Alberta's NDP government took a first step toward a new climate change strategy Friday, but made it clear that new emissions targets and the policies to implement them will have to wait until the end of a consultation process.

Environment Minister Shannon Phillips has appointed a five-member panel that will spend the next few weeks gathering information and seeking public input as the province moves toward a "made in Alberta" climate change plan.

"It is my goal to have a new proposal prepared in advance of the United Nations Conference of the Parties in Paris this December," Phillips said. "To get this right, we need to hear from Albertans."

Phillips said previous Alberta governments have set greenhouse gas targets but pursued virtually no new policies to help meet them. Asked repeatedly when her government will set its own targets, Phillips said hard numbers will have to wait until the panel delivers its report, expected by the end of October or in early November.

"I expect that the panel will have a tremendous amount to say on the topic of targets, and they will be offering us their best advice and options on how to move forward on that," she said.

Public consultation

Over the next several weeks, Albertans will be invited to go online or attend public sessions to share their ideas to address climate change.

The panel, chaired by Andrew Leach, academic director of energy programs at the University of Alberta school of business, will hold one-day public sessions in Edmonton and Calgary this September.

The report compiled by the panel will try to answer four key questions, Phillips said.

  • How to put a price on carbon.
  • How to transition to more a sustainable electricity system.
  • How to grow the renewable energy sector.
  • How to increase energy efficiency across the province.

The panel plans to gather input from industry, municipalities, academics, First Nations and M├ętis communities. The panel's advice will help the government set "credible and realistic targets" for reducing emissions, Phillips said.

"Climate change is one of the most pressing issues facing our province and our world. Albertans must do their part to address climate change," she said. "We intend to take real action, but we will not do so until we have the right, evidence-based framework for doing so."

The other four panel members are:

  • Gord Lambert, president and chief collaboration officer of GRL Collaboration for Sustainability, formerly with Suncor Energy.
  • Linda Coady, chief sustainability officer for Enbridge Inc.
  • Stephanie Cairns, principal of Wrangellia Consulting, and a Pembina Institute board member.
  • Angela Adams, director of education with Unifor, and a trustee with the Fort McMurray Public School District.

The timeline is tight, but Leach said the panel members have been working on climate change issues for decades.

Phillips said much work has already been done on these issues across the continent and around the world.

"We have many examples of how to do things, and perhaps also how not to do things," she said.

Coady was asked whether she thinks the energy industry will be portrayed as the villain in the climate-change story.

"I hope industry isn't painted as the bad guy," she said. "Because industry is going to be integral to the solution here. And I think most people who work in the Alberta energy sector realize that, and are going to be pleased to have an opportunity to be engaged in this process."

Mixed reaction

The province's announcement met with a mixed reaction from environmental groups and industry members.

The Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP), the group that represents Canada's oil and gas industry, released a statement late Friday afternoon pledging its co-operation with the plan.

That group proposed three key themes it would like the panel to consider, including having industries work more collaboratively across the province and at the national level. The group said its main priority is investing in and developing new technologies that increase efficiency.

"Technology is critical to getting Alberta's oil and natural gas out of the ground responsibly in a lower-carbon future," wrote the group's president and chief executive officer Tim McMillan in the press release.

Others believe the government's plan does not go far enough.

Mike Hudema, the climate and energy campaigner with Greenpeace, said he was alarmed that the process didn't begin with specific emission reduction targets in line with international guidelines.

"A better approach would have been to have the science dictate the target and then for the consultations to be about what is the roadmap to reach that target," Hudema said. 

"We really feel that target should be set by science, not politics."