New Alberta climate policy is symbolic step - more is needed


Alberta's recently elected New Democratic Party (NDP) has signaled its intention to take steps to address the provinces increasing carbon emissions. In a sharp turn from previous Conservative governments, Alberta announced both a symbolic decision to increase the stringency of the province's flawed Specified Gas Emitters Regulation (SGER) and a commitment to adopt a more ambitious carbon policy ahead of the international climate negotiations in Paris later this year. The international community will judge a new climate policy on its ability to put Alberta - and Canada - back on track to meet their targets and address emissions from the tar sands industry.

Canada's failure to meet the climate target it agreed to in Copenhagen is due almost entirely to the unchecked expansion of Alberta's tar sands industry. Environment Canada's 2014 report forecasts that emissions from the production of Alberta's tar sands will triple from 2005 to 2020. This substantial increase in carbon emissions has substantially undermined Canada's ability to meet its climate commitments (see graph 1).

As a stopgap measure and a symbolic gesture of its intention to adopt more ambitious reforms, Alberta's government has announced that it will strengthen the SGER. Under the SGER, facilities that emit more than 100,000 tons of greenhouse gases (GHGs) per year must reduce the intensity of their emissions by 12% relative to baseline levels. The NDP has announced that it will increase the fine for facilities exceeding that limit from $15 per ton to $30 per ton. However, the effective tax rate is far lower given many exceptions and exemptions - the $15 per ton tax result in a maximum effective tax of $1.80 per ton of carbon dioxide. As such, this measure of symbolic importance but unlikely to result in emissions reductions.

The most important announcement from Alberta is its intention to adopt a more ambitious climate policy in coming months. Moving forward, the credibility of Alberta's climate policy will be judged against whether it is able to put Alberta - and Canada - back on track to meet their climate targets. Doing so must also address the source of the provinces growing emissions - the tar sands industry's unchecked expansion.