Province fumbles on climate change

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Still doesn't know if strategy working after six years, auditor finds

Alberta isn’t meeting its climate change goals and isn’t tracking its progress towards them some six years after unveiling its plans to fight climate change, the auditor general has found – blunders one critic says put the province’s economy at risk.

Auditor General Merwan Saher published a series of audits of provincial programs this week, one of which was Alberta Environment’s climate change strategy.

Released in 2008, the strategy aims to reduce the province’s greenhouse gas emissions by 50 megatonnes below business-as-usual levels by 2020.

“We found no evidence that the department regularly monitored performance between 2008 and 2012 against the 2008 targets,” the auditor’s report found. The department was also only now preparing its first progress report on the strategy – some six years after the strategy was implemented.

The department had not added any new elements to its climate strategy since its introduction despite wrapping several of them up, the report found. It also had no way to tell which steps were cost-effective, despite having committed over a billion dollars to carbon-capture and storage projects.

It also noted that the department acknowledged back in 2012 that it was not on track to meet its 2020 target.

This is a scathing indictment of the province’s climate change policy, said Simon Dyer, analyst with the Pembina Institute.

“The government of Alberta has completely dropped the ball on this file.”

No eye on the prize

There are clear social, environmental and economic risks if Alberta misses its climate change goals, said Eric Leonty, the assistant auditor general who oversaw this portion of the audit report.

Despite this, the province’s progress on this front has been very slow and “does not reflect the significance that effectively managing climate change has for the economy,” the report found.

It wasn’t until 2012 that the province put together a plan to actually reach its emission reduction goals, for example. That plan was supposed to be updated annually, but hasn’t been touched since.

That plan hasn’t accurately tracked the emission reductions caused by the province’s climate change programs, and has no way to determine which ones actually work, the report found.

“When you set out goals and targets you need a strong plan on how you’re going to get there, and you need to monitor and you need to do that analysis and report on the results,” Leonty said.

Alberta had no plan for four years and hasn’t monitored its progress towards it, he continues. That makes it very difficult for Albertans to see what’s working and what’s not when it comes to climate change.

“I do think Albertans have the right to know and should demand to know how the province is doing in regards to climate change,” Leonty said.

Critics react

Spruce Grove-St. Albert MLA Doug Horner said he agreed with Saher’s criticisms.

“I think what he’s saying is it’s good that you’re doing these things, but you need to have better measurements on when you reach the outcomes or results you’re trying to get to,” he said.

“We need to ensure we’re measuring results and not just activities.”

The government would take the auditor’s recommendations to heart and continue to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, Horner said.

Alberta knows what it needs to do to strengthen its approach to climate change, Dyer said: raise the carbon levy it charges to large industrial emitters to above $15 a tonne, invest in energy efficiency and get more renewable power on the electricity grid.

The U.S. is pressing Canada to do more on this front, and our lack of action threatens our market access for our oil and our reputation as environmental stewards, he continues.

“It’s bizarre how the government of Alberta continues to undermine the oil and gas industry by not making progress on this important file.”

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Kevin Ma

Kevin Ma joined the St. Albert Gazette in 2006. He writes about Sturgeon County, education, the environment, agriculture, science and aboriginal affairs. He also contributes features, photographs and video.