Great journalism takes time and money.
Alberta would overtake Saudi Arabia as the worst climate-polluter on the planet per-person if the province secedes from Canada.
Saudi Arabia currently holds the title for world’s most dangerous nation, regularly ranking dead last in analyses of climate performance.
Now, Barry Saxifrage has produced some of his signature charts which show just how badly Alberta compares even to the Arabian petro-kingdom. It’s a story that keeps getting dirtier the deeper we dig into the charts. (H/T to Emerald Bensadoun at Global News for drawing the Saudi comparison)
Triple the climate pollution
On a per-capita basis, Alberta is already three times as bad as Saudi Arabia.
This gap is likely to keep getting more extreme because the province is aggressively expanding its oil and gas industry.
The Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers is campaigning for expansions that would increase GHG emissions from fossil energy by 60 per cent. Alberta is currently planning to open the biggest oilsands mine in history, Teck Resources’ Frontier project.
Note that there are some very small countries in the world that are worse than Saudi Arabia, measured purely in terms of GHG emissions per capita. Notably, Qatar — and as you can see, Alberta is almost twice as polluting as that small headland in the Persian Gulf.
It's not just Alberta's oil and gas industry
This next chart is truly astonishing. You might think that Alberta is such a threat because of the massive expansions in the oil and gas industry, particularly the oilsands.
But it turns out that governments and industry have built an economy so dirty that it makes each Albertan almost twice as polluting as Saudis, even if you ignore emissions from Alberta's oil and gas sector entirely.
To be more precise, as you can see on the chart, Albertans — without oil and gas industry pollution — are currently 1.7 times as polluting as Saudis (and note that the Saudi bar includes the kingdom's oil and gas emissions). So, Alberta’s problem runs much deeper than the carbon emissions caused by clearcutting the boreal forest, removing wetlands, and extracting bitumen from the soil and muskeg below. We’ll be unpacking this more in future articles. But, in the meantime, it’s well worth following Alberta economists like Blake Shaffer (If you do, you’ll get a fascinating crash course on the economic folly of Daylight Savings Time to boot).
The 'new currency' — GDP v GHG
This third chart explores what may become the defining metric of our time: the carbon-intensity of the economy. It answers the question, ‘Can you make money without destroying the future?’
As Greta Thunberg put it, speaking to the U.K Parliament in April: “That should and must become the centre of our new currency."
Carbon intensity of the economy is usually measured in climate pollution per dollar of GDP. And, as you can see from this chart, Alberta is more than twice as expensive as Saudi Arabia. It costs 2.4 times as much CO2 for Alberta to make a buck as Saudi Arabia.
Such poor performance on this measure of economic efficiency has already become a major problem for Alberta.
Sweden’s central bank dumped Australian and Alberta bonds just last week because of excessive carbon dioxide emissions. Reporting on the bank's decision, BNN Bloomberg said that "central banks, pension funds and other global investors are increasingly factoring climate change into their portfolio calculations."
One chart in this opinion piece by Chris Hatch and Barry Saxifrage explores what may become the defining metric of our time: the carbon-intensity of the economy. It answers the question, ‘Can you make money without destroying the future?’
Canada’s Mark Carney, now head of the Bank of England, warned last month that investors are now "punishing" laggard companies that aren’t moving quickly to zero carbon. Carney predicts that “companies that don’t adapt will go bankrupt without question.”
Alberta: a burden on Canada
If Alberta doesn’t secede, then Alberta’s dirty economy will remain Canada’s problem, creating a significant burden on other Canadians. Right now, the Alberta burden is indirect — the rest of Canada has to do more than its fair share in cutting carbon, and put up with breaking pledges to the international community. But the new EU president is already promising to impose border tariffs against high carbon jurisdictions, and the idea is gaining steam around the world. In a carbon-constrained world, Canadian farmers and manufacturers would pay the price directly, out of their pockets, for Alberta’s refusal to control carbon emissions.
Alberta’s carbon pollution and excessively dirty economy are already overwhelming the progress Canadians make against climate change.
We’ll be unpacking the burden Alberta is imposing on other Canadians in upcoming articles. But for the time being, we’ll leave you with Barry’s chart showing that Canadians would actually be on track to meet our climate promises to the world, if only Alberta (and Saskatchewan) weren’t torquing the national ledger.