Diana McQueen has set the bar high in her role as minister for climate change in Alberta. To start with, McQueen is promising Alberta will meet its greenhouse gas reduction targets.
“I have a mandate from the premier to meet those reduction targets,” McQueen said. “We will continue to have a strong economy while meeting the 2020 targets … and we will meet those.”
Even as depressed oil prices create uncertainty about production growth in the oilsands continuing its boom-time pace, McQueen appears to be offering more “over-promise, under-deliver” government rhetoric given the province isn’t close to reaching its GHG goal.
Her remarks could be dismissed as the typical bravado of a new minister eager to make an impression but McQueen previously served as both minister of energy and minister of environment in Alberta and should be well aware of the scope of the climate challenge.
Or, she isn’t. McQueen also made the point about Alberta’s GHG policy that “in 2008, we set a target for 2010 and we met that target reduction.”
Except — with oilsands surging toward more than 2 million barrels a day of GHG-intense production — the province didn’t come close to meeting the target set under premier Ed Stelmach.
Alberta was forecast to reduce GHG emissions by 20 megatonnes from a business-as-usual scenario by 2010 but only achieved a 7.62 megatonne reduction. The province set a goal to reduce emissions by 5o megatonnes by 2020 but government officials acknowledged last year the industrial sector isn’t on the “right trajectory” to meet that goal.
Opposition politicians dismissed McQueen’s posting as just a distraction from the failure to reduce emissions.
Perhaps McQueen, who is also municipal affairs minister, knows more than the rest of us about what will happen going forward. She does have a seat at the cabinet table as the Tory government develops its much-delayed update to Alberta’s climate policies.
The policy is reportedly set to be delivered in June with a major UN climate conference looming at the end of the year in Paris.
As environment minister, McQueen refused to put a timetable on progress to slow increases in GHG emissions from the oil sands. She said it would be impossible until federal regulations on the oil and gas industry to limit emissions were in place.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper — who also knows a thing or two about over-promising and under-delivering on climate policy — warned in the House of Commons in December that “under the current circumstances of the oil and gas sector … it would be crazy economic policy to do unilateral penalties on that sector.”
With the oilsands facing the first sustained downturn in two decades — and companies mothballing new projects and delaying expansions — the plan to reduce GHGs may amount to allowing market forces to resolve environmental challenges.
Of course, it will also undermine claims by governments they’ve actually decoupled GHG reductions from economic downturns.