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Editorials Jason Kenney has a climate plan – it just isn’t a very good one

Last Tuesday, as more than half of Alberta voters chose Jason Kenney’s United Conservative Party, Canada’s latest tally of greenhouse gas emissions was released. The country’s emissions climbed – a reversal of three years of small declines. As of 2017, our output is 716 megatonnes of carbon-dioxide equivalent, up by eight from the year before. The entire increase can be pinned on rising oil sands emissions.

Canadians inside and outside Alberta would be forgiven for thinking Mr. Kenney’s climate-change plan is to have no climate-change plan, given the fervor with which he campaigned against Alberta’s carbon tax. Bill 1 of Mr. Kenney’s new government will be the Carbon Tax Repeal Act (never mind that this will lead to Ottawa’s imposition of its own carbon tax in the province).

Mr. Kenney, in fact, does have a climate strategy. It just isn’t a very good one. The UCP promised a “sensible approach” to greenhouse gas reductions. Parsing through the bits of information the party provided voters, that appears to mean vastly scaling back who pays for emissions – polluters, not commuters – and slashing the burden on those who do pay.

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To understand where Mr. Kenney falls short, let’s review where Canada stands, and where Alberta was headed under departing Premier Rachel Notley.

Canadian emissions in 2005 were 730 megatonnes. The country promised, in the Paris Agreement, a 30-per-cent cut from that mark by 2030, meaning the target is about 510 megatonnes. The required reduction from today to the not-far-away tomorrow is roughly the same as British Columbia, Saskatchewan and Quebec cutting their emissions to zero.

Alberta generates upward of 40 per cent of Canada’s emissions. Under Ms. Notley’s climate plan, Alberta made decisive – although not massive – steps toward reductions. Provincial emissions were 273 megatonnes in 2017, down a bit from before the NDP was elected. The carbon tax, alongside improved rules for large emitters and eliminating coal from electricity generation, were together going to grind down Alberta’s emissions to 263 megatonnes by 2030. That is some 50 megatonnes lower than projected before she arrived in office. Ms. Notley also imposed a cap on oil sands emissions, although its high level made made it somewhat symbolic. The biggest oil companies backed Ms. Notley’s plan.

It was not a revolutionary or radically onerous policy. Alberta was shooting for a number in 2030 that the province was at a few years ago. And it was going to be an all-hands-on-deck effort.

Now, at least until Ottawa brings in its carbon tax to replace the one Mr. Kenney is set to repeal, drivers in Alberta will not pay to pollute. That is even though transportation is the third-largest source of emissions in Alberta behind oil and gas, and electricity generation. (Nationally, transportation is the No. 2 source of emissions, and drivers of cars and trucks produce more each year than the oil sands.)

Mr. Kenney has also warmed to coal. “Jason digs coal” was a pitch he made several years ago when running for Alberta’s Progressive Conservative leadership. The UCP platform made room for continued coal power.

It’s an area where Mr. Kenney gets a fail on climate policy. The end of coal power was central to the NDP’s plan to reduce Alberta’s emissions.

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Finally, on the one climate measure Mr. Kenney promised, he is going back in time. In 2007, Alberta’s Progressive Conservatives introduced carbon pricing on large emitters. The NDP updated the program to address its shortcomings, such as a lack of incentives and rewards for businesses delivering the best results.

Mr. Kenney decried those NDP improvements as “another cash cow for government.” He has promised to roll the system back to the old version, and to cut the cost of carbon for large emitters by a third, to $20 a tonne from $30.

The UCP platform predicted Mr. Kenney’s scheme for large emitters will generate $570-million for the Alberta treasury in 2020-21. That’s about half of what Ms. Notley’s rules would have produced.

The bottom line is that the incoming UCP government intends to eliminate the provincial carbon tax on consumers, while reducing it for industry.

Mr. Kenney knows climate change is a real issue, and he’s not planning on doing nothing about it. He just isn’t planning on doing much.

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