Alberta, known as home to Canada's oil sands and the province that emits the most pollution in the country, has unveiled a climate change plan built on a wide-ranging carbon tax that applies to all sectors of the economy.
The plan would limit emissions from the oil sands at 100 megatons and phase out coal fired power plants by 2030 by transitioning to renewable energy and natural gas. The carbon tax would, in turn, be phased in, starting with $20 per ton in January 2017 and $30 per ton in January 2018 — raising an estimated $3-billion a year which Premier Rachel Notley said would be invested in renewable energy. Alberta already charges a levy on large scale emitters, but the new proposal would see everyone pay for carbon, meaning that the price of gas at the pump will jump as will the cost of heating a home. The 100 megatons limit also leaves the industry room to grow.
"This is the day we step up, at long last, to one of the world's biggest problems," Notley said at a press conference on Sunday. "This is the day we stop denying there is an issue. And this is the day we do our part." Alberta is also vowing to cut methane gas emissions by 45 percent by 2025.
Her announcement came on the eve of a pivotal climate change meeting on Monday between Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and the Canadian premiers ahead of the Paris climate conference discussions. It's the first such meeting between the prime minister and the leaders of the provinces since 2009, although it's unclear what sort of tangible plan will emerge from it before they head, as a group, to Paris.
Trudeau congratulated Notley on taking a "very positive step in the fight against climate change" on Twitter.
The plan triggered a warm response from energy, environmental, and indigenous leaders, as well.
"On behalf of Canadian Natural Resources Ltd., my colleagues from Suncor, Cenovus and Shell, we applaud Premier Notley for giving us, to provide us the position of leadership on climate policy," said CNRL chairman Murray Edwards at the same press conference that Notley spoke at. "This plan recognizes the need for a balance between the environment and the economy. One that should provide greater predictability for both the industry and the province on a go-forward basis," he said.
Steve Williams, CEO of Suncor, added that "this plan will make one of the world's largest oil-producing regions a leader in addressing the climate change challenge."
Treaty No. 6 Grand Chief Tony Alexis billed it as an "historic event" for Alberta, saying that "we are now in a place where, industry, government and First Nations can move forward together on climate change."
Cameron Fenton, Canadian tar sands organizer with 350.org, said that while Alberta's climate plan a "big step in the right direction for a province that has spent so long on the wrong side of climate action ... we still have a long way to go to reach the kind of climate leadership that Canada needs to meet our obligation to 2ºC."
In a statement, he noted that a cap on the oil sands emissions is the kind of climate policy that was necessary a decade ago.
"Scientist tell us that at least 85% of tar sands reserved need to stay in the ground to meet Canada's climate obligations, and an emissions cap alone won't be enough to get us there," Fenton said. "This policy could mean that some approved tar sands projects will not be able to move forwards – and that's a good thing – but it also opens the door to manipulation by the fossil fuel industry, an industry that has undermined climate action in Alberta and around the globe time and time again. It's 2015, the measure of climate leadership is no longer setting a target for how much carbon you'll put in the air but legislating based on science and keeping fossil fuels in the ground." He urged "bold" leadership from Trudeau on this file, noting that Alberta "just leapfrogged" the federal government on climate ambition.
Former US vice president Al Gore also reacted to the Alberta announcement, saying: "this is also another powerful signal — well-timed on the eve of the Paris negotiations — that humanity is beginning to win our struggle to solve the climate crisis."