Notley’s bold environmental plan

This week's editorial tackles provincial and federal government environmental plans.

The environment and possible ways of protecting it have become the top agenda item at provincial, national and international levels as the calendar for next week’s COP 21 summit in Paris progresses rapidly.

COP 21 is the 21st session of the Conference Of the Parties, members of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, where member governments will try to agree on ways of reducing carbon emissions and preventing further warming of the atmosphere.

In the run up to the meeting, Premier Rachel Notley pulled off and announced a spectacular deal over the weekend, accomplishing what was believed to be unachievable; she brought together parties, which were thought to be irreconcilable, oil companies operating in the province’s oil sands region, the First Nations opposed to them as well as environmentalists who were sworn enemies of the oil produced in the province.

In doing so, she and hear team successfully persuaded all stakeholders that a plan could be worked to benefit all of them and the people of the province.

While there was the predictable criticism from main opposition Wildrose Party, there was also international praise for Alberta’s bold move to cap carbon emissions by introducing a carbon tax, not the least from the most outspoken international environmentalist, former US vice-president Al Gore.

At the federal level, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s invitation to premiers to represent Canada at the Paris summit altogether appears to be a firm message to both domestic and international public opinion that our country will take a position at the forefront of efforts to protect and preserve Mother Nature for future generations.

And that’s commendable.

As for current generations, in Alberta, here and now, what kind of burden or benefits will the new strategy bring to families, small businesses, big businesses and other stakeholders?

Canadian Taxpayers’ Federation says carbon tax will amount to $320/year in 2017 per family, $470/year in 2018 and $900/year in 2030. Whether this is an acceptable cost for the sake of future generations is a decision that every Albertan will have to make for themselves.

On the other hand, Pembina Institute, a think-tank says the government’s carbon emission reduction plan, through its component of phasing out coal-based energy production by 2030, will improve air quality and as such will prevent emergency room visits for respiratory problems, cut down asthmatic attacks and will save $300 million per year in health care costs.

So the picture is neither totally black nor snow white.

But one statistic definitely makes a point in favor of government of Notley’s determination to do something serious to address the current situation: According to Environment Canada, Alberta produced 267 Mt of carbon emissions in 2013, which represents 36.8 per cent of the national total that year.

As the foremost polluter of environment among Canadian provinces and territories, Alberta needed to demonstrate that it was ready to do its part to reduce carbon emissions and Premier Notley seems to have done that, importantly, with the consent of a wide range of stakeholders.

The plans have been laid out and the next step is careful implementation and monitoring of those plans by all parties who have a stake at their success.

 

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