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  • Writer's pictureGraham Harris

A Visualization of Alberta's GHG Emissions since 1990

Everyone loves a good visualization: when it comes to data, visualizations tell a story in a way that a spreadsheet simply cannot. And animated "bar chart races" are not just fun to watch, they are also an informative way to see how something has changed - or not - over time.

Take this visualization of Alberta's greenhouse gas emissions since 1990, broken down by economic sector.

One thing stands out above all else, which is the #1 position of the upstream oil and gas industry. This dominated the provincial GHG profile even in 1990 and has become ever more dominant over time, with absolute GHG emissions more than doubling in the last three decades. Indeed, in 2018, the oil and gas industry (upstream + downstream) had an emissions profile as large as the entire rest of the provincial economy.

The second most emitting sector, electricity, was three-fifths the size of the upstream oil and gas industry in 1990, but emissions from that sector, after rising slowly through most of our timeline, precipitously dropped in 2018. Why? Alberta's 1990 electricity grid was dependent on coal-fired power generation. Over time, this has been gradually greening, with newly commissioned power units being natural gas (and especially cogeneration in the oil and gas sector) as well as, more recently, significant contributions from wind power. Added to this, in 2018 the effects of coal shuttering began to be observed.

Other interesting observations from the visualization include: the rise of freight transportation, which was ranked 7th in 1990 but 3rd in 2018; the relative decline of animal production, which was ranked 3rd in 1990 but 7th in 2018; and the halving of emissions from the light manufacturing sector.

However, one thing remains clear given the dominance of oil and gas to the provincial inventory; we desperately need solutions to the GHG emissions from this section of our economy if we are to meet our climate change targets and limit the impacts of a changing climate on us all. I'll be talking more about some of the targets and commitments from this sector in my blog post next month. In the meantime, enjoy the visualization!

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Warren Brooke
Warren Brooke

I like how the electricity emissions start shrinking in the last two years. This represents the start of retirement of coal-fired electricity generation.

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