In January 2008 the Government of Alberta released its new Climate Change Action Plan. The original plan of 2002 (the first of its kind in Canada) has been reworked, revamped and perfected. As an additional effort to curb emissions in the province, the government implemented its carbon intensity reduction plan for industry in 2007, based on a carbon credit system. Given all the work our government has done on climate change, one would assume that Alberta is doing its part to tackle global warming. Upon closer inspection, however, it is evident that the action plan is seriously flawed. It appears to be specifically designed to allow the continued emissions of greenhouse gases (GHGs) within the booming energy industry - Now that's a joke!
Albertans should not accept this kind of dishonest propaganda from our elected officials. We should ask that a better plan be brought into effect immediately - a real working strategy that will put a halt to this province's embarrassing environmental and climatological destruction. Here are ten reasons why the climate change plan is a total joke:
1) The plan allows crude oil production to double over the next 12 years! The only word to describe this is "insanity". The province currently produces approximately 2 million Barrels Per Day of crude oil and equivalent. Stelmach's conservatives want to see that production grow to 4 million Barrels Per Day by 2020. Every Albertan knows that the production of crude oil is dirty business, especially when it requires the removal of copious amounts of sand and other contaminants. And let us not forget that the final product - the vast majority of which we ship to the United States - will eventually get burned only to unleash even more greenhouse gases into our dying atmosphere. A real climate change plan would put an immediate moratorium on bitumen extraction. Knowing that Stelmach intends to double oil production while pretending to be serious about climate change is symptomatic of the collective joke he is playing on us.
2) The plan projects an increase of nearly 30% GHG emissions over the next 12 years! A climate change plan is supposed to reduce GHG emissions, not allow them to skyrocket in astronomical proportions! At our current rate of approximately 210 Megatonnes of GHG emissions per year, Alberta is by far the worst global warming culprit in the country. Yet the climate change plan expects an increase of nearly 60 Megatonnes of GHGs by 2020! That's a 30% increase of greenhouse gases within a timespan that is equivalent to 5% of the entire industrial era (when this climate change problem started). A functional climate change strategy would start reductions now, not allow a grace period of more than a decade for polluting corporations to unleash unprecedented amounts of carbon dioxide.
3) The plan only pays lip service to alternative energy. Alternative energy should be the main focus of our climate change strategy. We should be investing as much as possible RIGHT NOW into renewable energy technologies. We have lots of sun in this province. We have lots of wind. We have locations that are perfect for geothermal energy generation. And best of all, we have a wealth of the most important resource required for green energy production: Highly trained, innovative and hard working people! The province should have spearheaded and invested in these alternative energy industries years ago. Instead, they are so obsessed with the money to be made from fossil fuels that they still have not published their implementation plan for alternative energy production! For crying out loud - we're still burning coal to power our society! Our climate change plan should provide a framework for us to eventually source 100% of our energy from green sustainable sources. Instead, the Stelmach plan expects that by 2050, we'll only replace 18% of our dirty energy sources with alternative green sources. It's a real shame.
4) The plan only calls for a reduction of 14% of our GHG emissions in a period of 45 years! This is far too little, far too late! The government's highly-funded communications department is leading us on, by saying it will cut emissions by "50%", meaning a reduction of "200 Megatonnes". But in fact, if you read beyond the headlines it is clear that they only intend to cut emissions by 14% of 2005 levels! That equals less than 30 Megatonnes of real emission reductions from the base year of 2005. This is because they are asking for a 50% reduction of projected levels for 2050. It is absolutely ludicrous to claim that they will reduce emissions that are totally avoidable in the first place! A real climate change plan does not try to reduce emissions that could be created, it tries to reduce emissions that already exist! The irony is that if we adopted the government's plan for reducing GHG emissions by 200 Megatonnes today, we could be nearly carbon neutral by 2050! Instead, with Stelmach's current plan we'll still be producing more emissions in 2050 (after full implementation of the plan) than every other province managed to produce in 2005 (with the exception of Ontario).
5) The plan relies way too heavily on carbon capture and storage technology. The three main ways to reduce emissions, according to Stelmach, are by increasing efficiency and conservation (which will account for 12% of planned reductions), using alternative energy (18% of planned reductions), and finally, adopting carbon sequestration practices (accounting for 70% of our planned reductions!). This puts an overwhelming amount of faith in a technology that has not yet even been put to use in the province! We're talking about a proposed 140 Megatonnes of GHGs that will be captured every single year, and we don't yet have a place to store all of this! Some experts note that plants that are set up to capture carbon actually use 25% more energy than those plants that just let it float away. Here's another joke for you: When the oil companies tell you that their operations are "carbon capture ready", all this actually means is that they have left space on their industrial plants where they can build the appropriate carbon capture facilities when they are required to do so. However, they are not required to do so. Further, a carbon pipeline will have to be built between the plants that emit CO2 (which happen to be all over the province) to the right location for storage (a location that needs to be chosen based on the appropriate geological formations (where the carbon is pumped underground). Such a pipeline is estimated to cost at least $5 billion in Alberta, and nobody appears to want to foot the bill. The climate change plan should put a moratorium on projects that create high emissions until the carbon capture technology and infrastructure is already fully in place.
6) They got the numbers wrong. The provincial government projections for GHG growth and reductions suggest that in 2005 Alberta produced 205 Megatonnes of GHGs. However, the federal agency which tabulates emissions suggests that this is a very low estimate. In its "2005 Greenhouse Gas Inventory", Environment Canada indicates that Alberta produced more that 235 Megatonnes of GHGs in 2005. That our provincial government is underestimating our 2005 emissions by 30 Megatonnes is a frightening thought. First of all, our government could potentially be lying to us about the emissions to downplay the province's leading role as contributor to climate change. Secondly, the entire plan's projections are based on the calculations for 2005 emissions. Within the provincial schema, the "business as usual" model projects GHG emissions to climb from 205 Megatonnes in 2005 up to approximately 375 Megatonnes by 2050. But if Environment Canada is right in its figure of Alberta's 2005 emissions, we're in for trouble: the recalculated projection would bring the 2050 emission level back to 205 Megatonnes after a 50% reduction. The punchline? This is the very amount of emissions that the province is claiming we need to reduce! Rather than underestimate the amount of emissions currently produced, the climate change forecast model should overestimate the amount we currently produce, in order to "play it safe" and ensure our impact is not worse than we expect. Instead, thanks to this underestimation mistake on our government's behalf, we will see NO REDUCTIONS of 2005 levels by 2050!
7) Companies can easily buy their way out of dealing with climate change. As part of the Climate Change and Emissions Management Act, the large GHG emitting companies in the province are required to reduce their emissions by 12% each year. While this is an excellent policy - in principle - the system that is set up to ensure that this happens is severely flawed. The system is based on carbon credits - a company gets a credit when it reduces emissions. But what if a company is not able to actually reduce annual emissions by the target 12%? In this case, the company has the option of buying a credit at the rate of $15/tonne. This rate is way too low - it allows companies to easily buy their way out of dealing with global warming. The money from these carbon credit purchases goes into the province's Climate Change and Emissions Management Fund. After 2007, we now know that companies are opting to just pay the low rate rather than actually reduce emissions. The fund now has $40 million. That may sound good - but it's actually bad news: First of all, it means that 12.7 Megatonnes of CO2 that should NOT have been emitted were actually emitted! Secondly, $40 million is "chump change" relative to the massive profits in the oil industry - an industry that often deals in "billions" of dollars. What this means is that the companies that pollute are just absorbing the cost emitting carbon dioxide into their regular operating costs.
8) The carbon credit system only targets the top few emitters, and allows other emitters to continue polluting without any requirement to make reductions. The legislation only calls for companies that produce over 100,000 tonnes of greenhouse gas per year in the province. That equals approximately 100 companies mostly in the energy, electrical and chemical industry. But what about the companies that produce 90,000 tonnes of GHGs a year? Or even 20,000 tonnes (which is an awful lot of climate changing gas!). In short, nothing - only those companies that produce over 100,000 tonnes per year are required to take part in the carbon credit system. This has caused me to think twice about recent media reports about energy companies that "split" (rather than merge) into two subsidiary companies. It is common for energy companies to set up new subsidiary companies to operate new projects (such as the "Fort Hills Energy Corporation" or the "Albian Sands Energy Corporation", which are both subsidiaries of other common energy companies). I sometimes wonder if by spreading the work across different corporate entities, they are avoiding their responsibilities in reducing emissions (and they can thereby save money). The requirement to reduce emissions by 12% should apply to ALL polluters, not just the few worst polluters.
9) The culprit companies can merely channel costs to the Alberta citizen rather than suffer the costs themselves. The government expects the "costs of compliance" for companies attempting to reduce emissions to total $177 million. In other words, it costs money to reduce emissions. Rather than foot the bill themselves, however, the government has no regulation on whether companies can merely increase the prices of their products (and thereby pass the cost on to the consumer). In fact, they invite companies to simply charge more for the final product (electricity, for example). While it is a good idea for consumers to pay a premium on products that cause high emissions, it is not right for companies to merely shrug off the costs of dealing with climate change. There should be regulations in place that require companies that produce emissions to pay for it, at least in part. We need to make it less lucrative to be in the business of planet killing, and more profitable to be leading the way in sustainable energy creation.
10) The province's climate change plan is designed to keep the oil industry growing. Why else would a climate change plan allow emissions of GHGs to increase by so much? Why else would the plan not come into effect for 12 years? Why else would the plan rely so heavily on carbon sequestration and storage (rather than reducing carbon emissions in the first place?). The reason is that this government is addicted to oil, and oil revenues and investments. They can't think outside the box. They worry that if they fail to make the business climate attractive for investment that the world will end or something. But what they don't realize is that they are playing a genuine role in destroying the planet, destroying the future of our civilization. The free market is not going to solve our climate change crisis. It's time for our climate change responsibilities to come first - before the oil industry. Maybe then we might see an "oil reduction" plan that shows how we will wean ourselves off of this dirty 20th century commodity and move onto cleaner, better things. Right now we've got things backwards.
So there you have it - 10 reasons why the very people we voted into office are playing a crude joke on us! It's high time that this province - by far the worst culprit in the country for emissions - get serious about climate change. Our atmosphere is already approaching 385 parts per million of Carbon Dioxide. We are playing with fire, and it may already be too late to reverse the damage. We need politicians who will take climate change seriously NOW, and we need a Premier who has the guts to take on the oil companies, not one who acquiesces to their every desire.