COP26 Outcomes, Canada’s Commitments & the Resulting Effects on Alberta

COP26 officially concluded as of November 12, 2021 where world leaders and delegates came together at the UN's yearly climate summit to assess progress in dealing with climate change. 

COP26 Outcomes

Reaffirmed Paris Agreement Commitments

197 countries signed the Glasgow Climate Pact, reaffirming commitments made during the Paris Agreement. The pact concentrated on mitigation, adaptation (loss and damages), finance, and collaboration and stated that carbon emissions must be reduced by 45% by 2030 to reach the 1.5°C goal. 

Phase Out of Fossil Fuel Subsidies

Signatories committed to accelerate efforts to phase out “inefficient fossil fuel subsidies” - which is the first time language explicitly mentioning fossil fuels was used in a UN climate agreement. Countries and public finance institutions committed to end new direct financial public support by providing $24 billion annually to stop international unabated fossil fuel energy by the end of 2022. Unfortunately, the complete “phase-out of unabated coal power” was changed to a phase-down of unabated coal power, weakening the initial proposal, and some of the world’s most coal reliant countries indicated that their coal use will not completely stop until the 2040s or later. 

Funding for a Just and Inclusive Transition

International partners mobilized over $20 billion for a just and inclusive transition from coal to clean energy. Canada pledged to end thermal coal exports by no later than 2030, and up to $1 billion for the Climate Investment Funds Accelerated Coal Transition Investment Program dedicated to help developing countries transition from coal-fired electricity to clean power. 

Funding to Reverse Forest Loss

During the COP26 summit, 137 nations which together possess 90% of the world’s forests agreed to “halt and reverse forest loss and land degradation by 2030”. The Global Forest Finance Pledge was signed by 12 developed countries, including Canada, to provide $12 billion of public climate finance from 2021 to 2025. 

Zero-Emission Vehicles and Electricity

Over 30 countries (including Canada), major vehicle manufacturers, cities, fleet owners, financial institutions, and investors committed to rapidly accelerating the transition to zero emission vehicles, working towards all sales of new cars and vans being zero emission globally by 2040, and in leading markets, by no later than 2035.

The Green Grids Initiative resolved to combine efforts to create a more interconnected global grid. The Canadian federal government reiterated its commitment to achieve a net-zero electricity grid by 2035.

Funding for Adaptation

The Glasgow Pact also established the Glasgow Dialogue between parties on loss and damage. Nearly $800 million in new funding was announced to support vulnerable countries adapt to climate change impacts and to address, minimize, and avert loss and damage. 

Additionally, $13.65 billion in funding was pledged to existing programs. However, developing countries noted that there was still a failure to meet significant progress on loss and damage financing. 

Canada’s Commitments

Over one hundred nations pledged to cut 30% of their methane emissions by 2030, where Canada made an official commitment to reduce methane emissions from oil and gas by at least 75% below 2012 levels by 2030. Canada also pledged to cap oil and gas emissions to ensure they decrease at a rate to meet net-zero emissions targets by 2050. 

Effects on Alberta

In Alberta, the largest emitting sectors are oil and gas production (50% of emissions), electricity generation (16%), and transportation (11%). Canada’s pledge to phase out inefficient fossil fuel subsidies and unabated coal power and to cut emissions from the oil and gas sector to meet net-zero emissions targets will affect Alberta as a province with an economy that heavily relies on the extraction and processing of fossil fuel resources, and where the production of energy and transportation mainly uses fossil fuels. 

The oil and gas sector in Canada accounts for 26% of national GHG emissions, and Alberta is responsible for 38% of those emissions. Heavy emitters in Alberta, especially oil and gas companies, will be affected the most; the carbon pricing system for heavy emitters will need to be tightened. 

Coal in Alberta

Alberta is less affected by Canada’s commitment to phase-down unabated coal power, as coal fired generation is scheduled to be gradually phased out by 2030 under Alberta’s Climate Change legislation. However, Alberta is one of the four provinces (including Saskatchewan, Nova Scotia, and New Brunswick) that still use coal to generate electricity. 43% of Alberta’s electricity is produced by coal, where the electricity sector in Alberta produces more GHG emissions compared to any other province due to its size and reliance on coal-fired generation. In 2017, 60% of total Canadian GHG emissions were from power generation in Alberta.

Representation at COP26

The Albertan government sent only two officials to COP26 in Glasgow this past month, both from Emissions Reduction Alberta - a funding agency that invests in sustainable technologies that reduce GHG emissions. 

This is the smallest delegation out of any energy producing province as 200 Canadian delegates attended the global climate conference, suggesting a lost opportunity for learning for Alberta. Alberta risks getting left behind in this global market shift in energy that is already happening if it wants the world to continue to invest in Albertan fossil fuel products based on environmental, social and governance (ESG) performance indicators.

Next Steps & Analysis

Alberta has plans to release a new provincial strategy in the next few months; however, both federal and provincial governments must work together to act quickly and put a plan in place to reach the pledged targets of net-zero by 2050 and reduction of GHG emissions by 2030. 

The Canadian government should explore a net-zero scenario that ensures investments and energy development decisions are aligned with the 1.5°C target. This is an important first step at the federal level. A regulatory package must be agreed upon both federally and provincially, and emission reduction and net-zero transition plans must be developed and implemented with a sense of urgency. It is important for Alberta to also invest in the building of a net-zero grid and to connect this grid with cleaner energy producing technologies. The Canadian government must work with the Albertan government, citizens, organizations, cities, and businesses to deliver on the climate imperative. These diverse stakeholders should be involved while developing and working on stronger climate policies. 

The COP26 climate summit provided some global momentum to work toward a greener future, and now Canada and Alberta need to work together on concrete actions to ensure clean and sustainable power is an affordable, accessible, and reliable option, while supporting conditions for a Just Transition.