Citizen Action Monitor

Charts show Alberta’s dirty economy will create a “significant burden” for the rest of Canada

Alberta’s (and Saskatchewan’s) increase in climate pollution is preventing the rest of Canada from meeting its promise to the world.

No 2549 Posted by fw, November 23, 2019

Barry Saxifrage

“If Alberta doesn’t secede [from Canada], then Alberta’s dirty economy will remain Canada’s problem, creating a significant burden on other Canadians. Right now, the Alberta burden is indirect — the rest of Canada has to do more than its fair share in cutting carbon, and put up with breaking pledges to the international community. But the new EU president is already promising to impose border tariffs against high carbon jurisdictions, and the idea is gaining steam around the world. In a carbon-constrained world, Canadian farmers and manufacturers would pay the price directly, out of their pockets, for Alberta’s refusal to control carbon emissions. Alberta’s carbon pollution and excessively dirty economy are already overwhelming the progress Canadians make against climate change.”Chris Hatch and Barry Saxifrage, National Observer

Christopher Hatch is a Canadian writer and commentator on climate change. Barry Saxifrage is a climate reporter and National Observer’s resident chart geek. He focuses on the data of climate change.

Once again Barry Saxifrage’s charts expose what’s wrong with Alberta’s economy, a broken economy that is dragging down the rest of Canada. And once again Western separation from Canada has become a hot topic.

Below is my repost of another of the National Observer’s excellent coverage of the continuing decline of Alberta’s polluting oil and gas industry. Included are my added subheadings, highlighted text, and some minor reformatting of the text. And don’t miss Barry Saxifrage’s stinging rebuttal to a reader’s comment appended at the end of this repost. 

Alternatively, read the Hatch/Saxifrage piece on the National Observer’s website by clicking on the following linked title.

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Independent Alberta would be the world’s worst climate polluter by Chris Hatch and Barry Saxifrage, National Observer, November 21, 2019

Alberta would overtake Saudi Arabia as the worst climate-polluter on the planet per-person if the province secedes from Canada. Saudi Arabia currently holds the title for world’s most dangerous nation, regularly ranking dead last in analyses of climate performance.

Charts show how poorly Alberta compares to Saudi Arabia

Now, Barry Saxifrage has produced some of his signature charts which show just how badly Alberta compares even to the Arabian petro-kingdom. It’s a story that keeps getting dirtier the deeper we dig into the charts. (H/T to Emerald Bensadoun at Global News for drawing the Saudi comparison)

Triple the climate pollution

On per-capita basis, Alberta is already three times as bad as Saudi Arabia

On a per-capita basis, Alberta is already three times as bad as Saudi Arabia. This gap is likely to keep getting more extreme because the province is aggressively expanding its oil and gas industry.

Expanding Alberta’s oil and gas industry would increase fossil fuel emissions by 60%

The Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers is campaigning for expansions that would increase GHG emissions from fossil energy by 60 per cent. Alberta is currently planning to open the biggest oilsands mine in history, Teck Resources’ Frontier project.

Note that there are some very small countries in the world that are worse than Saudi Arabia, measured purely in terms of GHG emissions per capita. Notably, Qatar — and as you can see, Alberta is almost twice as polluting as that small headland in the Persian Gulf.

It’s not just Alberta’s oil and gas industry

Even excluding oil and gas industry pollution, Alberta’s economy is so dirty that each Albertan is 1.7 times as polluting as Saudis

This next chart is truly astonishing. You might think that Alberta is such a threat because of the massive expansions in the oil and gas industry, particularly the oilsands. But it turns out that governments and industry have built an economy so dirty that it makes each Albertan almost twice as polluting as Saudis, even if you ignore emissions from Alberta’s oil and gas sector entirely. To be more precise, as you can see on the chart, Albertans — without oil and gas industry pollution — are currently 1.7 times as polluting as Saudis (and note that the Saudi bar includes the kingdom’s oil and gas emissions). So, Alberta’s problem runs much deeper than the carbon emissions caused by clearcutting the boreal forest, removing wetlands, and extracting bitumen from the soil and muskeg below.

The ‘new currency’ — GDP v GHG

Can Alberta’s economy grow without destroying the future?

This third chart explores what may become the defining metric of our time: the carbon-intensity of the economy. It answers the question, ‘Can you make money without destroying the future?’ As Greta Thunberg put it, speaking to the U.K Parliament in April: “That should and must become the centre of our new currency.

Carbon intensity of the economy is a measure of climate pollution in GHG emissions per GDP dollar

Carbon intensity of the economy is usually measured in climate pollution per dollar of GDP.

For every GDP dollar Alberta makes, it emits 2.4 times as much CO2 as Saudi Arabia

And, as you can see from this chart, Alberta is more than twice as expensive as Saudi Arabia. It costs 2.4 times as much CO2 for Alberta to make a buck as Saudi Arabia. Such poor performance on this measure of economic efficiency has already become a major problem for Alberta.

Central banks and other global investors are now factoring climate change costs into their calculations

Sweden’s central bank dumped Australian and Alberta bonds just last week because of excessive carbon dioxide emissions. Reporting on the bank’s decision, BNN Bloomberg said that “central banks, pension funds and other global investors are increasingly factoring climate change into their portfolio calculations.”

Companies that don’t move quickly to zero-carbon will go bankrupt

Canada’s Mark Carney, now head of the Bank of England, warned last month that investors are now “punishing” laggard companies that aren’t moving quickly to zero carbon. Carney predicts that “companies that don’t adapt will go bankrupt without question.”

Alberta: a burden on Canada

Alberta’s dirty economy will create a “significant burden” on the rest of Canada

If Alberta doesn’t secede, then Alberta’s dirty economy will remain Canada’s problem, creating a significant burden on other Canadians. Right now, the Alberta burden is indirect — the rest of Canada has to do more than its fair share in cutting carbon, and put up with breaking pledges to the international community. But the new EU president is already promising to impose border tariffs against high carbon jurisdictions, and the idea is gaining steam around the world. In a carbon-constrained world, Canadian farmers and manufacturers would pay the price directly, out of their pockets, for Alberta’s refusal to control carbon emissions.

Alberta’s carbon pollution and excessively dirty economy are already overwhelming the progress Canadians make against climate change.

Alberta and Saskatchewan’s increase in climate pollution is preventing the rest of Canada from meeting its target

We’ll be unpacking the burden Alberta is imposing on other Canadians in upcoming articles. But for the time being, we’ll leave you with Barry’s chart showing that Canadians would actually be on track to meet our climate promises to the world, if only Alberta (and Saskatchewan) weren’t torquing the national ledger.

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READER’S COMMENT & SAXIFRAGE’S RESPONSE

Comment

I truly object to judgements regarding who is the worst climate polluter based on a per capita basis. On that basis, the real challenge is how to increase Alberta’s population. It makes no sense except as a seductive way to spin the facts. What is the critical way on which to evaluate the rank of climate polluter is the amount of pollution per political entity. Fine, compare a hypothetical independent Alberta with Saudi Arabia, but on a per state government basis, not a per capita basis. On that basis we could say that Fort McMurray is the world’s worst per capita. But is that a responsible way to report on the facts?

Response by Barry Saxifrage

Thanks for your comment, Paul.

I can appreciate that different people have different judgement on who is the “worst climate polluter”. For some people, the “worst” are those who pollute the most per person (over 50 tCO2 per person). Personal and political responsibility, and all that. That’s my own view. I’ve heard others say that nations like India (2 tCO2 per person) or China (8 tCO2 per person) are the “worst” because they have the most people in their countries.

If you are objecting to the common practice of comparing nations on per capita emissions, you might want to take that up with the International Energy Agency, the World Bank, the United Nations and all the many, many other groups that calculate and highlight this metric as important. The data in this article comes from IEA’s “Key World Energy Statistics“.

If you think it is unfair to consider how Alberta would measure up if it was its own country, I suggest taking that up with the Alberta government that is pushing for this to happen via “wexit”. It seems irresponsible to me to not inform the public what such a major change to Canada would look like for all involved.

As a final note, I would say that Alberta has control over most of the major climate pollution decisions that happen in it — from electricity and transport policies to oil sands expansion rates and regulations. Fort Mac doesn’t. So, yeah, I would not hold Fort McMurray responsible for most of the emissions surrounding it because they don’t have political control over them. But Alberta does. And Alberta’s government has allowed and aided in developing an economy that emits 32 tCO2 per person — even without the oil & gas industry.

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