After a week of literal record-breaking heat, you might think the government of Alberta would at least pretend to take climate change more seriously. But as the mandate letters for Premier Danielle Smith’s minister of environment and minister of energy show, her government remains all hat and no cattle when it comes to the issue.

Oh, it’s still happy to pretend it’s doing something about climate change. As the letters state, “Alberta is the most responsible energy producer and exporter on Earth. Our industry and government spend billions annually on pioneering and commercializing technologies that are turning our massive oil and gas reserves into a long-term, environmentally sustainable and responsible source of energy for the world.”

Never mind that Alberta’s per-barrel emissions are actually higher today than they were in 1990 and barely lower than they were in 2005. And let’s set aside, for the moment — we’ll get to it — that its inventory of unreclaimed environmental liabilities is now well in excess of $100 billion. To hear the premier and her key ministers, the biggest priority here isn’t reducing emissions or tightening regulations but rather cutting red tape and finding ways to dump treated oilsands water back into the rivers more quickly. As the Pembina Institute’s Simon Dyer said, “It’s impossible to be an energy and environmental leader without a clear plan to reduce emissions, and Alberta doesn’t have one.”

Said plan was, by the way, one of Smith’s key pre-election pledges. While former environment minister Sonya Savage promised a package of “commissions, committees and studies” to determine how Alberta ought to pursue its “aspirational” net zero by 2050 target, those are conspicuously absent from her successor’s marching orders. Instead, it includes a very curious directive to conduct "an analysis into Alberta’s carbon sink capacity to establish a true understanding of Alberta’s position in relation to carbon neutrality."

In other words, they want credit for the existence of a boreal forest in Alberta and the carbon dioxide it’s sequestered over the years. This is a familiar argument among the dwindling crowd of climate change skeptics (and growing number of climate policy slow-walkers) that’s been debunked repeatedly by people who actually look at the data, including the National Observer’s own Barry Saxifrage. As he wrote in 2021, “Over the last two decades, the once great carbon sink has steadily drained away. It's now gone, and the balance in the forest has tipped to emitting CO2 instead.”

This isn’t the only free lunch Smith’s government is looking to dine out on. It also wants credit for LNG exports, another familiar fantasy that has been knocked down by economists and other experts who are in the dangerous habit of knowing things. The federal government is apparently entertaining the idea, which one can only assume is because it understands most of these theoretical credits — which, again, are about as likely to happen as me getting hired by Postmedia — would actually accrue to British Columbia. LNG terminals are located on the B.C. coast and process gas is extracted from within its borders. Jonathan Wilkinson, the federal minister of natural resources, must have a prankster’s sense of humour.

But Smith’s relentless search for reasons why Alberta doesn’t have to do the heavy lifting — or any lifting, really — on reducing its greenhouse gas emissions is no laughing matter. Instead of putting forward a real plan and policies needed to make it happen, the Smith government is trying to wait out the federal government and its belaboured efforts on an oil and gas emissions cap and net-zero electricity regulation for 2035. When they’re inevitably announced some time later this year, Smith will saddle up on her high horse and pretend they represent yet another affront to Alberta’s oil and gas industry.

What they really represent is a late-game attempt to bring Canada within shouting distance of its 2030 targets under the Paris Accord. And while the Trudeau Liberals may have held out hope that Alberta’s recent provincial election would deliver a government willing to at least take this stuff seriously, that’s clearly out the window now. Now, with an eye towards an election of its own and the need to protect Albertans (and Canadians) from the growing financial risks associated with the energy transition, the Trudeau Liberals might want to turn the tables a bit here and start playing offence.

If Alberta won’t force its oil and gas companies to start spending more — way more — on cleaning up its old wells and tailings ponds, maybe Ottawa should. In addition, the feds should end all remaining subsidies, which they’ve already promised to do, and introduce a new surtax on oil and gas profits. The proceeds could be used as a deposit against the cost of cleaning up the mess these companies seem comfortable leaving behind for taxpayers. If Alberta’s growing inventory of tailings ponds and unreclaimed wells are cleaned up ahead of schedule by industry — unlikely, given the current pace and scale, but theoretically possible — the funds could be returned to Albertans in the form of a special dividend or one-off transfer to its government.

Danielle Smith seems to think Alberta can reach its net-zero target by moving goalposts and recycling debunked arguments. It's time for Ottawa to save Alberta from itself — and Canada from the fallout of its failure to take climate change seriously.

Yes, the companies would surely howl about how this represents yet another “National Energy Program.” The Smith government might do some saber rattling about separation and independence. And federal Conservatives might even try to turn it into an election issue, one that could easily backfire in the places they need to win more seats.

Let them. Wakeup calls are rarely pleasant for the person getting woken up, after all. But the longer Alberta is allowed to sleepwalk towards a climate-driven financial catastrophe of its own making, the higher the price will be for everyone else. And if it really is “the most responsible energy producer on Earth,” as we keep getting told time and again, maybe Alberta and its United Conservative Party government will actually do the right thing here for a change.

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Taking on Danielle Smith on about climate change, has nothing to do with Alberta, it has more to do is Danielle Smith works for oil & gas. Albertans need to see through the smoke and mirrors of the UPC who are not there for the people of the province. Danielle may talk the talk, but that seems typical of conservative these days and let the people hear what they want to hear, just not do anything constructive for the people.

Fawcett: "As the Pembina Institute’s Simon Dyer said, 'It’s impossible to be an energy and environmental leader without a clear plan to reduce emissions, and Alberta doesn’t have one.'"

The Alberta NDP does not have one either.

Nor, for that matter, does the Pembina Institute. Last week Chris Severson-Baker, Pembina's executive director wrote in his Observer op-ed: "It is crucial to get emissions from the country’s highest-emitting sector down — especially extremely high-carbon oil from the oilsands — both for Canada to meet our international climate obligations, but also to help the sector stay competitive as global climate action accelerates."
"Will Canada lead or lag behind on path to net zero?"

Why do we want the oilsands sector to stay competitive? Climate nonsense from an industry-captured NGO. This is an industry we need to wind down as soon as possible. Not keep afloat for decades.
Pembina is known for its longstanding commitment to and promotion of oxymoronic "responsible oilsands development". Pembina has a history of collaborating with industry on failed climate plans.
The largely corporate-sponsored Pembina Institute has long supported both carbon capture in Canada's O&G sector and massive public subsidies to fund it.
The Pembina Institute is not an ENGO but a sui generis controlled opposition group largely funded by corporate Canada, including Big Oil companies, and the Big Banks that back them.
Why are we even listening to them?

Fawcett: "while the Trudeau Liberals may have held out hope that Alberta’s recent provincial election would deliver a government willing to at least take this stuff seriously…"

Alberta's Pipeline Queen, Rachel Notley, did not have a serious climate plan nor did she show any inclination to move in that direction. Alberta premiers regardless of stripe take their marching orders from the O&G industry, not the other way around. As Premier, Notley threw environmentalists and climate activists under the bus.

No politician or government that build pipelines can be said to be taking "this stuff" seriously. That includes the Trudeau Liberals, who bought Trans Mtn, built the TMX expansion project, approved new LNG plants, and green-lit offshore projects. Trudeau's climate plan is premised on fossil-fuel expansion.
Liberal plans for Alberta's oilpatch include a trio of taxpayer-funded white elephants: carbon capture, SMRs, and blue hydrogen. All of which reduce a fraction of emissions at high cost and perpetuate the fossil fuel industry. Fossil fuels for longer means more emissions, not less. The industry-captured Pembina Institute wholeheartedly promotes this climate folly.
Which undermines the central premise of Max Fawcett's op-eds on climate. Namely, that the Trudeau Liberals are serious about climate, and are forced to drag the provinces along by the ears.

Canada's climate laggards do not reside only in Calgary office towers and under the Legislature dome in Edmonton. Their habitat ranges not just from Fort Mac to Kitimat, but also from Ottawa to Bay St, and from The Pembina Institute to The Financial Post.

Alberta political and economic policy will not change. That's my conclusion after over 50 years of post-Lougheed observation. The province is heading directly into a big wall built on the foundation of the unassailable laws of physics. It will end badly if government, corporate and media leaders don't wake up in time.

Citizens still have choices even though the electoral system is slanted toward fossil-funded parties. Those with investment money can place it with solar and wind companies working in Alberta. Those with limited incomes can do deep research, write op-eds and create blogs and shine some light into the darkness.

When there doesn't seem to be a clear path forward in the voting system, economics and truth telling will remain powerful alternatives. In fact, international markets will probably be the only thing that will rattle the conspiracy-laden, carbon lubricated narcolepsy in Alberta. No doubt they'll still find a way to blame Trudeau, though.

I agree with Max on this one. Stand up for once and challenge the narrative about the hegemony of oil and separation. Do not shrink from the threats, but counter them with new jobs in Alberta-based renewables and green industry.

I think you've captured the essence here with the "prankster" sense of humour displayed by Wilkinson and Trudeau. But how else do you respond to such relentlessly hostile and moronic people? Play along with them by saying that sure, our people are talking with their people, as if there was some remote semblance of parity. With the Reform Party hayseeds officially front and centre in this distilled version all these decades later and finally poised to make good on all of Preston Manning's stupid and separatist ideas, it should be fish in a barrel; just give them that rope and away they'll go.
I hear talk of a referendum at the next municipal elections, 2025 I think? These guys never learn, even from their own "fair deal" panel, so sure, go ahead and have a referendum on separation. Alberta also has parity with Quebec after all.
Such unsurpassed arrogance and ignorance in equal measure reflects the last gasp of Manning's righteous guy guys. Yesterday's men. Surely.
It's so obvious that Nate Horner is in over his head; he looks like the proverbial deer, and I listened to an interview with RJ Sigurdson, the agriculture minister, who sounds a lot like JR Ewing actually, and knows enough to trot out the usual political jargon like "having conversations with stakeholders" but before the end was starting to get a slight edge to his Texan drawl; somehow I doubt he'll be doing any more CBC interviews.
I have no problem with rural people, I came from there, but they need to stay in their lane when the majority of people in this province actually live in the cities and not only acknowledge climate change, but are increasingly worried about it.
So I'm not sure the Liberals need to go into attack mode (although I'd love to see that), just let this worst summer ever unfold while Smith blathers on.
The cities are our only hope because they have progressive leadership and are in actual collaboration with the real power here, which is the federal government.

Great comment. Kudos!

I agree. Hold a referendum already. The people will have the final say, so shut up with the cheap separatist bluster and let the people speak.

Are Preston Manning et al afraid of the people? My guess is absolutely. Terrified, even. Why else do they utter such damaging ideas as pseudo-separation without mentioning the word or the only method to achieve it -- a province wide vote to make the split permanent? Why else are they downplaying the real deal, i.e. making Alberta into a nation outside of Canada?

Let's call bullshit on the mealy narrative around Alberta separatism that expends streams of verbiage without actually speaking to its core principles, actual separation and its consequences.

Murky sovereignty association word games will only put a coat of paint on a rotten rust bucket. Ask the people themselves if they would be willing to give up their Canadian citizenship, or continue to tolerate what is actually going on here -- the public inflation of already bloated political egos based on the crumbling hegemony of oil.

I also agree on the liberal nature of cities. They are naturally more tolerant and diverse with an expansive perspective as a basic characteristic of urbanism. Rural rubes may try, but they'll never convince urbanites to vote to shrink their world.