Loading articles...

Alberta premier drills into UN climate report, critics say it's time to turn off the taps

Last Updated Aug 10, 2021 at 8:07 am MST

A pumpjack works at a well head on an oil and gas installation near Cremona, Alta., Saturday, Oct. 29, 2016. A Texas suitor for Calgary-based Calfrac Well Services Ltd. is urging shareholders to reject a management recapitalization proposal favoured by its senior debtholders. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh

Premier Jason Kenney says the idea of abandoning hydrocarbons 'utopian'

Feds respond to report, say Ottawa has an aggressive climate plan

Tories call climate change an 'urgent threat', NDP accuses feds of letting big polluters off easy

CALGARY – While it may seem like the United Nations report on climate change would be bad news for Alberta, we are already making progress in some areas, according to some researchers.

The UN scientific paper says Earth is heating up so quickly due to human activity that temperatures in about a decade will blow past a level of warming that world leaders have sought to prevent.

Released Monday, the landmark study amounts to a “code red for humanity” as increasingly extreme heat waves, droughts, flooding, and wildfires threaten the globe, said UN chief Antonio Guterres.

READ MORE: ‘Nowhere to run’: UN report says global warming nears limits

Marla Orenstein with the Canada West Foundation says the report calling for the end of fossil fuels isn’t really a new direction.

“I don’t think we have that fundamental message that really changes what we know, or how it is we proceed. It does emphasize the swiftness with which responses, but it is not saying that it’s a fundamentally different path that we should be going down,” she said.

WATCH: Canada West Foundation breaks down what the report means for Alberta

The Petroleum Services Association of Canada sought to dampen any echoes of a death knell.

“At the end of the day we cannot go to renewables overnight, and the world still needs fossil fuels,” Gurpreet Lail, head of the Calgary-based trade group, said in an email.

Premier Jason Kenney says the idea of abandoning hydrocarbons “utopian.”

“Alberta is committed to reducing our greenhouse gas emissions. We’ve already reduced emissions from the Alberta oil sands by 30 per cent over the past 20 years. And Alberta is well ahead of the world on game changing technologies to reduce emissions like carbon capture utilization and storage,” Kenney told reporters Monday after the report was released.

Kenney says to make such an abrupt shift without proper planning could spell disaster for those reliant on hydrocarbon energy to survive.

“The notion that we can shut off the entire major industry, the notion that we can shut off the entire major industrialized economy with a flick of a switch is patently unrealistic,” he added.

“If you were to shut off our dependence on hydrocarbon energy in a cold, northern economy like this, the cost to human life would be incalculable.”

Orenstein also mentions Alberta has been aggressive in dealing with methane emissions, which are much more damaging than carbon dioxide.

“Methane is also something that’s really been concentrated on in Alberta. We have government regulations around methane. The government put something in place at the beginning of 2020 that is going to require 45 per cent less methane to be generated by oil and gas by 2025,” Orenstein said.

Feds respond to report, say Ottawa has an aggressive climate plan

Meantime, the secretary-general of the United Nations says the new report “must sound the death knell for coal and fossil fuels,” raising renewed questions about Canada’s climate plan and the long-term viability of its traditional energy sector.

Federal Environment Minister Jonathan Wilkinson acknowledged that parts of Western and Northern Canada are warming at three times the global average, with the ramifications playing out in a cycle of floods and wildfires in British Columbia and elsewhere.

The Liberal government has taken “aggressive climate action” through carbon pricing and a pledge to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 40 to 45 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030, he said in a statement.

RELATED: ‘Defining issue’: Federal environment minister says extreme weather a wake-up call

Amara Possian, Canada campaign director for 350.org, said the report is a “clarion call” that the country’s climate plan falls far short.

“With an election around the corner and climate-fuelled wildfires still raging across this country, the real question is if our politicians are listening and if any of them will step up and be the climate champions that we need,” she said in a statement.

The advocacy group (named for a “safe” level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere) is demanding a moratorium on fossil-fuel expansion and a halt to the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion.

The authoritative Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report, which calls climate change clearly caused by humans and “unequivocal,” makes more precise and warmer forecasts for the 21st century than it did last time it was issued in 2013.

Each of five scenarios for the future, based on how much carbon emissions are cut, passes the more stringent of two thresholds set in the 2015 Paris climate agreement. World leaders agreed then to try to limit warming to 1.5 C above levels in the late 19th century because problems mount quickly after that. The world has already warmed nearly 1.1 C since then.

RELATED: Liberals add $1.4 billion to climate change mitigation fund: McKenna

Under each scenario, the 3,949-page report said, the world will cross the 1.5-C warming mark in the 2030s, earlier than some past predictions. Warming has ramped up in recent years, data shows.

Canada, along with the United States and Australia, is among the top three biggest carbon-dioxide emitters per capita in the world.

Eddy Perez from Climate Action Network said the report shows that limiting global warming to 1.5 C above pre-industrial levels is “simply not negotiable.”

“It is the only choice for a safe and healthy future, and it’s still possible. We need to fight to restore our broken relationship with nature and with ourselves; we need to fight back against any delays to urgent climate action.”

Tories call climate change an ‘urgent threat’, NDP accuses feds of letting big polluters off easy

Opposition leaders weighed in Monday, with a stress on green jobs as a path to emissions reductions and economic stability.

Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole sidestepped a question on whether the bell tolls for fossil fuels and coal, but called climate change an “urgent threat” for Canada.

“We will meet our Paris targets, we will reduce emissions, but we will also get people working,” he told reporters.

O’Toole cited the Tories’ carbon-price policy on fuel–announced in April, after Conservative MPs spent years fighting a so-called carbon tax–stating that their climate plan will cut emissions by the 30 per cent committed to under the Paris Agreement while supporting more jobs.

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh accused Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of letting big polluters off easy, referring to the government’s decision in 2018 to relax proposed carbon-price limits on large emitters.

“That price on pollution exempts the biggest polluters. People are asking, what’s the point of that?” Singh said.

“The only way forward is to make sure workers are the heart of the solution,” he added, citing building retrofits, electric vehicles and public transit.

Under the federal climate plan, the number of jobs in clean energy is expected to grow by nearly 50 per cent to 639,200 by 2030, in step with a sector GDP jump of 58 per cent, according to a June report from Clean Energy Canada.

Green party Leader Annamie Paul called the UN report’s results “frightening” and “sad,” but said she hopes it will firm up Canadians’ resolve on climate change.

“It’s not just altruism or a concern for the planet that is moving the EU and the U.S. and China and all other major economies towards a green economy. What’s moving them toward that is the competitive advantage that is going to give them, the jobs that is going to create,” she said in a phone interview.

Paul also said Canada has failed to hit a single climate target and seen its greenhouse gas emissions rise each year since 2015. The Liberal goal of up to 45 per cent reduction by 2030 falls short of the 60 per cent she has her sights on.

“The top note of the report is really that climate change is here, its impacts are already being felt. And the question now is, how bad do we want it to get?”