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Big emissions don't make big wealth: former Harper gov't official

Conventional wisdom about Canada's climate footprint goes something like this: Yes, emissions are rising steeply in Alberta and Saskatchewan, but that's just the price we have to pay for economic prosperity.

A new analysis uses hard numbers to contest that wisdom. And no, this isn't the latest activist attack on Canada's poor climate record. The analysis comes from Paul Boothe, formerly the government's highest ranked environmental bureaucrat.

"An argument that is sometimes made is that Alberta's and Saskatchewan's extraordinary level of emissions are in some sense worth it, because they produce extraordinary wealth for the Canadian economy," Boothe wrote recently in the Globe and Mail. "This argument is mistaken."

Boothe's conclusion is based on the government's own figures. To reach it he combined recent climate and economic data to see how much wealth is created by provincial greenhouse gas emissions.

Each ton of carbon dioxide Quebec releases into the atmosphere produces on average more than $4,300 of economic wealth. For Ontario the number is closer to $3,800. But in Alberta it’s only $1,200. And Saskatchewan? Less than $1,000.

What those figures suggest is that the coal-burning electricity and oil and gas revenues depended upon by the two prairie provinces are, from the climate's perspective, a very inefficient means of generating wealth.

"Simple arithmetic makes clear that substantial reductions by emitters in those provinces," Boothe therefore argues, "will be essential to meet Canada's Copenhagen commitment," a target reiterated at the recent Warsaw talks.

Current trends aren't promising. Environment Canada earlier this fall predicted the country will miss achieving its 2020 climate goal by 122 megatons, "a significant and growing gap," as CBC described it.

Geoff Dembicki reports on climate change for The Tyee.

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