Alberta's War on Carbon

Posted in: Environment     

Raise your glasses, here’s to Alberta! This province deserves some credit, after all. It is overlooked, under-appreciated and all too often doesn’t even get the lip service it is due in national or international circles for its innovative efforts to reduce greenhouse gases.

I know… the climate change discussion may not be popular. Nobody likes to engage on this issue because the conversation tends to be one-sided — you’re either with us or ‘agin us’. But Alberta, and indeed Canada — clearly focused on being a politically stable supplier of energy — has an important story to tell. That story has to get out.

Agriculture is an important part of this story. In 2007, under the leadership of then-Premier Ed Stelmach, Alberta brought in North America’s first multi-sectoral greenhouse gas (GHG) regulatory framework. It was bold and it was audacious. While other jurisdictions are still talking about implementing a way to put a price on carbon, Alberta has done it. Even at that time, five years ago, Alberta knew it was important to demonstrate to the world that it was working on ‘de-carbonizing our economy’ through its GHG regulatory framework.

The province is paving the way, and farmers are cashing in

Carbon emissions can be reduced in many ways under the framework — including reductions directly at the facility, or proven reductions by companies that are not large final emitters, the latter are regulated under the Specified Gas Emitters Regulation. This is where carbon offsets come in. The Carbon Offset program ensures that the reductions by unregulated companies (e.g. agriculture or forestry operations) that generate voluntary reductions are real, measurable, demonstrable and verifiable. In other words, they clearly meet the key policy rules under the Offset Program.

Other jurisdictions want to learn from Alberta. This province has five years under its belt and definitely, we have much to share. Many other political leaders have talked and planned but we have done. There are at least eight market opportunities for agriculture in the carbon market in Alberta, ranging from soil carbon sequestration and reduced emissions from fertilizer application, to reduced greenhouse gas emissions from livestock and manure, to anaerobic digesters and biofuel opportunities.

These opportunities are garnering attention from Australia’s Carbon Farming Initiative, the USDA Conservation Innovation Grant’s GHG Pilot Program (six protocols are being adapted) and California’s GHG regulatory framework efforts, to name a few. On the Alberta Offset Emissions Registry, project developers have generated 24.5 million tonnes (MT) of emission reductions, with 40% coming from the agricultural sector. That represents a cash injection of over a $100 million from non-governmental funds.

This market opportunity to leverage environmentally beneficial management practices into revenues for the farm — also known as environmental goods and services — must be viewed as important by the sector, and embraced by producers.

Did Alberta get it right? Not right out of the gate. We are continually improving, with the help of those working in the system, at government agencies and the suppliers of the crucial on-the-ground data that supports the carbon offset program.

Alberta is blazing a new trail, and along the way, it is setting the stage for others: California Air Resources Board, Saskatchewan, Australia, British Columbia, the USDA and beyond. Alberta is extending its expertise to the world — don’t we want to be part of that?

About the Author
Karen Haugen-Kozyra

Haugen-Kozyra is a senior partner with the Prasino Group, a network of leading advisors that integrate technical, policy and finance mechanisms for the agriculture, energy and food sectors to deliver results measured in terms of environmental benefits, social responsibility and economic returns. 

She has been instrumental in developing Alberta’s Carbon Offset Program, and can be reached at


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