Alberta’s greenhouse gas plan: a glass half full or half empty?

Alberta’s change in direction on emissions is welcome news for those concerned about climate change, but some implications of the plan are worrisome

Jason Franson/CP

Jason Franson/CP

The environmentalists I encountered as the deputy minister at Environment Canada usually fell into one of two groups. The ‘glass half full’ crowd was pretty small. While they acknowledged the many environmental challenges we face, they were willing to celebrate Canadian policy changes that resulted in genuine progress. The second group, the ‘glass half empty’ crowd, was much larger. They focused on how much remained to be done and were never really happy, even when Canada made leaps forward.

The same pattern holds true of Alberta’s announcement of its greenhouse gas plan on Sunday. There is a lot in it to celebrate and some real concerns that remain. Whether you join the ‘half full’ or ‘half empty’ team is a personal choice, but here some things to consider before you choose.

Probably the most important aspect of the announcement is that after a very long absence, Alberta is back in the game fighting climate change. Whether you think what was announced was enough is immaterial. The change in policy direction in Alberta is long overdue, critical to our national efforts and welcome news for everyone concerned about climate change. Premier Rachel Notley and her government deserve our thanks and congratulations.

A second important aspect of the announcement is that Alberta will use an economic instrument, a hybrid form of a carbon tax, as its main policy lever. This adds Alberta to the list of BC, Ontario and Quebec who are using some form of carbon pricing to combat climate change. It also means that over 85 percent of the Canadian population will live in a jurisdiction that prices carbon, showing Canadian leadership to North America and the world.

However, three implications of the plan are worrisome. The first is that the policy as currently outlined makes it virtually impossible for Canada to achieve its 2030 target. The commitment made by the previous federal government and described by the new government as a ‘floor’, requires us to cut our emissions by about 200 million tonnes from current levels by 2030. Alberta is responsible for more than a third of Canadian emissions. A plan that continues to grow emissions for five more years before stabilizing them means we will probably miss our target by about 100 million tonnes, even with the efforts of other provinces.

The second implication of the plan is that emissions from the oil sands will be allowed to grow by a staggering 43 percent above current levels before reaching the proposed cap. This generous cap, together with the new subsidy the government is proposing to pay large emitters, means many oil sands producers will feel little in terms of effects from the carbon tax. This is one way to address Alberta’s competitiveness concerns, but it may not be the best or the only way.

The third implication is the slow future growth of the price of carbon. To achieve our target, Canada will need carbon prices to grow to $120 per tonne or more by 2030. Yet post-2018, when Alberta’s carbon tax will reach $30 dollars per tonne, the tax appears to be designed to grow very slowly, only reaching about $50 per tonne by 2030. It seems that the Premier has left the door open for a faster ramp up if other jurisdictions take the lead, but that point is not yet clear.

Half full or half empty? That is for you to decide. Personally, I’m a glass half full kind of guy. I congratulate Premier Notley and her government for this important change in the direction of Alberta’s climate policy. It’s a great beginning. But I recognize that it is only a first step. We will all need to do a lot more to fulfill Canada’s obligations in the fight against climate change.


Paul Boothe is a Professor at Western’s Ivey Business School and a member of the Ecofiscal Commission. He served as Deputy Minister of Environment Canada from 2010 to 2012.


Alberta’s greenhouse gas plan: a glass half full or half empty?

  1. A glass, whether half empty or half full, left unattended, will tend to lose volume over time. Faster if the ambient temperature rises.

  2. The whole plan ignores two hard realities. Carbon is already priced. That’s called the value of energy. Calling an additional tax upon energy use “carbon pricing” is blatantly dishonest. Be honest and call it an “energy use tax”. When we use energy of any stripe, we’re not purchasing carbon per se, we’re purchasing the value of what it is we propose to do with that energy, whether it be cooking a roast, reading a book, heating water for a shower, or shipping goods across the province to be utilized by a customer.
    The government has decided that the carbon content of the energy we use is something they wish to tax. Nothing more, nothing less.
    The other reality is that Albertans did not elect Notley to serve our economic interests up on a platter to the UN to be carved up and eaten. She was not elected to serve the interests of the bureaucrats at the EU and the various ideologically-driven activists that haunt the farces that are “Climate Change Summits”. She was elected to serve the economic interests of Albertans.
    If that means standing up to the Marxists at the heart of the climate change hysteria, then it means exactly that.
    Sure, all the actors on the climate change stage are thrilled with Notley’s new policy. That and $1.75 gets you a coffee at the drive thru. We didn’t elect them. Where was her energy tax back in the election run? Does she honestly believe that Albertans would have voted for a $3 billion dollar tax on themselves had they been given the choice?
    Notley’s greenhouse gas plan is a bottomless empty glass, that she’s going to attempt to fill from a well whose pump she has taken a large hammer to.
    I am constantly astounded at how the political left manages to adopt fiscal and social policies that have resulted in nothing but economic ruin wherever they have been implemented, and blithely assume that will work “this time.”

    • ” Carbon is already priced. ”

      The cost of using the Earth’s atmosphere as a dump isn’t.
      I get that this is painful because you’ve been freeloading so long, Bill, that you feel entitled to, but it’s time to put on the big-boy pants and accept responsibility.

      • Under the right conditions, even greenwood can be a renewable resource.

      • “The cost of using the Earth’s atmosphere as a dump isn’t.”

        Is that cost higher or lower that using the St. Laurence as a literal dump? Does the fact we here in Alberta treat our s*&% before dumping it in the river give us any “social license”? Didn’t think so.

        • Let’s see, altering the atmosphere that regulates the climate of the entire planet vs dumping poop in a river in northeastern North America…hmm.
          Well, if you’re really struggling with it you could always consult the IPCC report and whatever science was done on the impact of a one-time sewage dump into the St. Lawrence.

      • So sayeth someone who likely lives in a province whose budget is heavily underwritten by taxes paid by people in Alberta or Saskatchewan…
        Tell us, dear TC, what meaningful steps you take to reduce your carbon footprint? I see you still use electricity, for example. After giving up food imported from further away than your back yard, hot showers, and the use of any transport that does not involve feet, would not eschewing the use of electricity be a recommended step in any personal effort to save the planet?

        • Unlike you, I’m more than happy to pay the full costs of my lifestyle rather than making others involuntarily pay.
          But nice to see that your imagination is the only thing limiting the variety of logical fallacies you’ll employ to cling to your entitlements.

      • Transportation is responsible for 23 percent of emissions vs. energy at 25 percent. Given that the Ford F150 is one of the best selling vehicles in Canada, I would say that a lot of Canadians have been avoiding responsibility.

  3. While contemplating the significance of a $3 billion dollar tax grab, and the reasoning behind it, keep this in mind:
    Bear in mind that the NOAA is prepared to fight the US Congress in court to prevent the release of the complete data sets and methodologies behind the temperature data tampering. Ask yourself why it is that a US federal agency, tasked with informing public policy via dutiful research and scientific assessment of the resultant data, would take to the courts to prevent the examination of said public policy data by the very branch of government to whom it is directly responsible?
    Then tell me why it is again that I need to ante up thousands of my own dollars to appease the Gaia worshippers.

    • “Bear in mind that the NOAA is prepared to fight the US Congress in court to prevent the release of the complete data sets and methodologies behind the temperature data tampering.”

      Bear in mind that the above is fabricated BS from a conspiracy kook.

  4. I agree with the points made in this article. And I’m also going to be a glass half-full guy on this!

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