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Alberta's climate change strategy goes up in smoke

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Alberta's Auditor General Merwan Saher blew a gasket. He called the government's performance on climate change strategy "troubling" and "disturbing." Hey, he's a mild mannered accountant; this is as in-your-face as he gets.

Mr. Saher kicked off the July 2014 audit report with a lesson on the role of government. A good government puts the right people in place to get the job done. It exercises ministerial oversight (gee, there's a thought) and most importantly, is accountable and ensures Albertans receive value for the money spent on government programs and services.

Mr. Saher tested Alberta's climate change strategy against these criteria. It failed miserably.

In 2008 the government set out emissions reductions targets for 2020 and 2050 but didn't bother to properly monitor them to see if the targets were being met.

It spent $1 billion on carbon capture and storage to reduce emissions but discovered that CCS will reduce emissions by only ten per cent of what was expected.  

It gave out bioenergy grants for projects to produce lower emissions than comparable non-renewable energy projects but failed to confirm that the projects actually reduced emissions.

Mr. Saher reflected on these failures plus the expiry of the $15 carbon levy later this year and said: "This pace does not reflect the significance that effectively managing climate change has for the economy and environmental performance in Alberta and Canada."

Maybe not, but it does reflect a lack of commitment on the part of the government and industry to any climate change strategy whatsoever.

Industry supports a carbon tax if...

Cenovus CEO, Brian Ferguson said he'd support a carbon tax if it was appropriately structured. It must be spread across the entire value chain -- production, transportation and consumption. Okay we can live with that.

But wait, Russ Girling, CEO of TCPL, says that the carbon tax must be worked out to the tiniest detail with all the "i"s dotted and the "t"s crossed to avoid unintended consequences. Funny, they were happy to see the departments of Energy, Environment and Sustainable Development slammed together under the Alberta Energy Regulator without worrying about the details...as long as the Regulator was run by their good friend and industry lobbyist Gerry Protti.

Oh, one last point, neither Ferguson nor Girling is prepared to accept a carbon tax unless the U.S. implements one as well because to do otherwise would put an unnecessary burden on Canadian producers.

Prentice, Lukaszuk and McIver weigh in

Mr. Prentice is annoyed. The government was "off its game" for years when it comes to climate change. If elected leader, Mr. Prentice would beef up Alberta Environment's scientific strength and monitoring and regulatory capability so we could "defend ourselves internationally as protecting the environment."

Defend ourselves?

The real question is how is this going to work on the ground given that Mr. Prentice has hamstrung the team. Mr. Prentice won't let the Environment Ministry raise Alberta's $15 per tonne carbon levy unless the federal government and the U.S. government do likewise. He says he might consider a "unilateral" move but he expects Alberta "to get something for that from somebody." Like what...Obama's approval of Keystone XL? B.C.'s approval of Northern Gateway?

In other words Mr. Prentice is signaling to Messrs Ferguson and Girling: Message received loud & clear.

Mr. Lukaszuk, to his credit and much to my amazement, is not about to jump into bed with industry. He's prepared to hike the carbon levy recognizing that it's necessary to win the social licence required for projects to proceed.

Mr. McIver was unavailable for comment. As usual.

Climate change strategy or window dressing

The Auditor General presumed that Alberta had a climate change strategy and was appalled by the government's inability to deliver results. Unfortunately he's got the wrong end of the stick. The government's foot-dragging since 2008 demonstrates that Alberta's climate change strategy is nothing more than window dressing meant to appease those wing-nut environmentalists who've taken other less enlightened governments hostage.

Well, it's time for Alberta to ditch its defensive posture and take a leadership role in addressing climate change. This would start with a government that's prepared to stop asking industry "Mother may I?"

And while we're at it, let's avoid comments like Premier Hancock's response to the Auditor General's report: "We already can say to the world, we have some of the strongest environmental regulatory frameworks for oil and gas extraction. We're doing more on CO2, carbon capture and storage and other issues. We don't have to apologize to anyone for the strength of our system".

Really Premier Hancock? Tell that to the Auditor General.

Image: Flickr/Connect2Canada

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