The Blind Spots in Alberta’s Climate Change Plan

Cameron Fenton of 350.org says Alberta’s government will fail to keep fossil fuels in the ground despite its new policies supported both by Big Oil and environmental groups

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Story Transcript

JESSICA DESVARIEUX, PRODUCER, TRNN: Welcome to the Real News Network. I’m Jessica Desvarieux in Baltimore.

Alberta, Canada, home of the controversial oil tar sands, has a new climate change plan. It is being hailed as a historic turning point by supporters, and a job-killing policy by opponents, while others say it doesn’t go far enough to avert climate change. Let’s break down what’s in this new plan.

The province will enforce a carbon tax of $20 per tonne starting in 2017, rising to $30 per tonne by 2018. This means it will cost $0.07 more per liter of gas, and on average $470.00 more annually for Albertans to heat their home. But the government says 60 percent of consumers will qualify for a rebate for some or all of the additional expenditures. The remaining $3 billion raised by the carbon tax will go towards developing green energy and better public transport. Alberta will also phase out coal by 2030, with renewable energy to make up 30 percent of energy by then. And for the first time there is to be a cap on tar sands emissions: 100 megatonnes of oil sands emissions, which is about 30 more megatonnes than are currently being emitted.

Now joining us to give us his analysis of the plan is our guest, Cam Fenton. He is the Canadian tar sands organizer with 350.org, and he’s also the author of a recent article published in the Huffington Post: Alberta’s New Climate Plan is Historic, But It’s Not enough. Thanks for joining us, Cam.

CAM FENTON: Thanks for having me.

DESVARIEUX: So Cam, that was a long intro. I just had to lay the groundwork for our viewers there into what is in this new plan. You say that the plan is historic and a step forward. Can you just explain how? And in what ways does it not go far enough?

FENTON: Sure. I mean, I think it’s historic largely because, you know, as little as two years ago you would have struggled to get the Alberta government to admit climate change was a thing, let alone to take any kind of action, put an emissions cap on tar sands, and things like that. So it is, really, a historic step forward. I think the challenge is that it’s a step that we needed ten years ago. I think that we’ve moved to a point with the fight against climate change where emissions targets and prices on carbon are good, but they’re nowhere near enough to do what we know that the science says we have to, which is leave the vast majority of fossil fuel reserves in the ground.

And so I think this is both a step forward like a lot of, I think a lot of climate policy today. It’s a step forward, but it’s not the leap we need.

DESVARIEUX: But Cam, we also have to deal with the fact that there are some that are still arguing aggressively that this is really going to hurt jobs and everyday people. A recent oil and gas industry report cites that 35,000 Albertans have lost their jobs this year alone. Wouldn’t this energy policy put another nail in that coffin?

FENTON: Well, I think when you look at it those 35,000 job losses were because of the shock and collapse of oil prices. And if you look at places that haven’t seen that kind of, that kind of drastic economic impact or job loss, they’ve been those economic regions that have diversified and have moved beyond simply being, relying on a boom and bust cycle of fossil fuel technology. And so I think what we really need to see, and what this policy is a step in the right direction towards, is diversifying Alberta’s economy as an energy producer into one that’s going to be more based in renewables and clean energy, public transit, and in other sectors.

And so I think that there’s this big shift that needs to happen, and I think what we do know today more than ever before is that there are more jobs in clean energy, there are more jobs in solutions. There may not be as much money for a few corporations. But that as we move forward with the sort of economic transition that comes hand-in-hand with solving climate change we’re actually going to build an economy that works more for people on the planet going forward.

DESVARIEUX: We should also note that this plan was actually supported by various environmental organizations, as well as some oil companies. Two really strange bedfellows. Do you see that this represents a step forward?

FENTON: I think any time that a tar sands company calls you a climate leader you really need to raise your eyebrows. And so I think what this represents is a new era in the fight against climate change. I think we’ve moved past a point where the people opposing action on climate change can politically–can politically stand up and say we don’t believe in the science, we don’t believe climate change is real. We’ve moved past that point. I think the Keystone XL decision was sort of the, the hard stomp down on the last sort of dregs of the, the denialist fight against climate change. What we have now is the industry moving into a position where they are acknowledging climate change exists, they’re pushing for sort of solutions that will still allow them to maintain business as usual.

And so when we have, for example, fossil fuel companies around the world calling for a price on carbon, maybe I’m just too cynical, but I don’t think that they’ve actually agreed that it’s time to get out of the fossil fuel game. I think what they’ve figured out is how they can come out seeming to be on the side of climate action while still being able to burn all the reserves that they have right now that they know they can’t, if we really want to keep a ceiling of 2 degrees, or at least even deliver a limit on warming below that.

DESVARIEUX: Then Cam, what would really be a step forward, then? What would energy policy look like if it was going to balance protecting jobs and the planet?

FENTON: Well, I think the first thing is that if we look at the science and we follow the science of climate change, it says we have to keep fossil fuels in the ground. And that’s where policy needs to lead. We saw the first iterations of that when Bernie Sanders and other U.S. lawmakers put forward the Keep It In The Ground Act a few weeks ago. And so I think that’s the first thing, is one, we have to keep this in the ground. And then the second is we have to couple that kind of legislation to keep fossil fuels in the ground with rapid, ambitious, and justice-based plans to transition economies.

And so I think that, you know, in Canada there’s a great plan for this put together by Naomi Klein and authored by dozens of other people called the Leap Manifesto that really puts forward a proposal that says, you know, stop doing the bad things and start doing what we need. And I think, you know, the first thing that we need to do that, though, is to acknowledge and to be basing our policy in science. That fossil fuels have to stay in the ground, you know, 85 percent of tar sands reserves will have to stay in the ground for Canada to do its part.

And so I think if that’s what the science says, if that’s what our goal is, then that’s what the policy needs to be based in.

DESVARIEUX: All right. Cam Fenton joining us from Canada. Thank you so much for being with us.

FENTON: Thanks for having me.

DESVARIEUX: And thank you for joining us on the Real News Network.

End

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