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Alberta has done its share for climate, even under tighter limit: minister

EDMONTON – Alberta’s environment minister says the province is doing its share to fight climate change, even under a more stringent limit for global warming.

“We have unveiled a robust package of policies that we believe signals our willingness to do our part,” Shannon Phillips said Tuesday from Paris, where she is attending an international climate conference.

“We have taken our share of the responsibilities.”

Her federal counterpart in Paris, Catherine McKenna, appeared on Tuesday to endorse a global goal of keeping rising temperatures to within 1.5 degrees of pre-industrial levels — lower than the previous goal of two degrees.

“We support the Paris agreement having language that says we should aim and strive towards limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees,” McKenna’s spokeswoman, Caitlin Workman, said in an email.

It wasn’t immediately clear whether it would become an actual target for Canadian policy. But Environment Canada said in an email later Tuesday that “Canada is … supportive of striving towards limiting global warming to 1.5 C.”

The mark was proposed by low-lying island nations most likely to be immediately affected by an increase in sea levels.

Scientists have long endorsed the two-degree limit as the most that can be allowed before climate changes become too severe.

Phillips declined to say if McKenna had told her in advance of Canada’s support for the lower limit.

“Our officials are in contact with federal officials,” she said. “There are a number of different conversations that are underway.”

Mike Hudema of Greenpeace said a 1.5-degree limit would put even more pressure on Alberta to reduce its emissions. He said if every province adopted policies similar to those outlined by Alberta before the conference, Canada wouldn’t even cut greenhouse gases enough to limit warming to two degrees.

“The 1.5-degree targets mean that we need even greater reductions,” he said from Paris.

“You can’t have the type of reductions that the science is demanding without Alberta doing a much bigger part. There aren’t enough reductions from the other provinces to meet the 100 megatonnes (of carbon) coming from the tar sands alone.”

Phillips said reduction targets for each province are to be set co-operatively at a meeting held within 90 days of the Paris conference. Other provinces understand that Alberta’s economy is unique and benefits all of Canada, she said.

“Different provinces have different abilities to reduce. I think the federal government understands that,” she said.

“At no time have I had the sense from my federal counterpart or any other province that there is a lack of recognition of Alberta’s importance to the Canadian economy.”

Phillips added she isn’t worried about a recent public opinion poll that suggested Alberta’s climate change strategy had only minority support across the province.

That will change, she suggested, especially as more information on carbon tax rebates, energy efficiency programs and new power generation emerges.

“This is a long process which will unroll over some months. There will be ongoing conversations with Albertans on ensuring that low and middle-income working families will be insulated from any negative effects.”

— Follow Bob Weber on Twitter at @row1960