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Federal Environment Minister Catherine McKenna on Friday urged the Alberta government to implement its proposed cap on oil sands greenhouse gas emissions, saying the measure is an important element in Canada’s climate change plan.

In a conference call from Poland where she is attending a United Nations climate conference, the minister said Canada will have to reduce GHGs beyond the existing target to cut them by 30 per cent from 2005 levels by 2030 as the world works to avert the most catastrophic impacts of climate change. Alberta Premier Rachel Notley’s climate plan – which includes the proposed cap along with a carbon tax and phaseout of coal-fired power – is a key part of the national plan to meet the current goal.

However, Ms. Notley’s NDP government indicated this week it will delay implementation of its long-promised emissions cap until after a spring election, while polls suggest Ms. Notley has a steep uphill battle to hold on to power.

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“Alberta set its cap and that’s part of our made-in-Canada climate plan, and that’s really important that Alberta follows through on that," Ms. McKenna told reporters in a call from Karowice, Poland.

The New Democratic Party government passed legislation that allows for the cap but must now adopt regulations that would spell out how it would work and what enforcement mechanisms would be used to ensure it is respected. The government has yet to release draft regulations – the usual procedure before finalizing new rules – and time is running out before a spring election campaign.

The Alberta government indicated this week that it will continue to work with industry and others over the course of the next year, and confirmed that the regulations would not be finalized before the election, The Globe and Mail reported. United Conservative Party Leader Jason Kenney has vowed to scrap the NDP climate plan should he win government.

The province’s regulation of oil sands emissions is a key factor in how the federal government will treat the sector under its environmental assessment legislation that is now before the Senate. Alberta wants most new oil sands developments exempted from a full federal review, a demand Ottawa is prepared to meet so long as the projects – which rely on steam to extract bitumen from underground – are covered under the promised emissions cap.

The impact-assessment legislation, which is now before the Senate, has drawn angry opposition from the oil industry and Alberta politicians. The United Conservative Party said this week it would oppose any move by Ottawa to regulate GHG emissions from steam-based oil sands projects, arguing the resources are owned and managed by the province.

The NDP cap would limit GHGs from the oil sands to 100 megatonnes a year of carbon dioxide, a target that still allows for a 50-per-cent increase from their levels in 2015 when Ms. Notley announced the plan. The province would exempt certain natural gas-fired power plants used for steam to extract bitumen in the oil sands, as well as some new upgraders to process bitumen into lighter oil.

Given current development plans, the industry is not expected to hit the cap before 2030, though that could change if oil prices spike higher and the three pipelines currently either under construction or awaiting final regulatory approvals are built.

Even with the cap, the emissions from the oil industry would account for more than a fifth of the 523-megatonne target that Canada is committed to achieving by 2030.

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