every country, state or province but also the most viable future economic pathway,” says Libby Ferguson, States & Regions Director, The Climate Group. “In committing to report its climate targets, actions and progress through the Compact of States and Regions, Alberta is also signaling that the province will to be accountable and transparent on its bold climate strategy.”

Carbon tax

Last year, the province greatly reinforced this tool announcing a new economy-wide price on carbon starting at C$20 (US$13.8) a ton by 2017, which will increase to C$30 (US$20.7) by 2018 - doubling the previous price for large emitters. The carbon pricing funds will be used to help families make ends meet, to support small businesses, First Nations, and people working in the coal industry through the transition. The measure also implements an overall oil sands emission limit of 100 megatons.

Among other emitters, the new carbon tax will target large polluters such as coal-generated power plants, which account for the greatest emissions of CO2 in the province, saving a total of 6 million tons of CO2 emissions between this and the next year, Shannon Phillips says.

“What matters to Alberta is ensuring that our energy economy is resilient for the challenges that come ahead,” she underlines in the Climate TV interview. “Certainly, that’s why we’ve undertaken very ambitious policies with respect to a price on carbon, our methane management strategy, our performance standards for large industrial emitters and our efficiency strategy.”

Last year Alberta also joined The Climate Group’s States & Regions Alliance, increasing the number of forward-thinking North American provinces and regions that have successfully implemented a price on carbon.

In fact, in 2014 Québec and California – governments that are already part of the States & Regions Alliance – held their first joint greenhouse gases emission allowances auction, after linking their systems in the first cross border market in North America. Also Ontario, another valuable member of the States & Regions Alliance, last year launched a ‘cap-and-trade’ system to curb its emissions, aiming to link it to the system set up by Québec and California.

Coal reduction

Alberta has also announced its will to accelerate the transition to more renewable energy and natural gas generation. Under the new climate plan presented last year just before the global COP21 climate talks, the province will replace two-thirds of coal-generated electricity with renewables by 2030, focusing in particular on wind power – while continuing to rely on natural gas.

The aim is to reach 30% of its electricity produced by renewables by that date, when it will stop emitting carbon from coal-fired power plants. Today, such plants provide more than half of the province’s electricity.

“I think that Alberta’s role in the international stage proves that an international energy producer can undertake responsible actions and then be that responsible energy producer for now and into the future,” concludes Shannon Phillips. “That’s our role: refurbish our international reputation as Albertans, to ensure that our access to global markets is based on solid science and good, solid innovation and sustainability.”

- Find out more about our States & Regions Alliance

by Ilario D'Amato

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