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Truth and honesty are rare commodities in politics, and even more so when an election is in the offing. But when it comes to the pledges from the oil and gas industry to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, senior members of Alberta’s United Conservative Party government are in the process of offering up a long-overdue confession: they don’t believe a word they’re saying.

Brian Jean, the minister of Jobs, Economy and Northern Development (and the former leader of the Wildrose Party) admitted as much when he tried to attack NDP Leader Rachel Notley for comments she made on a recent podcast. “I do think that, you know, it’s possible to get to a cap that is very ambitious, that we can get to that’s not super far away from that federal [Trudeau Liberal] cap,” she told David Herle. Said cap is on emissions, not the production of oil and gas. But Jean conflated the two, telling the Western Standard: “Rachel Notley let it slip. She wants to impose a production cap on Alberta’s energy industry and kill countless energy jobs.”

She doesn’t, of course. What she wants to do is implement a cap on oil and gas emissions that’s less ambitious than the federal government’s plan but still takes the industry and its promises about emission reductions efforts at their word. An emissions cap isn’t some sort of affront to Alberta’s oil and gas companies, after all — it’s merely a codification of their own stated objectives that they insist they’re dead serious about achieving.

In fairness, there are credible arguments against the implementation of an emissions cap. Politically, it threatens to further divide the country and amplify grievances in Alberta and Saskatchewan that are already being aggressively mined by conservative politicians and pundits out here. And as University of Calgary economist Trevor Tombe has argued, the use of an emissions cap might jeopardize the legal standing of the federal government’s existing carbon price — and further undermine its position with the general public. “If we can lower emissions without a tax,” Tombe says, “the argument may go, why have one at all?”

But this is a long, long way from the conversation UCP politicians are trying to have with Alberta voters. By pretending that any effort to curtail emissions is a de-facto cut in production, they’re effectively saying that they have zero faith in the industry’s ability to do what it’s been promising (in paid advertisements, no less) for years now. For a party that prides itself on its boundless allegiance to said industry, it’s a very weird look.

They’re also showing their hand when it comes to their own recently released climate “plan.” After all, while it mouths the right words about reaching net-zero emissions by 2050, the said plan doesn’t actually lay out any meaningful pathways to get there, much less near-term targets and timelines. It’s the political equivalent of a New Year’s resolution to lose weight or quit smoking at some point within the next two decades, and one that people should take just as seriously.

This issue is no laughing matter, though. The longer Alberta’s oil and gas industry and the politicians running cover for it defer and delay the major investments needed to meaningfully reduce emissions — not just compared to five or 10 years ago, when they were among the highest on Earth, but on a clear path to zero — the less likely it is they’ll actually get there. If you’re a political party that claims to care about the long-term health of your province, managing the energy transition and ensuring Alberta doesn’t get left behind by it should be your top priority.

After all, it’s certainly not the top priority for today’s oil and gas executive class, whose members will be comfortably retired (or, let’s be honest, dead) by the time the bill for their refusal to act comes due. They’ll have long since pulled the rip cords on their golden parachutes and used them to float off to their properties in the Okanagan or Arizona. For a lot of Albertans of a certain age and occupation, slow-rolling this issue is a perfectly rational (if selfish) course of action.

But for anyone with a longer-term commitment to Alberta and its future, the UCP’s willingness to participate in the oil and gas industry’s ongoing filibuster of reality will come at a high price. It will be paid in fewer jobs, less tax revenue and a sea of unreclaimed wells and unremediated tailings ponds that will get left behind by an industry that refuses to clean them up and leaders who ultimately abandoned the province that helped make them rich.

What the UCP's reaction to an emissions cap says about their commitment to climate policy — and their willingness to trade the future for the present. @maxfawcett writes for @NatObserver

This is what the election is really about: Whether Alberta is ready to face the future or wants to keep pretending it doesn’t exist, and whether it’s willing to mortgage its future in order to continue subsidizing its present.

Yes, there will be arguments about health care, the economy and the records of the respective party leaders. But when we look back on it in five or 10 years, it will be defined by a single choice: did Alberta decide to move ahead with the times or double down on the past?

That’s one question that deserves an honest answer.

Keep reading

And Carbon Capture won't help
Yesterday's article noted "The entire Pathways Alliance carbon capture network, if it goes ahead, would be one of the largest in the world. The Pathways Alliance says it could reduce net carbon dioxide emissions by about 10 million tonnes per year by 2030 from the first 14 facilities to use the system".

Government of Canada web site on GHG Inventory = Oil & Gas emissions = 189 megatonnes

Resulting impact = 10/189 = 5.3% of emissions captured by 2030
And they plan to grow production, so this is likely to become an even smaller percentage……………..

Good comment. I would add that the cost per tonne for CCS will remain stratospheric, and if spread over the entire industry emissions profile ... let's just say the equivalent would be to pay down the national debt, buy an EV for every Albertan, send all of them on a winter-long Hawaiian vacation and buy each family a summer cottage. ;-)

Of course, Danielle Smith has ZERO intention of doing anything around climate change, just smoke & mirrors with empty promises or policies. The UCP is run by the oil & gas sector and won't lift a finger beyond greenwashing. Typical conservatives, where they will take Rachel Notley's recent comments and take capping emissions to mean capping oil & gas production. This is just so typical of the UCP and CPC to take comments and twist the truth to fool their naïve base.

As long as the UCP continue to run a web of lies in Alberta with climate change, the province will continue to be the biggest emitter in Canada and put at risk meeting climate targets.

The oil & gas carbon capture plans are just greenwashing, carbon capture is a pipe dream that will never see the light of day, nor is it even a practical solution, just more smoke & mirrors.

Isn't"capping reducing emissions" *actually* and necessarily capping and reducing O&G production?

Neither the Cons nor the NDP is facing the real uncomfortable truth - that fossil fuel production needs to be phased out on what is now a disturbingly short time schedule, if we are to honour the goals set out in the Paris agreement (and thereby limit climate impacts to global disaster rather than global catastrophe). See https://www.iisd.org/publications/report/phaseout-pathways-fossil-fuel-p...

Good article Max, "filibustering reality" is perfect.
There's a concerted effort to stop the oil industry's inevitable slide toward "pariah" status that is so richly deserved for their deliberate, generous funding of climate change denialism for all these long decades when we could have started acting. Its depressing effectiveness is reflected in how firmly this view is still entrenched but I hope and suspect that another scarily scorching summer might have its own profound effect.
This helps too:
https://www.desmog.com/2023/04/24/supreme-court-rejects-big-oil-review-c...

University of Calgary economist Trevor Tombe: “If we can lower emissions without a tax, the argument may go, why have one at all?”

In short, because federal and provincial carbon pricing schemes for large industrial emitters shields them from carbon pricing.

The federal backstop carbon pricing scheme is economy-wide for consumers, institutions, and much of the business sector. Large industrial emitters are subject to federal and provincial Output-Based Pricing Systems (OBPS).
The federal backstop Output-Based Pricing System (OBPS) for large industrial emitters does not apply to large emitters in Alberta. Under Alberta's Technology Innovation and Emissions Reduction Regulation (TIER) pricing regime, O&G companies pay pennies on the dollar in carbon costs.
The purpose of the OBPS and its provincial counterparts is not to expose heavy emitters to the carbon price, but to shield them from it, so they can remain competitive in global markets. Large industrial emitters, including in AB's oilsands, effectively pay a fraction of consumer rates.

Federal and provincial carbon pricing systems do not impair large industrial emitters' profits — or reduce their emissions. Oilsands emissions do nothing but climb year after year.
The federal OBPS is a joke, but AB's system is even worse. TIER dollars are effectively recycled back to industry to fund carbon capture technology and research. Projects industry should be paying for in the first place.

"Canada's biggest emitters are paying the lowest carbon tax rate" (Corporate Knights)
"Oil and gas producers pay among the lowest average carbon costs of any sector…
"There's a patchwork of OBPS policies across the country, and some provinces have implemented 'weak' or 'non-existent' systems that have let many big polluters off the hook."
"...Ottawa and most provincial govts grant heavy exemptions to a number of sectors, including O&G, chemicals, cement, steel and mining.
"But generous exemptions mean that how much of a firm's actual emissions are taxed varies widely by province, and, on average, companies end up paying for only 16% of the carbon actually produced.
"[In 2020, Suncor's] average carbon cost was roughly $2.10 per tonne, about one-14th of the full carbon price."
"Canada's biggest emitters are paying the lowest carbon tax rate" (Corporate Knights, January 17, 2022)

"The impact of a carbon price is greatly lessened by the relatively small proportion of emissions that are actually covered by the price.
"The federal OBPS and AB's TIER system levy the carbon price on roughly 10% of a large emitter's GHGs. At a $50 marginal price, producers pay less than $1 per tonne of CO2 equivalent on their total production." (Corporate Knights)
"Canada needs to make Big Oil pay their fair share" (Corporate Knights, March 7, 2022)

"The longer Alberta’s oil and gas industry and the politicians running cover for it defer and delay the major investments needed to meaningfully reduce emissions..."

And what would those investments be, exactly?
With limited application in the oilsands, carbon capture could capture only a small fraction of upstream emissions at high cost.
So if not carbon capture, then what?

Big hole in Fawcett's argument.

Interesting. When I read "delay major investments needed" I heard "wind, solar, better batteries" etc.

That leaves no hole in Fawcett's argument.

The tendency on the right to use mutually exclusive arguments has always been a signal to me that at some level, they know they're lying. They know, for instance, that the black history they're banning is true. They know gays aren't groomers--they know they weren't saying that a couple of years ago and it's just the latest talking point. And in Alberta, they know their tar is pushing climate change and all their talking points to the contrary are bogus. They just sort of half persuade themselves that all that stuff is, like, sort of morally true because they want/need something like it to be true so they won't have to deal with reality. There's a cowardly wimpiness at the heart of all politics with fascist tendencies.

Yeah, like "they can't handle the truth." I tend to think the same thing about "believers" actually. It's all a millstone around our necks....

The reality on the ground is that NO Alberta party / government today or in the foreseeable future will ever voluntarily lower oil & gas production by any amount. Conclusion: that must be done from outside the province's purview. It's now a waste of valuable time and emotional capital to harp on Alberta's half century of loudmouth intransigence. It's time to turn away from the impossible and focus on what is possible.

The UCP's base is mostly rural, and that's where most of the legislature seats are located by design. Cities are denser, but there is a voter disenfranchising mechanism at play where a rural vote is worth several urban votes. While the provincial government remains out of touch with the laws of physics and prefers radical ideology and conservative narratives and memes over neutral economics, the larger cities are much more attuned to electrification, social liberalism and urban efficacy. Election results in Calgary and Edmonton indicate a growing proportional trend among residents toward moderate progressivism and a willingness to put their expression of opinion, vote and personal money where their values reside. Provincial politicians ignore them at their ultimate peril; even suburban UCP voters love their Teslas.

Meanwhile, electric vehicles now comprise 20% of all new car sales worldwide and have lowered the consumption of oil by a million barrels a day so far. Three years ago only 5% of world car sales were EVs. What's more, that trend is occurring after total world car numbers peaked and major markets are heading for steep population decline (e.g. China). Similar steep growth curves in renewable power are also showing strong data trends every year. The IEA has regularly documented them in several annual reports. Southern Alberta is no exception to the rapid growth of cheap, profitable wind and solar power.

Trudeau just announced a battery gigafactory to be built by Volkswagen in Ontario, the world's second largest with the intent to export batteries internationally. Battery chemistry is undergoing rapid change to materials that are cheaper but hold more power density and have longer ranges. The latest chemistries use less lithium and no cobalt or nickel, and are developed around sodium. It is feasible for VW to make larger battery packs in their Ontario plant for worldwide distribution for wind and solar farms and district scale power storage in cities, not just for cars and buses. BYD, one of the world's top battery and car makers (from China), will be introducing their affordable car models to North America this year, following the start of sales in EU and Australia. Competition is building while prices come down. Their Seagull and Dolphin models will probably be a real hit.

You can see where this is going ... namely toward the disruption of internal combustion and demand destruction for fossil fuels. These trends and advances are occurring despite the Danielle Smith's of the world, and right in their own backyards. All of the above and more will reduce atmospheric carbon and help move us toward adaptation, the latter being a process that hasn't begun yet. This may turn out to be the most revolutionary decade of the century.

I choose to be an optimist and not focus too much on doom and gloom or documenting every utterance, sin, smirk and twitch committed by insincere politicians. Negativity may sell more subscriptions, attract more donations and generate more clicks and comments in the NO. But partaking in it too often is a waste of talent, time and chi. There is much greater satisfaction in observing the discovery and evolution of solutions before our very eyes, and espousing on them. The brick wall will be encountered soon enough by the fossil fuel industry and speeding, blindfolded politicos. Let's hope we are on the path of our personal and collective energy redemption by the time we hear the crash.

Brilliant, wise AND informative article Alex! I so appreciate "our personal and collective energy redemption" because it addresses just how depleting this has all become, ("chi" indeed) and how it's all of a piece really.
Many thanks for that refreshingly hopeful big picture to keep us all going.
This should be published it's so good.....

That Seagull model you mention is apparently selling in China for the equivalent of $11,000 American, so about $15,000 Canadian. Sure, it's a small car, but that's like half what some of the cheapest current EVs will set you back! Add in how cheap EVs are to run, and the budget market could be about to get taken over by Chinese EVs.

I'd guess that neither my satisfaction nor yours affects what the truth *is*.
While many people prefer to ignore Canada's real status amongst the climate malingerers and bad actors, accepting fact as fact is important.
It doesn't make any difference to carbon emissions whether I'm happy or not, or whether I focus on the pessimistic possibilities or the optimistic ones, and much less so whether or not I find "satisfaction" ...