Kenney government accused of burying dire climate-change report 

The Opposition New Democrats and the Alberta Federation of Labour are accusing the government of Premier Jason Kenney of burying a climate-change report that shows the province will warm faster than the rest of the world.

Report warns of profound impacts as Alberta warms faster than rest of world

Alberta Environment released the report earlier this week on the government's open portal website, six months after it received the final draft. (Government of Alberta)

The Opposition New Democrats and the Alberta Federation of Labour are accusing the government of Premier Jason Kenney of burying a climate-change report that shows the province will warm faster than the rest of the world.

"Projected changes will profoundly impact Alberta's natural environment, and have the potential to affect the province's agriculture, infrastructure and natural resources, as well as the health and welfare of its inhabitants," states Alberta's Climate Future, a report co-authored by Canadian climate scientist Katherine Hayhoe and post-doctoral research fellow Anne Stoner from Texas Tech University.

Alberta Environment released the report earlier this week, without notifying the public, on the government's open portal website, six months after it received the final draft.

The report was backdated to Sept. 1, 2019, which pushed it back in the queue of released documents, making it more difficult to find, said Alberta Federation of Labour (AFL) president Gil McGowan.

"There is no doubt in my mind that the Kenney government made a concerted effort to bury this report," McGowan said, adding that the environment ministry denied freedom of information requests for the report from both the AFL and Global News, which first reported the story Thursday.

A spokesperson for Environment Minister Jason Nixon did not respond to an information request from CBC News.

Former NDP environment minister Shannon Phillips commissioned the report but it was not completed before the United Conservative Party swept to power last April.

"It is quite clear that we needed to understand the risk that climate change poses to Albertans," NDP environment critic Marlin Schmidt said in an interview Thursday.

"And I think that the results of this report quite clearly show that Alberta stands to lose more than a lot of places in the world because of the effects of climate change."

Global warming will affect economy

Both Schmidt and McGowan contend the Kenney government didn't want the public to see the report because it has no intention of acting on climate change, even, they say, as corporations such as Teck Resources Ltd. withdraw investment from Alberta because global investors now require governments to have clear policies to address climate issues.

Teck withdrew its application for the $20-billion Frontier oilsands mine on Sunday. In a letter to the federal environment minister, Teck president Don Lindsay said customers want policies that reconcile resource development and climate change — something he said the region has yet to achieve, but he did not clarify if the region he was referring to was Alberta or Canada.

"Unfortunately, the growing debate around this issue has placed Frontier and our company squarely at the nexus of much broader issues that need to be resolved. In that context, it is now evident that there is no constructive path forward for the project," Lindsay wrote.

McGowan said "there is an energy transition going on and the world is moving on, but this government, by its actions, is showing that it is a climate-[change] denying government and that that kind of climate belligerence is going to hurt our oil and gas industry rather than help it."

The report's conclusions are consistent with findings of other scientific research about the impacts of human-induced climate change throughout north-central North America.

The report says that for each degree of global mean temperature increase, Alberta could expect:

  • A 2 C increase in average winter temperature and a 1.5 C increase in average summer temperature. 
  • An increase of about 3 C in the temperature of the coldest day of the year.
  • Decreases in the number of very cold days — below –30 C — from a few days in the province's south to more than a week in the north.
  • Increases of about 2 C in the temperature of the warmest day of the year and a rapid increase in the number of very warm days — above 30 C.
  • Lengthening of the frost-free season by about two weeks, which would lengthen the growing season but bring an increase in pests and insects.
  • A consistent and continued decrease in the amount of fall-winter-spring precipitation that falls as snow, and while growing season precipitation may increase slightly, or not change at all, "temperatures are projected to increase and soil moisture during the growing season is projected to decrease, increasing the risk of drier conditions."

Critics say UCP won't act on climate change

"The observed and projected future changes documented in this report have the potential to affect Alberta's agriculture, economy, ecosystems, energy demand, infrastructure, and more," the report states in its conclusions. 

"For example, as temperatures increase, the optimal growing zones for specific crops, as well as for entire ecosystems, such as the coniferous forest, will shift poleward. The geographic range of pests and diseases limited by cold winter temperatures will also expand northward.

"Decreasing risks of extreme cold and increased risk of extreme heat and heavy precipitation have the potential to affect both public and private infrastructure, with implications for a broad range of sectors, from insurance to energy demand for heating and cooling residential and commercial properties."

Authors Hayhoe and Stoner said the report's projections are "intended to enable assessment of these impacts and inform efforts to build resilience to future change."

But Schmidt, the NDP environment critic, said the Kenney government is "ideologically committed to not taking action on climate change."

The United Conservative Party ran on a promise to kill a carbon tax imposed by the Notley government. It kept that promise and also eliminated other programs meant to mitigate climate change while diversifying the province's economy.

In January, as promised, the federal government implemented a carbon tax on Alberta. The Alberta government has mounted a legal challenge of the tax, and recently won a case before the Alberta Court of Appeal. The Supreme Court of Canada will now decide if the carbon tax is constitutional.

Documents from Alberta's challenge to the federal carbon tax show the UCP government has no immediate plans to further mitigate the province's greenhouse gas emissions.

During cross-examination in October, Alberta Energy assistant deputy minister Robert Savage conceded the government had no concrete plans to introduce new climate change policies and has made no firm commitment on how, or how much, it will reduce GHG emissions.

"What [the Kenney government has] committed to doing is going out and talking to Albertans on what we want to do on climate change," said Savage, who is no relation to Energy Minister Sonya Savage.

"The government takes the issue seriously," Savage said. "They know it's important. They know they need to reduce. They're trying to do it in the most cost-effective way." 

The UCP government implemented its own Technology Innovation and Emissions Reduction (TIER) program that applies to large industrial emitters.

But Savage conceded TIER would reduce GHG emissions less than the previous government's programs. Still, the federal government determined it was equivalent to federal standards.



Charles Rusnell

Former investigative reporter

Charles Rusnell was a reporter with CBC Investigates, the investigative unit of CBC Edmonton, from 2008 until 2021. His journalism in the public interest is widely credited with forcing accountability, transparency and democratic change in Alberta.