Surveys show the majority of Albertans support ratifying the Kyoto Protocol on climate change, between 66 per cent and 72 per cent depending on the poll.
But Rob Macintosh, senior analyst with the Alberta-based Pembina Institute for Appropriate Development, worries that the tactics being used by the provincial government may cause Albertans to change their view.
Last Friday, he told an Edmonton press conference that the provincial government is “trying to whip up public sentiment by appealing to simplistic ideology and tribal mores.”
Following the surprise announcement last week by Prime Minister Jean Chretien that Parliament will vote on the accord before the end of the year, Premier Ralph Klein vowed Alberta will work with business leaders and other provinces to hammer home the message that ratification is too great an economic risk for Canada.
Klein has accepted an offer from former Alberta premier Peter Lougheed, a veteran of battling Ottawa over energy issues, to help mount a defence against ratification of the accord.
But Mcintosh says comparing the Kyoto agreement to the old National Energy Program is fear mongering and dishonest manipulation. The infamous NEP was a misguided program unilaterally imposed by the federal government, he added.
And he disputed the government’s claim of serious harm to Alberta’s economy, citing economic models that show the economy might slow marginally between 2002 and 2012, from a growth rate of 27.3 per cent in that period to between 25.9 per cent and 26.7 per cent.
It might even grow, he said, because these figures are based on the assumption that the measures proposed to implement Kyoto will be carried out as proposed and not modified to deal with some of Alberta’s concerns, which could reduce the impact even more.
Opponents of Kyoto are presenting an opposite picture.
The Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters business network last week called on the federal government to provide a workable implementation plan before ratifying the accord.
The CME estimates the cost to manufacturing alone could be as high as 450,000 jobs, and says while industry is already making great strides in reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, the effort demands more substantial investments in infrastructure, innovation and new technologies.
“The government must not be allowed to simply write a blank cheque against the Canadian economy,” CME president Perrin Beatty said.
“It promised earlier this year to consult with stakeholders, industry and the provinces to develop a workable plan that will lead to real reductions in greenhouse gas emissions and will not have an unfair impact on any particular industry or region.
“We will hold the government to that promise and insist that a workable implementation plan with real cost estimates be released prior to ratification.”
Following the Chretien announcement, federal Natural Resources Minister Herb Dhaliwal quickly reassured oil producers in Calgary that a thorough analysis will be done, including spelling out the costs and implications of the deal.
He added that provinces will be able to see a draft plan in October that will detail how the Kyoto plan will be
But at the Edmonton press conference called by the Pembina Institute and Toxics Watch, a member of the organization of Albertans for Ratifying Kyoto (ARK), Mcintosh suggested the provincial government is being influenced in its action on Kyoto by a “select few” – including major oil companies and some members of the coal industry.
These are companies that not only don’t believe in climate change but “will not allow Kyoto to be ratified at any cost,” he stated.
Yet other companies such as BP, Suncor and Petro-Canada, Mcintosh said, have gone ahead and implemented emission-reduction measures. “They have achieved savings in cost as well as significant reductions in emissions, using current technology.”
Canada’s target under the Kyoto accord is to reduce domestic GHG emissions to six per cent below 1990 levels by 2012. Alberta argues that the timeline isn’t sufficient, and wants to work towards improving pollution-control technology.
Under the Alberta government’s plan, total GHG emissions for Alberta would rise from 171 tonnes in 1990, the benchmark year, to between 205-230 tonnes by 2020.
Macintosh said that the province and the energy industry have already been highly effective in modifying the federal government’s position on climate change.
And while he suggested clean-energy credits – touted by Dhaliwal last week during his meeting in Calgary with oil producers – might be a sensible strategy in the short term, he remains doubtful that Canada will gain any more concessions from the international community.
Given the U.S. rejection of Kyoto and its treatment of Canada on softwood lumber, he said, he’s not hopeful that the U.S. will be fair to Canada on energy credits.
The Pembina Institute also believes the Alberta government’s “alternative proposals” on Kyoto contain little in the way of meaningful action on climate change.
“It simply represents business as usual,” said Macintosh.