New climate change targets, but no regulations for the oilsands

Ottawa announced new greenhouse gas emissions targets on Friday, but critics point to its failure to achieve current goals and the exclusion of oilsands regulations as areas of concern.

Critics skeptical of government announcement pledging 30 per cent reduction

A machine works at the Suncor Energy Inc. mine in this aerial photograph taken above the Athabasca oilsands near Fort McMurray. (Ben Nelms/Bloomberg)

Canada announced new greenhouse gas reduction targets on Friday, pledging to cut emissions by 30 per cent over the next 15 years, but the plan avoids placing regulations on the oilsands despite earlier promises.

"What we have put forward today is a serious target," said federal Environment Minister Leona Aglukkaq."We will still require work to get reducing our targets and we're determined to do that."

The pledge comes ahead of a June meeting between Ottawa and the provinces on emissions in the lead up to a major climate change conference in Paris at the end of the year.

While the new targets are almost double Canada's previous pledge, critics point out Canada is already behind on those less ambitions goals.

"It needs to back its words with action,"  said Amin Asadollahi, oilsands program director with the Pembina Institute, a clean energy think tank. 

"And it's now time to put some measures into place to reduce Canada's emissions and part of those measures need to include addressing oilsands emissions."

The plan does call for reductions in methane emissions in the oil and gas sector, from such things as flaring and industrial leaks, and new rules for natural gas-fired power plants and the chemical manufacturing industry.

According to Ted Laking, Aglukkaq's director of communications, the oilsands accounted for 10 per cent of methane emissions from the oil and gas sector in 2012.

The government plan also calls for technological innovation to improve environmental performance in the oilsands and relies heavily on the provinces to achieve emissions reductions.

Alberta and the oil patch

Rachel Notley, Alberta's incoming premier, would only comment in a brief statement, saying she plans to ensure the province plays "an active role in dealing with the issue of climate change."

According to the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, this adds another level of uncertainty during troubled times for Alberta's oil and gas sector.

"We want to make sure that government's keeping a good eye on our competitive position, but we know that a new government coming into Alberta needs a little bit of time to think through where they want to land on the regulations that are in place in Alberta," said Alex Ferguson, vice president of policy at CAPP.