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The politics and reality of capping Alberta's oil and gas emissions – CBC.ca

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Our planet is changing. So is our journalism. This story is part of a CBC News initiative entitled Our Changing Planet to show and explain the effects of climate change and what is being done about it.


Standing in a stiff Alberta wind near a power plant west of Edmonton on Monday afternoon, Alberta Premier Jason Kenney appeared perplexed by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s announcement only hours before to put a hard cap on greenhouse gas emissions from oil and gas.

Calling it “peculiar” that the prime minister hadn’t talked with him before his speech at the United Nation’s COP26 climate summit in Glasgow, the Alberta premier wondered why Trudeau “would make an announcement like this without consulting with the province that actually owns the overwhelming majority of Canada’s oil and gas reserve.”

“We need to know what the details are,” added Kenney

  • Have questions about COP26 or climate science, policy or politics? Email us: ask@cbc.ca. Your input helps inform our coverage.

But nothing that happened on Monday — Trudeau’s announcement or Kenney’s reactions — should surprise anyone. The prime minister fulfilled an election promise.

The Alberta premier returned to his familiar refrain of bashing Ottawa in hopes of scoring political points to revive his sinking popularity, according to political observers.

The question is whether another war with Ottawa will help boost Kenney’s flagging political fortunes — and whether his usual allies in the oilpatch will have his back this time.

Is fulfilling a campaign promise really a surprise?

With Capital Power’s Genesee Generating Station as a backdrop to announce more than a dozen emissions reducing projects on Monday, Premier Kenney seemed incredulous, wondering aloud if the federal government is “trying to fundamentally limit the development of Canadian resources.”

But the federal Liberal government’s pledge on the international stage this week to limit the growth of one of Canada’s biggest industries in order to curtail the earth’s average temperature increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius should come as no surprise.

On Thursday, the federal government followed up by making good on its other election promise to cut subsidies to oil and natural gas companies that help them expand outside of Canada.

The oilpatch represents about 26 per cent of Canada’s total emissions.

The Liberal’s recent election campaign platform makes plain the party’s plan to “cap and cut emissions from oil and gas.” Trudeau even promised five-year targets for the oilpatch, starting in 2025, to get to net-zero by 2050.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau arrives for the COP26 summit in Glasgow on Monday. The U.N. climate summit in Glasgow gathers leaders from around the world, in Scotland’s biggest city, to lay out their vision for addressing the common challenge of global warming. (Phil Noble/The Associated Press)

“I don’t think that there’s any reason for a surprise here,” said Sara Hastings-Simon, a professor and director of the sustainable energy development program at the University of Calgary.

After all, the energy industry has already signaled its intention to cut emissions.

In June, big oil producers — including Canadian Natural Resources, Cenovus Energy, Imperial Oil, MEG Energy and Suncor Energy — formed the Pathways alliance with a goal of achieving net-zero greenhouse gas emissions in Alberta’s oilsands by 2050.

The plan is to use, among other things, carbon capture use and storage (CCUS) and emerging emissions-reducing technologies to cut the greenhouse gas emissions responsible for climate change.

Five years ago, the industry also agreed to the previous NDP government’s 100-megatonne emissions cap on the oilsands. Last year, the federal Liberal government asked the UCP government to make the cap enforceable.  

Kenney, for his part, conceded on Monday that his government is not opposed to a cap proposed by Ottawa.  “We are willing to discuss with them the proposed 100-megatonne cap,” said Kenney.

It’s not clear how the federal government’s proposed cap on the oil and gas industry will work. There are questions if it will apply to the entire oil and gas sector or be imposed on specific companies or sites.

After signalling his openness to talking about a cap on oilsands’ emissions, Kenney then turned to championing Alberta’s oil and gas industry, highlighting the jobs linked to the sector and its importance to the Canadian economy.

The UCP premier then vowed to “vigorously defend the economic interests of Alberta, including the right to develop our own natural resources,” ratcheting up his combative stance with the federal Liberal government over climate change policy.

Reviving an “old playbook”

At the onset of the pandemic, Kenney dialed down his anti-Ottawa attacks.

It’s hard to beat up on a federal government when “we’re all in this together” and Albertans were getting more federal COVID-19 financial support per capita than any other province in the country.

In recent weeks, Kenney has turned the volume up again on Alberta’s grievances with the federation, including equalization and policing

On Monday, before his full-throated defence of Alberta oil and gas, Kenney took aim once again at the new federal Liberal government’s environment minister Steven Guilbeault, lumping the environmental activist turned politician in with “the gross hypocrisy of the radical green left” for opposing nuclear energy, which proponents argue could help lower greenhouse gas emissions  in oilsands extraction and processing.

  • WATCH | Alberta’s premier reacts to Canada’s new federal environment minister

Alberta’s premier reacts to Canada’s new federal environment minister

8 days ago

Jason Kenney says the longtime activist’s appointment as environment minister sends a “very problematic” message. 3:01

Two days later, the UCP leader turned his fire on the Bloc Québécois leader after Yves-Francois Blanchet called out what he called Alberta’s “toxic economic model.”

The Bloc leader also highlighted his party’s campaign pledge to create so-called “green equalization” payments, whereby provinces such as Alberta, that produce more greenhouse gas emissions than other provinces, would have to pay jurisdictions that pollute less than the national average. 

At a COVID-19 briefing on Wednesday, Kenney blasted the Bloc leader, accusing Blanchet of trying to divide the country and attacking Alberta’s energy industry.

“I think this is a typical provocation by Mr. Blanchet, who loves Alberta bashing. It would be nice if for once he stood up, as leader of his fringe party, and expressed some modicum of gratitude to Alberta,” Kenney said.

In the past, Kenney’s tough talk and combative posture with the ruling federal Liberals resonated with many Albertans.

After years in the nation’s capital as a Conservative member of Parliament and high profile cabinet minister in Stephen Harper’s government, with a reputation for savvy political and communication skills, Kenney returned home to Alberta in 2016 in a blue pickup truck that he crisscrossed the province in, campaigning to first unite the right and then later become Alberta’s premier.

Fast forward two years and Kenney is much less popular. The UCP’s controversial handling of the novel coronavirus pandemic and party infighting now threatens Kenney’s grip on the party he helped form.

A recent CBC News poll suggested nearly eight in 10 Albertans somewhat or strongly disapprove of the UCP’s handing of COVID-19.

Longtime political watcher Duane Bratt thinks Kenney is reverting to form in hopes of resuscitating his deflated political standing.

“It sounds like desperation to me,” said Bratt, a Mount Royal University political scientist.  “He’s going back to his old playbook.”

“Kenney,” he added in an interview with CBC News, “has one playbook and this is it.”

Will the old political playbook work this time?

Bratt wonders if Kenney’s recent anti-Ottawa rhetoric will work this time. 

Two years after his landslide victory — in the wake of the misery, human suffering and polarized rhetoric that COVID-19 brought — many Albertans no longer feel enamoured with Kenney.

On top of that, public concern about climate change continues to grow. And Ottawa seems intent on lowering greenhouse gas emissions. Kenney risks being seen as out of step with where the world is going on climate.

“Alberta and Premier Kenney are looking more like an outlier on the issue of climate change,” said Chris Severson-Baker, with the Pembina Institute, a clean energy think tank.

“This is the kind of thing,” added Severson-Baker in an interview with CBC News, “that doesn’t help companies who are trying to attract investment for decarbonization to the province.”

Kenney’s rhetoric may also put him offside with the province’s oil and gas industry, which also increasingly talks about cutting oilsands greenhouse gas emissions.

Industry support for cutting oilsands emissions

In a recent interview with CBC News’ West of Centre podcast, the head of Cenovus  Energy, a big player in Alberta’s oilsands, stressed the “need to reduce emissions”

Calgary-based Cenovus Energy CEO Alex Pourbaix also highlighted the “very productive relationships” he’s had with federal Liberal cabinet ministers, expecting he’ll be able to “forge the same kind of relationships” with the new federal environment minister, who once tried to install solar panels on the roof of the home of then Alberta premier Ralph Klein as part of a Greenpeace stunt.

Some in the industry seem intent on lowering the temperature on climate change.

“We have to move away from polarization,” Martha Hall Findlay, the chief sustainability officer at Suncor Energy, told CBC Radio One’s The Current on Monday.

“We have to collaborate to move forward,” added the former Liberal. “We cannot make this work if we’re pointing fingers, if we are vilifying.”

Amidst this plea for less finger pointing, climate change activists remain skeptical of government and industry’s commitments and efforts to cut greenhouse gas emissions.

Oil and gas hedges?

The oil and gas industry has done a lot over the last decade to reduce its emissions intensity, but actual total greenhouse gasses from the oilpatch have increased because of higher production.

Pourbaix foresees oil and gas remaining a “huge part” of Canada’s energy mix “for decades to come.”

“I think there is going to be a transition, but it’s not going to be a transition off oil and gas. It’s going to be a transition to oil and gas that has much lower emissions because I just think the role they play in our modern world right now is very difficult to replicate or replace,” he told West of Centre.

Chris Severson-Baker, with the Pembina Institute, hopes the Cenovus CEO is wrong.

“He, and his company, are betting against the world being able to tackle climate change,” said Severon-Baker. “Hopefully he’s not, right,” about a future demand for oil and gas well into the future, he added.

“If that’s the case, we simply are not going to be able to prevent dangerous climate change.”

report by the International Energy Agency (IAE), an autonomous intergovernmental organization, warned earlier this year against investing in new coal and oil and gas projects in order to meet climate mitigation goals.

Questions about carbon capture

Pourbaix — and others in the oil and gas industry — are also betting big on carbon capture, the process of capturing C02 emissions from fossil fuel-powered energy generation and storing it deep beneath the earth or for reuse.

UCP Premier Jason Kenney is also a big fan of CCUS, calling on Ottawa on Monday to invest $32 billion in the technology.

The oil and gas industry’s Pathways alliance also trumpets the benefits of carbon capture and storage technology.

Severson-Baker remains skeptical about CCUS playing a big role in cutting oilsands emissions, as Kenney suggests.

The Alberta regional director of the Pembina Institute says the Canadian oilsands producer alliance to achieve net-zero “looks good on paper,” but “it’s overstating the opportunity for carbon capture utilization and storage.”

Experts believe meeting the climate change goals agreed to this week at COP26 will mean leaving a lot of oil in the ground.

They envision a time not too far down the road when oil and gas companies won’t be able to make a profit extracting it from the earth, highlighting, they say, the pressing need for Alberta to transition to a low-carbon economy.

Updated climate pan for Alberta

In the coming weeks, Alberta plans to unveil its updated climate change strategy.

Climate change activists and experts hope the UCP government seizes the opportunity to remake the oil-rich province’s economy.

Climate change expert Sara Hastings-Simon predicts demand for Alberta oil will eventually wane.

“What we see,” says Hastings-Simon, “is that in a world that is increasingly ratcheting up ambition towards addressing climate and to reaching net-zero, that means that that demand [for oil] is going to fall.” 

The IAE’s most recent annual report, in fact, predicts a future energy economy that “promises to be quite different from the one we have today.”

Many Albertans rely on the oil and gas industry for their livelihood. Transitioning away from oil and gas could trigger, by one estimate, 312,000 to 450,000 job losses.

The federal Liberal government pledged $2 billion to help workers in oil-producing provinces transition to a greener economy.

The federal government’s “People-Centred Just Transition” discussion paper also highlights the importance of creating “decent, fair and high-value work” to replace the jobs lost in oil and gas.

Hastings-Simon also believes Alberta has an opportunity to seize the “huge economic opportunity” that comes from transitioning to renewable energy.

The climate change expert stresses it’s crucial to start planning now to support oil and gas workers who will eventually lose work because of the expected declining global demand for Alberta’s oil and gas.

Whether that planning begins in earnest soon remains a question. Moments after Premier Kenney signalled his openness to discussing an emissions cap on Alberta’s oil and gas industry with the federal government, he vowed to “vigorously defend the economic interests of Alberta.” 

Kenney, it appears, has reverted to his “old playbook” of waging war with the federal Liberals.

Political watchers, however, are not so sure it will win the deeply unpopular politician many political points this time — and climate activists and scientists worry that it’s just stalling the hard work needed to make Alberta’s energy transition happen.

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Russia criticises U.S. over threat of escalation with Iran at IAEA

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Russia on Friday chided the United States for threatening a diplomatic escalation with Iran at the U.N. nuclear watchdog next month unless it improves cooperation with the agency, saying it risked harming wider talks on the Iran nuclear deal.

The United States threatened on Thursday to confront Iran at the International Atomic Energy Agency if it does not give way on at least one of several conflicts with the IAEA, especially its refusal to let the IAEA re-install cameras at a workshop after an apparent attack in June.

“I believe that demonstrates that our American counterparts lose patience but I believe all of us need to control our emotions,” Russia’s ambassador to the IAEA Mikhail Ulyanov told a news conference with his Chinese counterpart.

“I don’t welcome this particular statement of the U.S. delegation (at the IAEA). It’s not helpful.”

Indirect talks between the United States and Iran aimed at reviving the battered 2015 nuclear deal between Tehran and major powers are due to resume on Monday after a five-month break that started after the election that brought Iranian hardline President Ebrahim Raisi to power.

The 2015 deal lifted sanctions against Iran in exchange for restrictions on its nuclear activities. Then-President Donald Trump pulled Washington out of the agreement in 2018 and re-imposed sanctions against Tehran.

Iran responded by breaching many of the restrictions, reducing the time it would need to obtain enough fissile material for a nuclear bomb if it wanted to. Tehran denies that it would ever seek atomic weapons.

“The U.S. did not negotiate with the Iranians for a very long time and forgot that Iranians don’t do anything under pressure. If they are under pressure, they resist,” Ulyanov said, apparently referring to the fact that U.S. and Iranian envoys are not meeting directly.

 

(Reporting by Francois Murphy, Editing by William Maclean)

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Extremist Politics Threatens Chile's Economic Miracle – Bloomberg

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Chile has for decades been Latin America’s most stable nation and one of its most prosperous. Its pro-business outlook has drawn foreign direct investment and fueled economic growth, and its record in reducing poverty has been impressive. Much of that is now thrown into question. After the recent first round of elections, the two front-runners for the presidency are extremists — an ultraconservative who seems nostalgic for the dictatorial rule of Augusto Pinochet, and a leftist who promises not merely to reform but to dismantle Chile’s economic model. It’s hard to say which of these agendas might prove more toxic.

The candidate of the far right, José Antonio Kast, emerged with a narrow lead heading into the runoff vote on Dec. 19. His platform is thin on economics and heavy on social conservatism and authoritarian messaging. His counterpart on the left, Gabriel Boric, promises radical change to combat inequality, rein in capitalism and dethrone market forces. “If Chile was the birthplace of neoliberalism,” he explains, “it will also be its grave.”

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Now, more than ever, the N.W.T. government needs party politics – CBC.ca

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This column is an opinion by former Yellowknife MLA Kieron Testart. For more information about CBC’s Opinion section, please see the FAQ.

In 2019 near the end of my term as an MLA, I proposed implementing a caucus system that, among other things, would allow for political discipline of MLAs. At the time MLAs rejected any changes that would limit their jealously-guarded independence. What they failed to recognize was that this proposal was not about imposing discipline, rather it was about enabling politicians to effectively discipline MLAs when required. 

The Norn affair and the pronounced lack of any real accountability in the legislature over the government’s failings are the consequences of being governed by a gang of loosely aligned political independents who lack common vision and leadership.

This point was made by MLA Rylund Johnson who said, “In party systems, the party whip would probably make sure this never happens. Party caucuses would kick members out and make them irrelevant …Those aren’t tools that we have in consensus government.”

The consensus system is based on little more than good intentions and is powerless to address its own failings, with MLAs routinely using their constituents as a convenient smoke screen for their own bad behaviour. 

Sound familiar? It should, it happens all the time with the recent example of Steve Norn being the most spectacular failure of political will to date in the 19th Assembly.

Norn’s sustained attacks on his colleagues and the legislature were left virtually unchecked by MLAs, who stood by silently. Public confidence in elected officials has been shaken to the point that two former premiers have taken the extraordinary step of publicly criticizing sitting MLAs. Scandal and policy failures have become the chief commodity of the Legislative Assembly and Caroline Cochrane’s government.

While other provinces acted swiftly with new spending and policies to bolster their economies and attract new health-care workers, the Cochrane government has wrung its hands, paralyzed by bureaucratic inertia. We have watched in real time as our health-care system has buckled and broken under the strain of the pandemic, with no plan yet released for economic recovery after months and months of delay. And despite the outcry from Northerners for their government to act, the “unofficial opposition” of regular MLAs is absent, or at least silent, unable to muster the courage and unify to demand better government from the cabinet. 

In the Northwest Territories the people have a choice in who gets to take power but not in how that power is used, nor can they hold the powerful accountable during elections. MLAs appoint the premier and cabinet, who are solely accountable to each other. This means that voters have no say over who forms government or what that government does for its four-year term and cannot hold that government accountable for its decisions. This leaves accountability in the hands of an undisciplined committee of regular MLAs who lack resources, staff, and experience to provide alternatives to cabinet policies. Public policy development and implementation are the sole domain of unelected bureaucrats in the government’s senior management.

Despite the constant mythologizing of consensus government as a superior form of government, founded in the traditions of Indigenous Peoples, the fact is none of the N.W.T.’s self-governing Indigenous nations use consensus systems, nor did Indigenous people design the system when it was first implemented decades ago. That honour falls to federal bureaucrats when they devolved responsible government to our young territory. Despite their frustration, Northerners continue to consent to an undemocratic democracy where their electoral choices have been reduced to little more than an overblown hiring competition. 

A culture of silence has taken root in the N.W.T.’s democratic discourse. The fear of reprisal from those in power forces many to whisper in the back of coffee shops and speak anonymously to reporters, when they ought to be able to freely express their own views and see those views transformed into political action.

There was a time that the consensus system served Northerners well. But that time has passed, made clear by persistent scandal and public policy implosions that have not stopped since the last election. We’ve seen devolution create a modern N.W.T. granted nearly full responsibility over its land and resources. It is now time for evolution to transform our political system into a modern multi-party democracy that can provide unity and real action on the most pressing issues.

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