A made-in-Alberta solution

The Alberta government announced new emissions rules last Friday calling for an intensity-based cut of 12 per cent starting July 1. As much as this proclamation is a step in the right direction, it’s far too little compared to more ambitious targets set in Europe.

Hours earlier, European Union leaders agreed in a landmark decision to cut overall emissions 20 per cent below 1990 levels by 2020. The European plan also proposes increasing biofuel use to 10 per cent of all transport and boosting renewable fuel use by 20 per cent overall. Though negotiations regarding each nations’ share of the cuts haven’t started yet, and may prove to be the greatest obstacle for the plan, the targets are still laudable.

Comparing Alberta’s planned cuts to the EU’s is embarrassing. Large emitters in Alberta have until Dec. 31 to cut their emissions intensity by 12 per cent or face the consequences. At stake is $15 for every tonne the emitters are above the 12 per cent goal, which will go towards a technology fund.

Though much better than the “self regulation” non-movement under the Klein government, the 12 per cent cut hardly represents any sort of measurable action on climate change. Greenhouse gas emissions will continue to rise, as producers face an economic decision rather than a hard line. The large emitters will decide whether it’s more cost- effective to implement efficiency upgrades or to just pay the fine. The EU has a reputation for being progressive, but rarely do they agree across the continent on important matters. If a political union of 27 states can agree to progressive cuts to greenhouse gas emissions, it’s baffling that a single province can’t agree to a more forward-thinking plan.

It all comes back to the economy. On shaky political ground as it is, Premier Ed Stelmach won’t take steps that could be perceived as killing the golden goose, even if that goose emits existence- threatening gases with every shiny egg. The green movement is gaining momentum federally–and the likelihood of the next election being decided on environmental issues is growing every day–but provincially people still care more about their fat wallets and nice cars than global warming.

Even with this small step, Stelmach is the target of angry rumblings from the large emitters holding the golden-egg- producing goose.

“We’re talking hundreds of millions of dollars,” said Pierre Alvarez, president of the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers in a Calgary Herald article. “We’ve got some complaints. We’ve got some concerns.”

In the end, it may come down to a solid decision from above for actual steps towards combating climate change. Though Prime Minister Stephen Harper was at the announcement of Alberta’s new “green” policy, lending support to a fellow Albertan and the politically-endangered Stelmach, he warned that the federal Tories’ forthcoming emissions policy will trump any plans currently in place by the provinces.

Let’s hope so. Though the idea is unpopular in Alberta, since emissions cuts could hamper the economy–reminding Albertans of the devastating National Energy Plan of the ’80s–action in the immediate future is vital. The EU is leading the way for the world, and if Canadian political leaders fail to take notice, it will be at the cost of the environment, and potentially their own governements.

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