Climate change, Alberta politics, and hydrocarbon producers unwilling to act

2017-07-23

in Canada, Economics, Politics, The environment

The decision of Alberta’s Wildrose and Progressive Conservative parties to merge threatens the ability of Rachel Notley’s NDP government to stay in power. Almost certainly, the climate change policies the new party would implement are worse than those currently being implemented by the NDP, though it doesn’t necessarily follow from that that those concerned about climate change should support Notley, particularly in her plans to build new pipelines and keep expanding the bitumen sands.

The NDP government’s proposal to expand bitumen sands production from 70 megatonnes to 100 is simply unacceptable morally, politically, and economically. Given how rich it is and how disproportionately large our contribution to climate change has been, Canada should have started cutting fossil fuel production decades ago. To keep enlarging it now is to contribute to a global political climate where nobody is willing to take appropriate action, even as the impacts and injuries arising from climate change become more and more serious.

The problem of die-hard jurisdictions is going to be a difficult one in climate politics, both when it comes to sub-national jurisdictions in federalist states like Canada and in terms of hydrocarbon-dependent countries like Russia and Saudi Arabia.

It is hard to imagine a political change within these jurisdictions which will lead to them being willing to cut their fossil fuel production and use aggressively enough to contribute their fair share to a safe global pathway. Rather, it seems more likely that they will resist any plans to constrain climate change and demand compensation for any fossil fuels they are compelled to leave unburned.

Such intransigence could be overcome with sufficient concern and action by the world’s major economies. A handful of states collectively represent the majority of global fossil fuel consumption and thus a majority of demand for hydrocarbon producers. At the same time, domestic consumption is rising rapidly in many major fossil fuel producers, and there will probably be rogue states for a long time who are willing to buy and use cheap fossil fuels, regardless of the climatic consequences for others.

There seems little alternative but to try to constrain the fossil fuel output of recalcitrant jurisdictions externally, to the greatest extent possible. That’s part of why the fight against pipelines makes sense in North America, since both Alberta and jurisdictions active in hydraulic fracturing are unwilling to accept that they must leave most of their reserves underground. Unfortunately, such external resistance is virtually certain to breed resentment and feed the popularity of political parties who are determined to ignore the climate problem.

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{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

. July 24, 2017 at 1:29 pm

Oilsands growth makes it nearly impossible for Canada to meet Paris Agreement targets: report
Petroleum industry disputes assumptions in report, which also says no new pipeline capacity is needed

Why the oilsands matter to climate policy in Canada

Over the last two decades, greenhouse gas emissions from the oilsands have grown by over 150 per cent. From 2005 to 2020, Environment Canada’s number show, they’re going to keep right on growing, tripling from 30 million tonnes in 2005 to 92 million tonnes in 2020. That represents 12 per cent of Canada’s projected national emissions in 2020, more than the total for any province except Alberta and Ontario.

That makes the oilsands sector very unique. In other parts of Canada’s economy, emissions are expected to grow much more slowly, or even to drop as technologies improve or federal or provincial emission reduction policies take effect. Most notably, electricity emissions are expected to fall by 31 million tonnes in Canada by 2020 in the absence of new government policies — while oilsands expansion is forecast to increase emissions by twice that much over the same period. (It’s worth noting that the federal government has already outlined a regulatory approach to coal-fired electricity detailed enough that it’s been included in Environment Canada’s “business as usual” projections, while the projections don’t include an equivalent federal policy approach for the oilsands.)

Overall, Canada’s emissions are projected to increase by 54 million tonnes between 2005 and 2020 (Table 3, page 22). Emissions from the oilsands (including emissions from upgrading) are projected to grow by 62 million tonnes over the same period (Table 5, page 25). Because the ups and downs in emissions in other sectors largely cancel each other out, the bottom line is that virtually the entire projected increase in Canada’s emissions between 2005 and 2020 will come from the oilsands.

Milan July 24, 2017 at 1:32 pm
anon July 25, 2017 at 11:57 am

It’s quite possible the merged party will do worse electorally. Adding ideologically demanding ultra right-wingers may force the party to adopt unpopular positions and drive away more moderate voters. Still, the effect is probably smaller than reducing vote splitting under first past the post.

Milan July 26, 2017 at 8:06 pm

Merger history suggests Alberta’s United Conservative Party could be less than sum of its parts

In their last election as individual parties in 2000, the PCs and Canadian Alliance combined for 38 per cent of the vote, just three points behind Jean Chrétien’s Liberals. The Liberals benefited from the split on the right — the Canadian Alliance took 25.5 per cent and the PCs 12 per cent — to secure a majority government.

But in 2004, the Conservatives were unable to retain all the support of their two legacy parties. Their combined vote share fell by eight percentage points to 30 per cent.

In raw ballots cast, the Conservatives were down 824,000 votes. Though there would have been some exchanges with other parties as well, the net result was that about one in five Canadians who cast a ballot for the Canadian Alliance or PCs in 2000 either stayed home or went elsewhere in 2004.

A post-election survey by Pollara found that while 88 per cent of people who voted for the Canadian Alliance in 2000 had cast a ballot for the Conservatives in 2004, just 68 per cent of PCs did. A tenth of PCs voted for the Liberals and another tenth did not vote.

Nevertheless, despite the drop in overall support the Conservatives benefited from no longer splitting their vote, winning 99 seats instead of the combined 78 seats the Canadian Alliance and PCs won in 2000.

If something similar happens to the UCP, the 52 per cent the Alberta PCs and Wildrose combined for in 2015 would be reduced to about 41 per cent — matching the Alberta NDP’s vote share in that election.

. August 4, 2017 at 11:56 am

New splinter parties spawned by birth of Alberta’s United Conservative Party

‘We’ve picked up the ball that Brian Jean dropped and this is turning into a huge snowball really fast’

. August 4, 2017 at 11:57 am

On Monday, Kenney told reporters in Calgary the number isn’t significant.

“We’ve seen a few dozen PCs leave to join one of the two Liberal parties and we’ve seen perhaps a few dozen Wildrose leave to perhaps start their own alternative party,” Kenney said.

“Those are folks who are not comfortable in a big tent. They’re not comfortable with a diversity of opinions. They want an echo chamber. They want to live in a partisan pup tent.”

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