False Alberta Government claims highlight inadequate emissions regulations

The Government of Alberta yesterday made false claims about greenhouse gas emissions from the province’s major industrial polluters. The claims were included in a government news release and backgrounder detailing results from provincial greenhouse gas regulations for the year 2009.
“It is simply unacceptable for the government to make claims of emission reductions that do not correspond to reality,” said Matthew Bramley, Director of the Pembina Institute’s Climate Change Program. “The government’s exaggerations may be its attempt to respond to criticism from at home and abroad. But instead of overselling its fundamentally flawed regulations, the government needs to focus on developing a serious plan for real reductions in the province’s greenhouse gas pollution.”
According to Environment Canada’s latest data, Alberta’s greenhouse gas pollution rose by 43 per cent between 1990 and 2008, compared to 24 per cent for Canada as a whole. This means that Alberta, which contributed 18 per cent of Canada’s GDP growth over this period, accounted for no less than 52 per cent of Canada’s emission increase.
“The reality is that the province’s greenhouse gas regulations have no material effect on oil sands producers – yet the oil sands sector is the number one reason why Alberta’s emissions continue to increase,” Bramley added.
The government’s announcement yesterday included three key incorrect claims:
Government claim: “The 2009 results saw Industrial emissions reduced by seven million tonnes from business-as-usual.”
Reality: Out of these seven million tonnes, 1.8 million “emission performance credits” are not reductions because emitters can use them to pollute more in future years. In addition, most of the 3.8 million “carbon offsets” do not likely correspond to reductions that go beyond business-as-usual. This means that the “seven million tonnes” claim is likely at least a three-fold exaggeration.
Government claim: “Alberta is the only North American jurisdiction with regulations that require mandatory greenhouse gas reductions from all large industrial sectors.”
Reality: Companies need not reduce their emissions at all to comply with Alberta’s regulations. If a company’s emissions are above its target, it can comply simply by paying $15 for each tonne of excess emissions. For oil sands producers, this works out to be at most about 18 cents per barrel of oil – too little to have any material effect on firms’ production decisions.
Government claim: “Since the program started on July 1, 2007, more than 17 million tonnes of emissions that would have otherwise gone to the atmosphere were not released — the equivalent of 3.4 million cars off the road.”
Reality: To begin with, this is likely at least a three-fold exaggeration for the reasons explained above. But the exaggeration is worse in this case because it is mathematically incorrect to use cumulative emission reductions when calculating the equivalent number of cars removed.
The government’s news release acknowledged that Alberta’s regulations do not require “overall reductions.” In other words, greenhouse gas pollution continues to increase, because the regulations set targets for emissions “intensity” (emissions per unit of production), not absolute emissions. According to Environment Minister Renner, these emission increases are justified by Alberta’s increasing oil and gas output. But economic analysis published last year by the Pembina Institute shows that with a strong price or cap on emissions, Alberta could continue expanding oil sands production and its economy over the next decade while reducing the absolute level of greenhouse gas pollution.
The government’s release also shows that the $15/tonne payments into the province’s Climate Change and Emissions Management Fund (CCEMF) have accounted for half of the compliance with the regulations to date. Unfortunately, there is no clarity on the amount of emission reductions that might be achieved using this money or when those reductions might occur. In addition, the majority of the CCEMF’s board members are closely associated with the industry sectors making payments into the fund. This raises concerns that the CCEMF may not give full consideration to investments in emission reductions outside those sectors.

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