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  • Writer's pictureCourtney Burton

Overview of Alberta's Carbon Credit System

An introduction to how carbon credits are generated, traded, and utilized in Alberta

Courtney Burton and Stewart Maier

Alberta, with its rich energy resources, has been at the forefront of Canada's climate action discussions. Recognizing the balance between environmental responsibility and economic vitality, the province has developed a carbon credit system that aligns its energy-intensive industries with the global mission to curb greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. This article provides an introductory overview of how carbon credits are generated, traded, and utilized in Alberta.

Generation of Carbon Credits:

At its core, a carbon credit represents the reduction of one metric tonne of carbon dioxide or its equivalent in GHGs. In Alberta, carbon credits are generated through projects that can demonstrably reduce or remove GHG emissions. These projects could range from renewable energy initiatives to methane capture in landfills or even afforestation (planting trees in previously non-forested areas).

Once a project is operational, it undergoes third-party verification to ensure that the claimed GHG reductions are genuine. Only after this verification can the project be issued carbon credits, with each credit equating to a tonne of CO2 equivalent reduced or removed.

Trading of Carbon Credits:

Alberta's carbon market is structured in a way that allows entities with excess emissions (emitters) to purchase carbon credits from those who have successfully reduced their GHG emissions. This system is built on the principle of 'cap-and-trade,' where emitters are capped at a certain level of allowable emissions. Should they exceed this cap, they can offset their excess emissions by buying carbon credits. The trading of these credits happens in a regulated marketplace. Prices are determined by supply and demand factors, much like any other traded commodity. The Alberta Emissions Offset Registry plays a crucial role in recording and tracking carbon credit transactions to ensure transparency and credibility in the market.

Utilization of Carbon Credits:

Once carbon credits are purchased, they are used to offset excess emissions from the buying entity, thereby helping them meet their mandated emissions reductions targets. After being used in this manner, these credits are 'retired,' ensuring that each credit can only be utilized once. This prevents double counting and maintains the integrity of the entire system. However, the utility of carbon credits extends beyond mere compliance. Many companies also purchase these credits as part of their corporate social responsibility initiatives, aiming to achieve carbon neutrality. By investing in carbon offset projects, companies can enhance their green credentials, appeal to environmentally-conscious consumers, and even anticipate and prepare for stricter future emissions regulations.


Alberta's carbon credit system serves as a bridge between the province's energy-focused economy and the broader goal of environmental stewardship. By incentivizing GHG reductions and offering a flexible mechanism for industries to meet their emissions targets, Alberta has carved a unique path in the global carbon market landscape.

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