Suncor CEO Calls for Tougher Action on Climate Change

Ice Field

By Jonny Wakefield

May 28, 2015

Tougher emissions regulations could benefit Alberta's oil and gas sector, the CEO of Canada's largest oilsands company said in a recent speech.

"We're trying to move Canada towards a position of leadership [on climate change]," Suncor CEO Steve Williams told a group of business leaders in Calgary last week. "That's not how we're viewed around the world at the moment. We're viewed to be quite the opposite."

Along with the recent election of Rachel Notley's New Democrats, the speech adds further momentum to efforts to change energy policy in Canada's largest petroleum producer. Suncor’s Williams suggested that the province’s system of carbon pricing be ramped up to change the perception of Alberta oil abroad.

Calgary City Councillor Brian Pincott hailed the remarks as game changing. "When I heard the CEO of Suncor Steve Williams saying that we need a carbon tax in Alberta . . . [and that] we need leadership when it comes to action towards climate change, it signals a sustainable future for our province."

A carbon tax was among the proposals Williams offered for both tackling climate change and improving public opinion around Alberta's energy sector. He said Alberta's existing carbon pricing regime was a "great start" but that there's room for improvement. The province currently contributes around a third of Canada's total carbon emissions.

He said a carbon tax would have to be "broad"—targeted at both producers and consumers—to have an effect.  

Williams made his remarks days before Alberta's new government takes office. His timing is also likely influenced by a federal commitment to reduce greenhouse gases (GHG) 30 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030.

It's a complicated pledge, given the patchwork of existing provincial GHG legislation. Alberta currently charges heavy emitters $15-per-tonne of GHG, while Ontario recently moved towards a cap-and-trade system. Oil and gas producers and other major emitters would be among those targeted under the new federal rules. 

B.C.'s experience with its own carbon tax has likely eased some fears among oil and gas producers. A 2013 study found that B.C.'s carbon tax reduced the province's overall GHG emissions and fuel consumption while having no negative impact on economic growth.