Two weeks before global climate-change talks are set to begin, Alberta's Energy Minister said her government will oversee the creation of a policy that will prove it's serious about reducing greenhouse-gas emissions – while not undermining the province's oil and gas industry.
Energy Minister Margaret McCuaig-Boyd said the province's NDP government will both take a leadership role on the climate-change file and stand up for Alberta's energy industry – hammered by low crude and natural gas prices and limited pipeline access to global markets. The minister made her comments one week after U.S. President Barack Obama rejected the Keystone XL pipeline while describing Alberta's oil-sands bitumen as unneeded and unwanted "dirtier" crude.
"Perceived or real, we don't have a good reputation right now and we need to clean that up," Ms. McCuaig-Boyd told reporters on Friday after a speech to the Economic Club of Canada in Calgary.
"We need to show real change, that we're serious that we're going to do it. But absolutely, we don't want to kill industry in doing it … or slow them down," the minister said.
Alberta Premier Rachel Notley has promised to unveil "substantive parts" of Alberta's new climate-change strategy a week before she departs for the UN-sponsored climate-change conference, which begins Nov. 30 in Paris. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is scheduled to attend the international meeting and has invited the premiers to join him.
Earlier this year, Ms. Notley's government announced plans to increase the province's intensity-based carbon levy on Jan. 1, before a further hike to $30 in 2017. The increases will coincide with a near doubling of efficiency targets large polluters must meet. The NDP government has also signalled that emissions from the province's coal-fired power plants – which produce more than half of Alberta's electricity – will soon face increased scrutiny.
While some energy-sector leaders have called for a clear and substantial carbon tax, others are worried about the costs a new climate-change plan might entail.
However, the NDP government has contended that weak environmental policies during more than four decades of Progressive Conservative rule harmed the province's reputation, emboldened pipeline opponents and made it harder to sell crude abroad. The U.S. President's decision on Keystone XL and his criticism of the oil sands earlier this month proved that, Ms. McCuaig-Boyd insisted in her speech.
But in lines that could have been spoken by previous PC government energy ministers, she also said misinformation about Alberta's oil exports abounds and the news of environmental improvements already enacted by oil-sands producers needs to be shared. She said a realistic and achievable "made-in-Alberta plan" on climate change is needed "so that one isn't forced on us from outside." She argued that pain in the province's oil and gas sector hurts all of Canada's economy.
Ms. McCuaig-Boyd said she has been keeping industry members in the loop on the climate-change file, as well as the review of the province's energy royalties – a process which is also creating uncertainty within Alberta's oil and gas sector. "I don't believe there will be any surprises," she said.
Ms. McCuaig-Boyd will meet with newly appointed federal Natural Resources Minister James Carr on Nov. 25, and said increased pipeline capacity to allow more market access for Alberta's landlocked energy producers is her "No. 1 issue."