Interview: Alberta “Tar Sands” Environment Minister, Shannon Phillips

In this interview, conducted at COP21, the Minister for the Environment for the Province of Alberta, Shannon Phillips, demonstrates the difficulty facing policymakers in balancing what needs to be achieved for climate safety on a global scale, with the challenges of domestic policy in relation to local industries. It doesn’t help when those industries include the incredibly toxic and highly polluting Alberta tar sands.

Cash cow or burden to world safety?

The tar sands (“oil sands” in Canadian political speak) are a double edged sword for Canada. On the one hand they have been the back-bone of the economy that few Canadian’s would speak too loudly against. On the other they are besieged by collapsing oil prices that make them uneconomical and possibly even, a liability. Add to this endless campaigns by environmentalists highlighting the toxic impact on indigenous peoples lives and the wider impact on increasing global climate disruption.

01 tar sandsTar sands in Alberta Province, Canada Source: DeSmogBlog

"Canada is back?"

Shannon Phillips came to COP21 to spread the word that “Canada is back” along with the Canadian Minister for the Environment & Climate Change, Catherine McKenna. The main issue here is that neither can promise to end the tar sands extraction because they have been left no economic alternative by the previous Harper led administration. However, this may prove to be easier for these politicians than it appears in this interview.

Winds of Economic change

The collapsing price of oil in the markets may force a closure of the tar sands that is beyond the control of any politicians. There is no doubt that Canada is in for some tough times economically but with the growing attractiveness, price-wise, for non-polluting renewables, the transition may prove more rapid and more lucrative that previously anticipated.

It will take political courage to act now, while there is still time, to ensure that policies requiring new thinking are implemented before the spectre of the next elections make such plans more difficult to implement. 

We'll start a brave new world...

Shannon Phillips states on more than one occasion in this interview, “we haven’t built the new world yet!” Well no, but we are trying and Phillips could play a big part creating a momentous shift in thinking and action. 

ShannonPhillips TarSandsMinister still 

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