Alberta affected by U.S.-China emissions deal

Premier Jim Prentice says a landmark climate change deal between the United States and China to cut greenhouse gas emissions is a “positive step forward� but it’s too soon to say how it will affect policy in Alberta.

Environmentalists and opposition members, though, say the new agreement means Canada and Alberta are running out of excuses for their climate change inaction.

The surprise U.S.-China agreement announced Tuesday sees the Americans commit to reducing carbon emissions by 26 per cent from 2005 levels by 2025, and China agree to plateau its emissions by 2030.

 “This is very significant,� said Prentice, who was federal environment minister during international climate change talks that led to the non-binding Copenhagen Accord in 2009.

“What was elusive at Copenhagen was an agreement which both the United States and China could agree upon which would see emissions reductions in China. What we seem to now have for the first time is a commitment from the Chinese government.�

Prentice said the deal “bodes well� for a new international framework around greenhouse-gas emissions to be established at climate-change treaty negotiations in Paris next year.

But he demurred when asked if it could lead to new climate-change action from Alberta, saying he needed to see more details.

Alberta has been in the crosshairs of environmental groups because of the large carbon footprint of the oilsands.

But the federal and Alberta governments have continually pointed to the need to work in concert with the U.S. before implementing new measures to reduce emissions.

 “That’s been their big excuse,� said Liberal environment critic Laurie Blakeman on Wednesday. “That they couldn’t move forward without the Americans moving forward. Well guess what, we’ve been left in the dust.�

The new deal beefs up the U.S.’s current target of cutting emissions by 17 per cent by 2020, with President Barack Obama pledging to double the pace of pollution reduction.

The Americans’ existing target is shared by Canada, though the federal government’s own projections say the country will likely miss the goal because of expansion in the oil and gas industry, particularly the oilsands.

Chris Severson-Baker of the Pembina Institute hopes the U.S.-China deal will push Ottawa to finally release climate change rules for the energy sector that have been delayed for years.

“The argument for not doing anything has run its course,� said Severson-Baker.

Wildrose Leader Danielle Smith said the U.S.-China agreement will put pressure on Alberta — which will miss its own greenhouse gas targets — to move forward with emissions reductions.

“The fact of the matter is, apart from the bluster by the government, we haven’t made strides on reducing greenhouse gas emissions,� she said.

“We still don’t have a plan to see that level off or go the other direction.�

 Alberta’s $15-per-tonne carbon levy on large industrial emitters expires at the end of the year. Prentice said no decisions have been made yet on whether the government will increase the levy or leave it at its current level.

jwood@calgaryherald.com

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