09/20/2016 04:54 EDT | Updated 09/20/2016 04:54 EDT

Alberta's Climate Change Uncertainty Will Discourage Investment: Phillips

The NDP says the right is continuing to preach inaction.

Adrian Wyld/CP

CALGARY — Alberta's environment minister says debate around climate change has become too polarized, and that uncertainty on action will discourage investment.

Speaking to a full house at the Pembina Climate Summit in Calgary Tuesday, Shannon Phillips said the debate in the oil and gas industry has already shifted to how best to tackle climate change — but that the political right in Alberta continues to preach inaction.

"As we move back into the legislature, you will all hear again and again that this is not the right time for action. For some there will never be a right time,'' said Phillips.

"If given the chance, the political right would go about ... dismantling all of this progress."

She said the NDP is pushing ahead with its ambitious environmental agenda, despite strong push back from opposition members who say the plan is too costly for Albertans.

"We are doing all of this in a highly polarized political environment, where the political right in this province can barely conceal their contempt for Premier Notley and her government,'' said Phillips.

"If given the chance, the political right would go about ... dismantling all of this progress.''

Climate plan is key for investment: Phillips

The Wildrose party has argued that the climate plan is discouraging investment in Alberta and will hinder the province's ability to recover from the downturn.

Phillips, however, said that oil and gas companies and potential international investors have told her that they want to see action on climate change.

"It is of key importance for Alberta, for investment confidence in the oil and gas sector, to have a robust and credible climate plan,'' she said.

"It is no longer a safe investment bet to be able to make the case for large-scale investment, which is what we require in Alberta, without a climate plan. So it's an economic dead end.''

Phillips's speech comes as the province moves ahead with an ambitious agenda including phasing out coal-fired power plants, capping oilsands emissions and introducing a carbon tax.

"There is still a debate going on about what the policy framework needs to look like."

The Wildrose party has said that those policies have led to Alberta losing investments to Saskatchewan, which has no carbon tax.

That could soon change though, with the federal government committing earlier this week to level the playing field somewhat by imposing a carbon price on any province that doesn't adopt their own carbon pricing mechanism.

David Hone, climate change advisor for Shell, said companies need to be confident that climate change policies are in place for the long term before investing.

"There is still a debate going on about what the policy framework needs to look like,'' said Hone, pointing to what's happening in Alberta's legislature.

"As long as that debate exists, there will be uncertainty on the investments needed to reduce emissions.''

Australia reversed carbon tax

He pointed to Australia, which reversed a carbon tax, and the United Kingdom, which ended a bid process for carbon sequestration at the last minute, as ways government have made it harder for companies to be confident in their environmental investments.

Hone said there's a clear demand for emission reduction with today's NDP government, but not necessarily in future ones.

"Is that true after the next election? And the next election after that? That uncertainty has to be managed.''

Follow @ibickis on Twitter.

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