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Alberta saw largest increase in greenhouse gas emissions

Over the last 30 years, Alberta’s share of the country’s greenhouse gas emissions has increased dramatically.

Earlier this year, the federal government updated their greenhouse gas emissions website to include data up to the year 2020. I was curious to see how Alberta fared when compared to the other provinces and territories.

In 2020, the top 5 emitters (Alberta, Ontario, Quebec, Saskatchewan and British Columbia) together released 91% of Canada’s national total GHG emissions.

Of those, only Alberta saw an increase in total GHG emissions between 2005 and 2020.

20052020Change% change
AB237.1256.519.48.18%
MB20.521.71.25.85%
YT0.60.60.00.00%
NU0.60.60.00.00%
PEI1.91.6-0.3-15.79%
NT1.71.4-0.3-17.65%
NL10.59.5-1.0-9.52%
BC63.661.7-1.9-2.99%
SK71.365.9-5.4-7.57%
NB19.812.4-7.4-37.37%
NS2314.6-8.4-36.52%
QC86.376.2-10.1-11.70%
ON204.4149.6-54.8-26.81%
in megatonnes of CO2 equivalent

Not only was Alberta the only one of the 5 largest emitting provinces to see an increase in total emissions, it was also one of only two provinces in total that saw increases.

And their increase was the largest. By far.

Manitoba saw its total emissions increase by 1.2 megatonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent. Alberta, on the other hand saw their total emissions increase by 19.4 MT CO2e.

That’s more than 16 times than what Manitoba saw. And you might be thinking, “Yeah, but Alberta is larger than Manitoba. Of course, it will have more emissions.” Keep in mind that at the end of 2020, Alberta’s population was only 3 times that of Manitoba.

Not only that, but the table shows that Alberta’s percent increase was also larger than Manitoba’s. Alberta’s emissions increased by 8.18% between 2005 and 2020, while Manitoba’s increased by only 5.85%. So, it wasn’t just population.

And because Alberta’s emissions have increased while nearly everyone else’s has decreased, Alberta is now responsible for a larger share of Canada’s total emissions.

Here, see for yourself.

In 1990, Alberta accounted for 27.85% of Canada’s GHG emissions, despite making up only 9.22% of the population.

By the time 15 years had passed, that percentage had increased to nearly 32%. Another 15 years later, and it’s a little over 38%.

That’s an increase of nearly 10 percentage points over the last 30 years.

During the first 15 years, Alberta’s share increased by 4.14 percentage points, but during the second 15 years, that share increased by 6.17 percentage points, which means it increased at a faster rate in the second half.

So, what’s the deal? Why is Alberta doing so poorly?

Well, it’s because of the oil and gas industry. In Canada, the sector with the largest emissions levels is oil and gas.

Between 2013 and 2019, the oil and gas sector was responsible for roughly 200 MT CO2e every year. That accounted for between 27% and 28% of all emissions in the country. The next largest sector is the transport sector, which made up 23.5% and 25.1% during the same period.

According to the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, 80% of Canada’s oil and gas production occurs in Alberta. And when most of the industry that produces the highest emissions ends up being in your province, then you’re going to end up with a larger share of those emissions.

Now, keep in mind that GHG emissions decreased for all provinces between 2019 and 2020. Emissions from all top 5 emitters decreased by 5% to 16%. Quebec, Alberta, and Saskatchewan experiencing their largest decrease, and Ontario and British Columbia experienced their second largest.

However, this data also coincides with the 1st year of the COVID-19 pandemic, which strongly affected a wide range of economic sectors, including the oil and gas sector.

We should be careful when interpreting this change as part of a downward trend, given that the economic slowdown influenced results from 2019 to 2020. This likely will end up being an outlier, and we will need to wait for additional data in the future to determine long-term trends.

And that means that it’s possible that had the economic slowdown of 2020 not occurred, total GHG emissions within Alberta (as well as the share of Canada’s total emissions) could have ended up being reported as much higher.

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By Kim Siever

Kim Siever is an independent journalist based in Lethbridge, Alberta. He writes daily news stories, focusing on politics and labour.

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