The180

How can Alberta's oil sands help mitigate climate change?

Even as world leaders have come to agree on the seriousness of climate change, there's little agreement on how to fix the problem. Edmonton policy consultant and oil and gas company board member Satya Das has an idea for leveraging the Alberta oil sands to reduce emissions in India.
An oil pump jack pumps oil in a field near Calgary, Alberta, July 21, 2014. Pump jacks are used to pump crude oil out of the ground after an oil well has been drilled. (Todd Korol/Reuters)

Even as world leaders have come to agree on the seriousness of climate change, there's little agreement on how to fix the problem. Some call for a simple carbon tax; others envision elaborate cap-and-trade systems to encourage emissions cuts.

But Edmonton policy consultant and oil and gas company board member Satya Das says he he may have found an answer in an unlikely place - the Alberta oil sands. He has written a paper proposing a "Commonwealth Climate Fund" to reduce India's greenhouse gas emissions and help transition that country to a low-carbon future, since India is one of the heaviest emitters in the world -- and has the largest economy in the Commonwealth. 

(The full interview is available in the audio player above. The following portions have been edited for clarity and length.)

So you would put a tariff on each barrel of oil that was taken out of the oil sands here in Alberta and then set up a fund that would go to support what, alternative green energy research across the Commonwealth?

Partly that, but it would be more like mitigation and adaptation... Alberta would commit a chunk of its government take from fossil fuel production to something like the Commonwealth Fund and then people would apply to the fund, or countries, or institutions or projects would apply to the fund for any yet-to-be-developed for market, just-off-the-test-bench, a wide range of ideas of how we can bring more sustainable energy on to the grid.

Given the fact that this province's economy is in the pits right now because of low oil prices, what do you think the reception of Albertans will be to the idea of diverting oil wealth to fix India's emissions problems?

I don't know what's it's going to be, but unless you bring big ideas forward for people to shoot down -- so you can have the kind of dialogue we're having now -- nothing ever gets done. Essentially, we are the owners of the resource, the energy companies are tenants on our land. If we start acting like owners, my proposal is an act of ownership... Companies will make profitability decisions based on a whole bunch of factors. What we do is we still have the most competitive taxation system anywhere in North America, for any business. Our royalties, by any international standard, are by far the lowest in the world, so now that we're reviewing royalties and climate change policies, this is another idea to throw into the mix.

Click the blue button above to listen to the full interview.

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