In Alberta, oil remains a very influential power sector. (Dan Barnes Getty Images)
By Hélène Lequitte, Initiative de journalisme local/ Le Devoir
MONTREAL – Alberta is the province that emits the most greenhouse gases in the country. If Canada is to keep its promises to the Paris Agreement, signed five years ago, the Western Province will need to seriously embark on its energy transition.
Political will here will be crucial.
“The national effort goes through the provinces, especially Alberta,” said Marc Lacrampe, engineering and business management consultant in Calgary. Under the 2015 Paris Agreement, Canada made two main commitments: to achieve a 30 per cent reduction in its greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 and to achieve net zero emissions by 2050.
However, while Canada is indeed committed to reducing its environmental impact, a dissonance remains between the national discourse and Alberta’s performance. According to the federal government, this province recorded an 18 per cent increase in its greenhouse gas emissions, or 232 million tonnes in 2005, then 273 million tonnes in 2018.
Alberta has a prominent place in national gas emissions, with high growth compared to other provinces. It is hardly surprising when the political will to begin its energy transition and diversify its economy is absent.
Oil, a sector of influence
In Alberta, oil remains a very influential power sector. “It represents 25 per cent of Alberta’s GDP, or about $83 billion,” said Marc Lacrampe.
Since the 2000s, the oil sector has experienced steady growth in the job market. On a population of approximately 4.1 million inhabitants, “this represents a workforce of nearly 130,000 jobs in 2017. This sector is very sensitive both economically and environmentally (for emissions of Alberta) and politics, especially for the provincial governments (Alberta and Saskatchewan), ”summarizes the consultant.
Indeed, Jason Kenney, Premier of Alberta relies heavily on the investment of taxpayer money in the Keystone XL project (1.5 billion) in order to preserve the confidence of the people who elected him. The oil sector is a key argument during this election period for those who still believe in it, and for having built their entire existence around this sector.
Diversification and political will
However, large international investors, such as BlackRock, the largest asset manager in the world, The Hartford, the American insurance company, or even the Swedish central bank, are withdrawing from Alberta oil because of the growing awareness for environmental impact. The Conservatives see that they will not always be able to ignore the energy transition.
“It’s true, even with Jason Kenney there is a kind of double talk. He sees environmental concern rising and knows that it is becoming unavoidable, ”analyzes Frédéric Boily, professor and specialist in Canadian and Quebec politics at the Saint-Jean Campus of the University of Alberta.
However, changing the mentality of an economic model without political will, “is like trying to hijack an oil tanker at sea: it takes time because of the gigantic weight. Here, the weight is political and economic,” notes Marc Lacrampe.
Recall that Alberta and Saskatchewan took action in the Supreme Court to challenge the imposition of the carbon tax by Ottawa. In February 2020, the Alberta Court of Appeal even concluded that the measure was not constitutional.
In the meantime, the Government of Alberta indicates that the total contribution of the province’s oil and gas sector represents 43 per cent of the province’s greenhouse gas emissions.
Painful economic development
Economically, the collateral damage is already noticeable. People find themselves unemployed, a passage difficult to control and painful for the population.
On November 25, Calgary-based Imperial Oil Ltd. laid off approximately 200 of its 6,000 employees in Canada. Imperial is majority-owned by US energy giant ExxonMobil Corp, which in October said it was cutting its global workforce by cutting 14,000 jobs.
Despite serious and poorly exploited advantages in renewable energies (wind, solar) as well as in other sectors of activity, such as artificial intelligence or even honey production, the transition cannot be made without a clear political will.