Alberta frequently claims to be "greening" its dirty,
fossil-fuel industries: coal and oil sands. One major, much-vaunted
initiative is the Greenhouse Gas emission system in the Specified Gas Emitter
Regulation. The regulation requires large
emitters of greenhouse gases to either reduce the intensity of
their own emissions, or to "offset" their emissions in
one of the following ways:
Pay the modest sum of $15/tonne into the Climate Change and
Emissions Management Fund;
Use emission performance credits—When regulated
facilities achieve actual emissions intensity that is less than
their emissions intensity limit, they create emission performance
credits. A facility may use credits it created in prior years or
use credits that other regulated facilities created; or
Purchase offsets—When non-regulated facilities or
sectors engage in activities that reduce emissions (for example,
wind energy projects) or enhance emissions removal from the
atmosphere (for example, reduced-till or no-till agricultural
projects), they create offsets.
Carbon offsets – both voluntary and mandatory
– have the potential to create huge reductions in
greenhouse gas emissions, and many other social benefits, at much
lower costs than direct emission reductions. However, there have
been many problems in ensuring that the carbon offsets are, in
truth, achieving their stated reductions. Effective validation,
verification and auditing are critical to give offsets credibility.
The ISO 14064/14065 series of standards set out international
principles for such processes, but they haven't yet been much
followed in Canada.
The Globe and Mail notes that the tillage credits
may have been created for short-term political gain, as it allowed
the province to buy support from farmers for its carbon-market
plan. And in theory, agriculture could provide meaningful carbon
reductions and offsets. However, the Auditor General's report
will add to cynicism about Alberta's continuing claims to be
"greening" its fossil fuel industries, as well as to
Canada's international black eye on climate.
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With the coming into force on April 28, 2014 of its empowering legislation, the Protecting Alberta's Environment Act (found here), the province's new environmental monitoring agency, the Alberta Environmental Monitoring, Evaluation and Reporting Agency, or AEMERA, is now open for business.