10/17/2015 08:45 EDT | Updated 10/17/2016 05:12 EDT

Climate Leadership in Alberta Means Tackling the Tarsands

Veronique de Viguerie via Getty Images
FORT MCMURRAY, ALBERTA, CANADA - NOVEMBER 2008: Once the oil is extracted from the tar sand, the remains travel through a pipe to a tailing pond. The tailing ponds are highly criticised by enviromentalists because they contain many toxic products which are very dangerous. Pictured here is one of Syncrude Canada Ltd's tailing ponds. Tar sands, or oil sands, are very dense and contain a form of petroleum The world's largest reserves of tar sands in Canada and Venezuela. Tar sands could equate to approximately two thirds of the total global petroleum resource. Until recently it was financially not viable to extract the oil from the sands, but new technology and rising oil prices have now made it viable. (Photo by Veronqiue de Viguerie/Getty Images)

"No more than one-third of proven reserves of fossil fuels can be consumed prior to 2050 if the world is to achieve the 2°C goal." International Energy Agency

Now that submissions to the Alberta government's climate change panel are in, the hard work really begins. The panel has the momentous task of making recommendations on how to turn the nation's most polluting province into one that leads on climate.

It's not an easy task, given the reliance that the province has on fossil fuels, but one that's essential -- not only for Alberta to do its part to combat a growing climate crisis -- but for Alberta to diversify its economy, create good green jobs, and ready itself for a low-carbon world.

At the centre of the strategy has to be science.

The science of climate change may be difficult to come to terms with, but the prescription is clear. The International Energy Agency, the International Panel on Climate Change, even the head of the Bank of England Mark Carney have all stated that in order to stabilize the climate and keep the temperature rise below 2°C, between two-thirds and three-quarters of all remaining fossil fuel reserves need to remain in the ground.

It's not the most politically palatable thing to say, as federal NDP candidate Linda McQuaig recently found out, but it is the truth.

For Alberta, this means the province needs to phase out coal and stop the expansion of the tar sands. The science demands the province does both.

Climate leadership is shown by the hard choices we make -- those that may not be the most popular but address the threats we face and best position the province for the road ahead.

In a world that is serious about addressing the climate crisis there is no place for high carbon assets like the tar sands. Markets need to move to low carbon futures and the more Alberta tries to flood the market with tar sands crude the more it is thwarting efforts towards progress.

Luckily for Premier Rachel Notley, Alberta is ripe with abundant renewable energy resources. We have a highly skilled workforce, mayors eager for mass transit and sustainable transportation funding. As a recent opinion poll showed, Albertans are ready to usher in the renewable age.

Other countries are already showing us the way.

Germany is turning away from coal and nuclear energy and now employs over 370,000 people in its renewable energy sector. Denmark, Costa Rica and Iceland are all on the road to 100 per cent renewables. In fact, eight countries, 55 cities, 60 regions/states, nine utilities and 21 nonprofit/educational/public institutions, all totaling more than 53.3 million people, have shifted or are committed to shift within the next few decades to 100 per cent renewable energy.

Alberta can make the green transition. It can invest in solar, wind, mass transit and retrofitting strategies and show the world that with leadership even oil dependent economies can make the transition to clean energy.

It would be an amazing story. It would be a story of hope, a story of inspiration and vision and a story that the world needs to see. It's also a story that we could all help to write as every rooftop and parking lot becomes a solar opportunity.

We can build a better, cleaner Alberta. We just need a little more government leadership to do it.


The Oil Sands and Canada's Environment