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

Climate pollution per capita for Alberta and Saudi Arabia

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

Climate pollution per capita for Alberta (without oil & gas) and Saudi Arabia (total)

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).

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?’

The 'new currency' — GDP v GHG

Climate pollution per $ of GDP for Alberta and Saudi Arabia

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."

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.

Canada's climate pollution changes from 2005 to 2017 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.

Keep reading

I truly object to judgements regarding who is the worst climate polluter based on a per capita basis. On that basis, the real challenge is how to increase Alberta's population. It makes no sense except as a seductive way to spin the facts. What is the critical way on which to evaluate the rank of climate polluter is the amount of pollution per political entity. Fine, compare a hypothetical independent Alberta with Saudi Arabia, but on a per state government basis, not a per capita basis. On that basis we could say that Fort McMurray is the world's worst per capita. But is that a responsible way to report on the facts?

Thanks for your comment, Paul.

I can appreciate that different people have different judgement on who is the "worst climate polluter". For some people, the "worst" are those who pollute the most per person (over 50 tCO2 per person). Personal and political responsibility, and all that. That's my own view. I've heard others say that nations like India (2 tCO2 per person) or China (8 tCO2 per person) are the "worst" because they have the most people in their countries.

If you are objecting to the common practice of comparing nations on per capita emissions, you might want to take that up with the International Energy Agency, the World Bank, the United Nations and all the many, many other groups that calculate and highlight this metric as important. The data in this article comes from IEA's "Key World Energy Statistics".

If you think it is unfair to consider how Alberta would measure up if it was its own country, I suggest taking that up with the Alberta government that is pushing for this to happen via "wexit". It seems irresponsible to me to not inform the public what such a major change to Canada would look like for all involved.

As a final note, I would say that Alberta has control over most of the major climate pollution decisions that happen in it -- from electricity and transport policies to oil sands expansion rates and regulations. Fort Mac doesn't. So, yeah, I would not hold Fort McMurray responsible for most of the emissions surrounding it because they don't have political control over them. But Alberta does. And Alberta's government has allowed and aided in developing an economy that emits 32 tCO2 per person -- even without the oil & gas industry.

Clearly, both metrics are useful: per-capita data scale the issue down to the personal/state level, absolute volumes indicate who the major players are.
I would advise against pursuing an Alberta-versus-the rest of Canada narrative. Alberta's oil production reverberates throughout the country, blaming one side is not going to be helpful. This is not to absolve Kenney & Co. of responsibility to come up with responsible policy.

My objection to your conclusion is that Alberta has been very slow to adjust its economy to the obvious emerging realities. For example, they still get way too much of their electricity from coal making them one of the few parts of the country where the benefits of electric cars are greatly reduced. Saskatchewan also does that, but at least they are entering into a nuclear deal with Ontario and NB to address that. Alberta just keeps complaining about its lot, even though it still has a per capita income around 40% higher than ROC. I do think it is appropriate to look at each province as one indicator, not the only one, because the provinces have jurisdiction over important elements of the economy. Albertan's cling to things like no sales tax. Maybe they need one to start investing in transformation of their economy* which MUST happen. The oil era will end and before it does completely die as something an entire economy can rely on, it will experience increasing deep down cycles and marginal recoveries. This actual started a decade ago but Alberta has utterly failed to adjust fast enough. Alberta can't escape by turning a blind eye as much as they seem to want to.
* Peter Lougheed recognized this 1/2

I'm right with you when it comes to singling out one metric of many.
And maybe we could agree that when the watch-fox does the hen-count, it has every motivation to not report his own reduced-count exploits while on duty (having the keys) ...
And especially when comparisons are made, it seems it would be at once fair and wise, and most likely also smart, to use independent third party sources for statistics for all countries being compared. And then one can either cite or calculate various ways of describing relationships amongst and across countries, provinces, etc.
My own difficulty in rejecting carbon-per-person, or GWGs-per-capita, or other population-based numbers has to do with the bare necessity of eating, that applies more or less equally to humans. And then there are add-ons, which become necessities for some people, in some occupations, in some climates ... etc.
So then it also has to do with other comparators across "states" ... and there's the problem. No matter what number you choose, Canada does very poorly, barely making a measurable reduction from base year levels. The provinces and territories where 85% of Canada's populations are actually on target to meet 2020 goals. But not the tarsands provinces, and at the bottom line, it is tarsands production that "eats up" the entire carbon savings of other jurisdictions.
Tarsands production accounts for less than 2% of GNP, about 20% of that benefits Alberta taxpayers, but less than 10% of that (if memory serves) benefits the rest of Canada, at all: and meanwhile, the federal government contributes more and more to the sector in subsidies. While the north melts, the lowlands flood and the forests burn.
The amount of GWG's created per $ of GNP also performs very poorly.
Estimations of market growth in the market for unconventional oil are negative, and have been for at least 5 years now.
Maybe we should all get with the program till there's no getting to be had!

It seems from recognized international organizations' reports and data,

Thanks for this piece. But the assertion that "On a per-capita basis, Alberta is already three times worse than Saudi Arabia" is not what the chart indicates. The sentence should read "Alberta is already three times as bad as Saudi Arabia" -- i.e., two times (200 per cent) worse.

Thank you Angus. I really appreciate your sharp eye and have made the correction.

Does anybody measure carbon based entirely on personal, rather than industrial consumption? The industries of a region may almost entirely benefit other regions (nearly all Alberta O&G production is for export from Alberta), and if you task, say, Ontario with the carbon emissions of making cars, the people who BUY those cars get to export their carbon sins to Ontario. (We export vast carbon sins to Chinese factories that emit carbon to make products we buy.)

We all need to think about whether this is just meat-eaters sneering at the butcher. If you don't want to close down all the car plants and airports, you don't - not really - want to shut down carbon supply, because that's the CERTAIN way to shut down the fossil fuel industries: stop buying.

Localizing our desire to change an entire civilization that is dependent on Alberta, Saudi, Venezuela, Russia, Nigeria and Norway onto those tiny fractions of the civilization that produce a product that EVERYBODY consumes is simply scapegoating them our own sins.

The blame is curiously distributed in the media. Perhaps the Observer has a purely Canadian focus for politics, but for climate, the issue is global. I have seen no articles in the Observer about how the increase - just the increase - in oil extracted by the USA in the last seven years is THREE TIMES the amount of oil coming out of Alberta soil. That Norway, recently lauded for moving their sovereign wealth fund away from fossil investments, is also bumping up its output by 500,000 barrels per day by 2021. (They're opening a whole new oilfield). For all this, I had to depend on the New York Times:
(Article title: "A Flood of Oil is Coming". The article notes that the SUV is becoming the most-popular new vehicle body, spurred on by low gasoline prices from the American shale boom.)

In that global context, any article discussing on purely local source of supply should explain why we should care about suppressing one source of supply when the most-morally-admired nations on earth (Norway) are cheerfully selling as much as they can develop. Please explain the point of suppressing Alberta oil if Guyana is happily entering the market, Venezuela will starve if it does not re-enter, and Nigeria is on the brink of becoming a developed nation, but would fall back into poverty if they stopped oil production.

The only viable solution I can see is to concentrate entirely on developing alternatives, pushing them as preferable, and forcing the supply to die away on its own for lack of sales.

The only thing that needs to be treated as a "blame" is personal consumption: do people in a few provinces drive six times as much as the others, take six times the plane flights, build houses six times larger, use six times the steel and concrete and nitrogen fertilizer on the food they eat? No? Then "their emissions" are to the benefit of others, not themselves. Those others should take the fair share of blame.

I understand the point you are trying to make, Roy. However the data I've seen (ex: BP Global Energy Report) on oil and other fossil fuel production does not support your argument.
For example, Norway isn't increasing oil production -- Canada is. Norway oil production has been falling for decades and is now back to their 1990 levels. Canada's oil production is 300% of our 1990 level and rising like a rocket ship. The critical metric for avoiding a full blown climate crisis is that we rapidly decrease the amount of fossil carbon we pull out of the ground and burn each year. Canada isn't doing that.
It is also instructive to look at how much fossil carbon Canada is extracting on a per capita basis. Canadians extract 2x the amount of fossil carbon as the Americans do and 6x what the Chinese do. Even worse from a climate standpoint, Canadians have cranked up our per-capita carbon extraction by around 50% since 1990. Americans, extract a bit less per capita than they did in 1990.
Clearly, nobody is doing nearly enough to prevent our handing off a raging climate disaster to our kids and future generations. But the data shows that Canadians are not just doing what everyone else is doing. We are some of the world's biggest carbon extractors per capita and we are rapidly INCREASING how much we extract.
Here's just one of my articles covering extraction if you are interested:

Another point I agree with, Roy, is that all people that benefit from fossil fuel burning, including consumers, should take some of the responsibility for the harm it causes.

But again, I don't think the data on this let's Albertans off the hook. Just the opposite.

For example, people benefit from all stages of the fossil fuel chain -- from selling it, to getting the energy from burning it, to consuming the resulting product or service. The studies that have looked at this show that the sellers of fossil fuels reap a larger share of the financial benefits than their take responsibility for in their share of the total emissions. So a more accurate carbon accounting would increase emissions for big fossil fuel sellers...not decrease them. Over the years a group or politician in Alberta has complained about the share of emissions for oil sands oil that Alberta has to account for. But the complaining always disappears quickly once they look at the alternative metrics.

As far as consumers, Albertan consumers have benefited financially for decades from the cheap electricity made possible by burning cheap-but-dangerous coal. But it has also resulted in Albertans per-capita emissions from electricity alone being an eye-watering 10 tCO2 each. That exceeds the per-capita emissions for most Canadians for everything. Ontario consumers paid a lot to clean up their electricity supply. BC consumers as well ... spending up to $100/tCO2 to remove fossil burning from their grid. Having a grid that is 20x more climate polluting than in Ontario, for example, means the same amount of electricity use results in 20x more climate pollution.

Similarly, Albertans have been dragging their feet on funding and building out the infrastructure needed for clean transport -- EVs running on clean electricity. BC is spending a lot of money to incentivize EVs and to build charging networks. Now 10% of car sales in BC are EVs. EVs in BC cut climate pollution by 99% vs fossil burning cars. Transitioning to safe-for-our-kids energy alternatives costs money.

Yet another way that Albertan consumers benefit from expanding climate pollution is by allowing expansion of the most climate-polluting industries and then using the money from that to reduce the sales tax they pay on everything they buy. If you benefit from expanding fossil carbon pollution you should take some of the responsibility for it.

Thanks for both comments, Barry, but I believe that the NYT will stand behind it's story, which plainly states that:

"Norway’s rebound from 19 years of decline began a few weeks ago as Equinor began production in its Johan Sverdrup deepwater field. The field will eventually produce 440,000 barrels a day, increasing the country’s output from 1.3 million barrels a day to 1.6 million next year and 1.8 million in 2021."

If you want uninterrupted increases in GHG fuel output, try Norway's methane stats then:

...and we all know now that if even 4% of the methane is lost, on the whole trip from underground to furnace, it's worse than heating your home with coal, in GHG terms. The industry claims it's less, but I don't believe them.

In any event, my point is that VARIOUS producers around the world are happily ramping up production of a legal product. Attempting to shift blame from consumers of a product that make production profitable, to the producers, did not work with drugs. And they are illegal! It won't work with a legal product. Only pushing down consumption will reduce production. Anything else just bumps up the price a fraction and encourages another producer to come in. The atmosphere is unaffected by moral blaming of who put the GHGs into it; if anybody in the world does, the climate emergency will go on, saying "At least it isn't us", is just pointless grandstanding.

Even if a magic wand could make not just Guyana and Venezuela choose dire poverty over selling more carbon, and the price of oil went up to $200/bbl world-wide, it would not restrict consumption by much, because, well, container ships gotta sail and farmers gotta plow, people have to get to work. The 1973 oil crisis drove the price up from about $25/bbl to $125/bbl in modern dollars: consumption dropped about 10%, then started back up as we recovered from the massive recession:

Let's just repeat that: a 500% price increase resulted in a 10% consumption drop because the product is so necessary for so many people to eat. At all.

Reducing consumption is the only thing that will work, Barry.

Beating up on producers is an unproductive waste of YOUR energy.

I think you know that Alberta has to decarbonize its electricity before EVs are any better than gasoline cars.

Which they are working at pretty heroically, given that they have no hydro; 7% wind generation now and quickly rising. (BC: 1%)

Which is why I'd totally agree that every province should be promoting them the way BC and Quebec have been, and Ontario did before The Thing took over. But this is all a side-issue to my eternal Topic A, which is that assigning blame to the locality where extraction occurs for extraction that would never occur without a market, is blaming the Bolivian coca farmer for the cocaine overdose.

FALSE NEWS : The true indicator for " Worst Polluter' is QUANTITY of GHG /CO2 fossil fuel emissions per Country. > Canada 708 vs. China 12,700 MtCO2 per year 2017. The Good News is that Canadian Engineers (STEM) propose a Compact-Pipe, CCS Unit as Sask Power, Boundary Dam $ 1.5 b project. The next move is for Universities to test & expand the concept to locomotives, marine vessels and Power Plants. Canadian Universities profess their innovative qualifications to attract students from every country. The Climate Crisis is Global. The response must be vast, dramatic and Global.

Canadians in some level of denial regarding the role fossil fuel production (and in particular unconventional fossil fuel production like the tar sands or hydraulic fracking) play in CO2 emissions, want to equate the negligible carbon footprints of poor nations to the five planet emissions per person of the wealthy west. For obvious reasons.

We need to really think globally on the climate problem......and act locally. Currently, we are doing the reverse, particularly inAlberta......where oil and gas want to continue to expand, make it impossible for Canada to meet its promised targets, and continue to advocate for standards of emissions measurement that makes their dirty industries 1. invisible, and 2. the continued filthy 'engines' that drive the Canadian economy..

It's a disingenuous argument....some Canadians might buy it.......but globally, divestment will continue. Diversifying the dirty Alberta economy by embracing renewables would be a more ethical.......and economic, way to go.