By Mike De Souza
CALGARY (Reuters) - Canada's oil-rich province of Alberta is making a credible shift toward a low carbon economy, Canadian Environment and Climate Change Minister Catherine McKenna said on Wednesday, as her government prepares for the upcoming Paris climate talks.
McKenna, who was on her first domestic trip in Canada since her appointment by Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Nov. 4, made the comments after a series of meetings with Alberta's environment minister, Shannon Phillips, as well as with environmentalists and energy company representatives.
Alberta is expected to unveil a climate change strategy within the next week offering details of plans to phase out coal-fired electricity and tackle rising emissions from its oil and gas industry. McKenna has pledged to release details of Canada's national plan and targets early in 2016.
"Alberta has put thought into it and they are going to show what they believe is a way that they can credibly do their part," McKenna said. "They understand the need to move to a low carbon economy, but also ensuring that the economic climate is still very positive."
Alberta is the largest source of U.S. crude imports, but its oil sands industry is also Canada's fastest growing source of greenhouse gas emissions.
The province's energy sector has also been hammered with thousands of layoffs in recent months due to slumping global oil prices. Some industry representatives have urged the federal and provincial governments not to exacerbate the problem with more stringent environmental standards.
But McKenna said there was a general agreement about the importance of lowering emissions in her meetings on Wednesday, including a round table discussion with environmentalists and representatives from energy companies such as Cenovus, Suncor Energy and Enbridge Inc.
"The oil sands are an important part of the Canadian economy right now and the Alberta economy. But we need to be moving toward renewables, toward a low-carbon economy," said McKenna.
"We are going to look at how we can support Alberta so that... we do not end up in a place where we have catastrophic climate change."
A Cenovus spokesman described the round-table discussion as "positive" while an Enbridge spokesman said that the company appreciated meeting the minister and looked forward to further discussions.
(Reporting By Mike De Souza; Editing by Bernard Orr)