Edmonton

Abandoning oil and gas a utopian impossibility, Alberta's premier says

Alberta’s premier says it’s impossible for people living in a cold, northern climate like Canada to abandon fossil fuels, despite the dire conclusions of an international climate change report.

Jason Kenney reacts to troubling warnings in international climate report

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney says consumers will need Alberta's oil and gas products for decades to come. He made the remarks after a news conference Aug. 9, 2021, at the Labatt's brewing plant in Edmonton. (Janet French/CBC)

Alberta's premier says it's impossible for people living in a cold, northern climate like Canada to abandon fossil fuels, despite the dire conclusions of an international climate change report.

While the United Nations' Secretary General said the report should sound a "death knell" for coal and fossil fuels, Premier Jason Kenney said demand for the subterranean fruits of this oil-rich province isn't going anywhere.

"The notion that we can shut off a major, industrialized economy with the flick of a switch is patently unrealistic," Kenney told reporters at a news conference at an Edmonton brewery on Monday.

Ending the use of fossil fuels in a cold climate would come at an "incalculable" toll to human life, Kenney said.

He has been a staunch defender of Alberta's oil and gas industry, creating a publicly funded "war room" to counter misinformation about producers' environmental records, and launching a $3.5-million public inquiry into foreign sources of funding besmirching the reputation of Alberta oil and gas.

The province has the third-largest proven oil reserve in the world. The industry employs more than 100,000 people in Alberta.

Kenney said Monday the majority of the world is dependent on fossil fuels and there is "no credible way" to eliminate humans' dependency on that energy source in the foreseeable future.

Canadians would have to park every vehicle, turn off their heat and abandon air travel to do it, he said.

"It is a utopian notion that we can suddenly end the use of hydrocarbon based energy," he said. "The challenge is to shrink carbon and CO2 output, and Alberta is increasingly a world leader in that respect."

The Municipal Climate Change Action Centre, which is partly funded by the Alberta government, says on its website electric vehicles do work in cold climates and produce fewer emissions than gasoline cars, even using Alberta's coal-dependent electricity grid.

Kenney pointed to provincial investments in carbon capture, utilization and storage technology and industry plans for the world's first net-zero hydrogen plant near Edmonton as key steps to tackling climate change.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report, published Monday, says some of the effects of human-caused climate change are now irreversible, and will have consequences for decades or longer.

The report says human activity will likely warm the earth more than 2 C higher than pre-industrial times, prompting inevitable rises in sea levels, droughts, and floods unless the world can achieve "deep reductions" in greenhouse gas emissions.

Alberta is the top producer of greenhouse gases in the nation, according to the federal government. Total carbon dioxide emissions from the oil and gas sector have also been on the rise for the past 30 years, despite the industry becoming less emissions intensive.

Major Canadian oil producers have pledged to become net zero by 2050.

Alberta's Opposition says the United Conservative Party's plan to reduce emissions is lacklustre and risks scaring away global investors.

The NDP wants Alberta's electrical grid to be net zero by 2035, economic development and innovation critic Deron Bilous said in a statement.

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