Alberta government condemns NDP for pledge to cap emissions

According to a leaked federal memo, 'just transition' legislation could impact up to 187,000 workers in the province's agriculture, energy, manufacturing, and transportation sectors.

Alberta government condemns NDP for pledge to cap emissions
Facebook/ Danielle Smith and Facebook/Rachel Notley
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In the final month leading up to Alberta's provincial election, the Official Opposition has committed to a cap on carbon emissions, prompting a firm response from the governing UCP.

"We don't have a problem with a cap on emissions," tweeted the Alberta NDP. We have a problem with a cap on emissions that is unrealistic."

The NDP condemned the federal government for not consulting with Albertans but clarified it is possible to implement a "very ambitious" plan that's "not super far away" from the current cap. The latest federal inventory indicates the province produces about 38% of Canada's carbon emissions, with only 11% of its population.

According to a federal government brief, their approach to reducing emissions aligns with the 2030 Emissions Reduction Plan (ERP). The ERP modelling presents an "efficient, affordable pathway" to meet Canada's 2030 target, projecting 31% fewer emissions below 2005 levels in 2030.

"You can't just pick random targets with a random date and say we're going to get there," said Sonya Savage, Alberta's outgoing Environment Minister. "We have to do the hard work, and that's what our plan will do."

On April 19, the UCP released a climate plan scarce on details that it hopes will take the province to net zero by 2050.

According to Savage, Alberta will look at lowering the cap on oilsands emissions if it is practical. The environment ministry will consider using more renewable fuels and cutting methane emissions by 80% — slightly better than the federal target.

"Rachel Notley's NDP confirms they will be bringing in a job-killing production cap on Alberta's energy industry, but won't tell Albertans what it will be," the UCP war room tweeted. "Hundreds of thousands of jobs are now at stake."

However, the UCP's plan contains no interim targets for reductions, spending or investment — despite scaling up carbon capture. It also fails to propose regulations or legislation to move the province toward net zero.

Savage told The Canadian Press there's no point having those until the homework is done. "The question isn't whether you legislate the targets," she said. "It's about having realistic pathways to get there and providing supportive policies."

The Canada Climate Institute estimates Canada's 2021 carbon emissions at 691 megatonnes, owing to activity across various sectors and oil and gas production levels. Statistics Canada and Simon Fraser University's Canadian Energy and Emissions Data Centre data show that Canada produced 738 megatonnes of carbon emissions before the COVID pandemic.

Though Canada did not fully reopen in 2021, the institute concluded that the economy grew more rapidly than its emissions, suggesting Canada can grow its economy responsibly moving forward. According to its report, emissions fell 2% per unit of GDP compared to 2020.

Ottawa's climate modelling from Budget 2021 unveiled its climate policy forecasted a national emissions reduction of 36% below 2005 levels — the benchmark year for Canada's 2030 climate targets per the Paris Climate Accord. However, that falls short of their commitment to reducing emissions by 40% to 45% over the next decade.

The federal government intends to reduce emissions from where they are today to about 440 megatonnes by 2030 and net zero by 2050.

The institute estimates emissions have declined below 2005 levels in all sectors except oil and gas, transport and buildings. According to the Parliamentary Budget Officer (PBO), the real GDP for oil and gas and transportation will fall under these targets by 10.8% and 16.2% by 2030, respectively.

On February 1, Natural Resources Minister Jonathan Wilkinson said Ottawa would soon show Canadians its plan to transition to a net-zero economy. Despite outcry from Alberta and Saskatchewan, they have ramped up their efforts to table 'just transition' legislation.

On February 17, the federal government released its long-promised plan to transition to a low-carbon economy without prompting massive unemployment in the country's energy towns.

Wilkinson said a 'just transition' bill would be secondary to the action plan and would likely become public by the end of March, though it may "slip into the next quarter."

However, Liberal Labour Minister Seamus O'Regan told the Senate on February 9 he "can't stand the phrase 'just transition.'" 

"'Just transition' is a word workers hate, and my constituents don't like it, so I don't like it either. We tried anyway within the bureaucracy and amongst ourselves to say the words' sustainable jobs.'"

"I've said this for years," said O'Regan, as reported by Blacklock's Reporter.

It emerged from the 2015 Paris Agreement, a divisive international climate change treaty that advocated economies move from high-carbon industries to green economies to combat climate change.

Alberta Premier Danielle Smith condemned Ottawa's support for an energy transition that she said would significantly impact employment in her province. 

"According to your government's predictions, the federal 'just transition' initiative alone will risk 25% of Alberta's economy," she penned to Trudeau in a letter.

According to a leaked federal memo, 'just transition' legislation could impact up to 187,000 workers in the province's agriculture, energy, manufacturing, and transportation sectors.

"Canadians thrown out of work by climate change programs can always get jobs as janitors," it reads. It also claims "some green jobs will not require workers with green skills to perform their jobs, such as a driver working for a solar energy company."

According to the report Just Transition to a Low Carbon Economy by the Environment Commissioner last April, climate programs threaten 170,000 jobs in oil and gas. 

In testimony last June 2, Liberal Labour Minister O'Regan told the Commons Natural Resources committee that Canada needed more oil and gas workers, not less. "Honestly, we have to keep people in the industry," he said. 

Ottawa estimates it must expand the oil and gas workforce by 13%. "The Canada Occupational Projection System projects 14,000 job openings in the oil and gas extraction industry excluding support activities," said O'Regan.

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