Alberta's climate change strategy targets carbon, coal, emissions

Alberta's climate change strategy includes a tax on carbon, a cap on oilsands emissions, a phasing out of coal-fired electricity and an emphasis on wind power.

Strategy will cost industry billions, ordinary Albertans hundreds of dollars

Premier Rachel Notley unveils Alberta's climate strategy in Edmonton Sunday which will include carbon tax and a cap on oilsands emissions among other strategies. (Amber Bracken/Canadian Press)

Alberta's climate change strategy includes a tax on carbon, a cap on oilsands emissions, a phasing out of coal-fired electricity and an emphasis on wind power.

"Our goal is to become one of the world's most progressive and forward-looking energy producers," said Premier Rachel Notley. "We are turning the page on the mistaken policies of the past, policies that have failed to provide the leadership our province needed."

But the strategy will not be cheap and will be paid for not only by industry, but by ordinary Albertans.

The province estimates the carbon tax will amount to roughly $470 in increased heating, electricity and transportation costs for an average household in 2018, assuming that household consumes the same amount of fossil fuels as it did in 2015.

There will be, however, consumer rebates to offset some of those increases.

The carbon tax on industry is expected to raise $3 billion a year, which will be reinvested in renewable energy sectors and cover increased costs to consumers.

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The province sees the emissions cap as motivation for the oilsands sector to innovate and become more globally competitive.

Greenpeace, industry approve

The plan is endorsed by environmentalists and the oilsands industry.

"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," CNRL chairman Murray Edwards said at the news conference.

Steve Williams, CEO of Suncor, shared Edwards' enthusiasm.

"This plan will make one of the world's largest oil-producing regions a leader in addressing the climate change challenge," he said.

While Greenpeace said the measures will help slow Alberta's growing emissions, diversify its economy and create jobs, they still require emission reduction targets.

"Targets give an important signal to business, let the world know where Alberta is headed, and help ensure that direction leads to the reductions that science and equity demand," said spokesman Mike Hudema.

The Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP) offered cautiously optimistic comments.

"From our industries point of view, there are certainly a lot of details that will need to be filled in on multiple different fronts, but in general we're quite supportive of the use of natural gas and the phase out of coal," CAPP president Tim McMillan said.

One of the few dissenting voices came from the opposition Wildrose Party.

Leader Brian Jean said Albertans face job losses and economic uncertainty. 

"This new carbon tax will make almost every single Alberta family poorer, while accelerated plans to shut down coal plants will lead to higher power prices and further jobs losses," he said in a news release. 

Notley unveiled the strategy Sunday afternoon at a news conference.

Here are some of details of the plan according to a government news release:

Coal and renewable energy

  • Alberta will phase out all pollution created by burning coal and transition to more renewable energy and natural gas generation by 2030.
  • Three principles will shape the coal phase-out: maintaining reliability; providing reasonable stability in prices to consumers and business; and ensuring that capital is not unnecessarily stranded.
  • Two-thirds of coal-generated electricity will be replaced by renewables — primarily wind power — while natural gas generation will continue to provide firm base-load reliability.
  • Renewable energy sources will comprise up to 30 per cent of Alberta's electricity production by 2030.

Carbon pricing

  • A price will be put on carbon to provide an incentive for everyone to reduce greenhouse gas pollution. 
  • The price will be introduced in two steps: $20 per tonne in January 2017 and $30 per tonne in January 2018
  • An overall oilsands emission limit of 100 megatonnes will be set, with provisions for new upgrading and co-generation.

Methane reduction

  • In collaboration with industry, environmental organizations and affected First Nations, Alberta will implement a methane reduction strategy to reduce emissions by 45 per cent from 2014 levels by 2025.

Revenue neutral

  • All proceeds from carbon pricing will be reinvested in Alberta.
  • A portion of revenues will be invested into measures to reduce pollution, including clean-energy research and technology; green infrastructure, such as public transit; and programs to help Albertans reduce their energy use.
  • Other revenues will be invested in an adjustment fund that will help individuals and families make ends meet and provide transition support to small businesses, First Nations and people working in affected coal facilities.

Notley's unusual Sunday briefing came the day before Notley meets with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and other provincial and territorial leaders in Ottawa to discuss a national climate change plan and a week prior to a major international climate conference in Paris.

Trudeau tweeted his approval following the briefing.

The strategy is seen as critical to improving Alberta's environmental reputation at the international level in order to win better acceptance of the province's energy exports.

Former American vice-president, Al Gore, called the strategy inspired and forward thinking. 

"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," he said in a statement.

The Alberta strategy is based on information gathered by a five-member climate change panel chaired by Andrew Leach, academic director of energy programs at the University of Alberta's business school.


  • An earlier version of this story reported the estimated increase of the carbon tax on an average household to be $470 for home heating. That figure actually includes heating, electricity and transportation, according to Alberta Environment.
    Nov 23, 2015 1:56 PM MT