Balancing economic prosperity and environmental responsibility

CALGARY — Alberta’s oilsands came under fire during the Copenhagen climate change summit in December, and the industry could be under the microscope again in 2010 as Canada prepares to host G8 and G20 summits.

However, a new discussion paper from the Canada West Foundation highlights the importance of the oil and gas industry to the Canadian economy, and asks readers to take this into account when debating how to address greenhouse emissions in Canada.

The report, “Look Before You Leap: Oil and Gas, the Western Canadian Economy and National Prosperity” argues that the idea that economic pain in one region will not spill over into the rest of the country is naïve.

“We are not saying that addressing greenhouse gas emissions is less important than economic considerations,” points out Canada West Foundation CEO Roger Gibbins. “What we are saying is that climate policy should recognize the economic costs that will be incurred if the oil and gas industry is unduly targeted.”

In 2008, the 30.6 percent of the Canadian population living in the four western provinces accounted for 37.5 per cent of the country’s GDP. The oil and gas sector is far from the only reason for the region’s economic success, but it is a key factor, says the foundation.

It is estimated that the oil and gas industry will add $3.5 trillion to Canada’s GDP over the next 25 years. The west, however, accounts for more than half of Canada’s GHG emissions.

The fundamental challenge then, raised in the report, is: how do we curb GHG emissions without compromising the national economic benefits and wealth redistribution made possible by the western Canadian economy?

“Highlighting the economic costs of climate policies that would undercut Canada’s oil and gas industry does not resolve the debate,” says the paper’s co-author Robert Roach. “But it does clarify the stakes and put pressure on policy-makers to do more than cross their fingers and hope that the economic pain is contained to places like Alberta and Saskatchewan.”

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