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Alberta, with largest oil industry, sends fewer reps to COP26 than any other energy province

The province with Canada's largest oil and gas industry has sent one of the country's smallest delegations to the international climate conference, where emissions from that industry are under scrutiny.

2 Alberta bureaucrats attend global climate conference that Kenney calls 'gab fest'

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, left, attends an event about the Global Methane Pledge at the COP26 UN Climate Summit on Nov. 2. Alberta Premier Jason Kenney, right, sent two provincial representatives to COP26. (Evan Vucci, Amber Bracken)

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The province with Canada's largest oil and gas industry has sent one of the country's smallest delegations to an international climate conference where emissions from that sector are under scrutiny.

It's a missed opportunity, says one observer.

"It's incredibly good to be there and learn from these events," said Keith Brownsey, a political scientist at Mount Royal University. "It's smart, but apparently we don't think it's all that smart."

The Conference of Parties (COP), as it's known, meets every year and is the global decision-making body set up in the early 1990s to implement the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and subsequent climate agreements.

  • Have questions about COP26 or climate science, policy or politics? Email us: ask@cbc.ca. Your input helps inform our coverage.

A preliminary list of the Canadians attending the COP26 meetings in Glasgow, Scotland, shows that of 200 Canadian delegates two are from the Alberta government.

They are officials from Emissions Reduction Alberta, an agency funding emissions-reducing technologies, and are the province's only representatives.

'Gabfest in Glasgow'

Almost every province has sent more delegates or higher-level representatives to the meetings, which are setting the world's path to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuels.

Newfoundland has nine people at the meetings and Manitoba has six. Ontario has four, as does the Northwest Territories. Quebec has 36 representatives.

Five provinces sent environment ministers. Prince Edward Island sent the director and coordinator of its environment department.

Inuit and Metis groups have more representation than Albertans. So do groups such as the Climate Action Network. Suncor has its own delegates.

  • WATCH | Trudeau pitches global carbon prices at COP26

Trudeau pitches global carbon prices at COP26

11 months ago
Duration 2:01
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau used his platform at COP26 to pitch a global carbon pricing program. Though several European countries are on board, it’s a tough sell without the support of big emitters like the U.S. or China.

There are also more Mounties at the meetings than representatives of the province with, arguably, the most at stake of any Canadian jurisdiction.

On Wednesday, Premier Jason Kenney defended his decision to send a small delegation to what he called earlier in the week a "gabfest." 

"We will continue to vigorously defend Alberta's interests in emissions reduction and economic growth to ensure a strong future, but being part of a crowd of 30,000 is not an effective way of doing so," he said.

Kenney said it's more effective to have one-on-one meetings with financial and political leaders.

"We'll continue to have those direct conversations with key decision-makers."

'COP has a dramatic impact on us in Alberta'

But Brownsey said the United Conservative government has missed an important chance to gather information, make contacts and tell Alberta's story to the rest of the world.

"What goes on at COP has a dramatic impact on us in Alberta," he said.

"Even the Saudis were there, talking about how they were going to reduce emissions. And we sent two delegates?"

Brownsey said being at the conference allows delegates to better understand the positions of other countries.

"We don't know what's going on. We can read the official documents, but it's in the off-hours you find out what these groups are really thinking."

As well, Brownsey said not showing up leaves the field to a federal Liberal government with which Alberta's United Conservatives are often at odds.

"You complain about them but do nothing to counter them."

Opposition leader criticizes Alberta's small COP attendance

New Democrat Opposition Leader Rachel Notley has also criticized Alberta's small COP attendance.

"All Albertans who care about the climate and all working Albertans who have jobs in the oil and gas sector need to be represented," she said in a Facebook post this week.

"There's an opportunity to protect our share of the international market. It's a missed opportunity by a government that thinks ducking and covering is actually an economic policy."

So far, the COP26 conference has seen announcements from Canada on emissions caps for oil and gas as well as agreements on reforestation.

Banks, insurers and investors managing $160 trillion have pledged to emphasize green investing. A number of countries are expected to commit on Thursday to ending public financing for fossil fuel projects abroad by the end of 2022.

Fossil fuels get more public support in Canada than in any other G20 country, a recent study found.

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