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State Dept Keystone review assumes ‘global failure to address climate change’

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John H. Cushman Jr. | InsideClimate News - March 7th 2014

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As the deadline for public comment on the Keystone XL pipeline arrived on Mar. 7, environmental groups told the Obama administration that the State Department's analysis of the project was based on flawed assumptions that clash with the nation's commitment to mobilizing global action against climate change.

In its final environmental impact statement (EIS) issued on Jan. 31, the State Department asserted that no single project would have much effect on the growth of Canada's tar sands industry. It based its conclusions partly on business-as-usual projections that demand for oil and prices would rise amid continued worldwide inaction on global warming.

The Natural Resources Defense Council said in wide-ranging comments that the EIS "makes a fundamental error by relying on energy consumption scenarios which assume a global failure to address climate change."

If the State Department stuck with its predictions that energy consumption and prices were destined to remain high, it would "undermine the nation's credibility" during United Nations talks aimed at heading off the worst effects of global warming, the advocacy group said.

Climate experts from around the world have agreed to aim for a binding treaty to be signed in Paris in 2015 that would keep emissions at a level consistent with global warming of no more than 2 degrees Celsius. According to the scientific consensus, this means not letting carbon dioxide emissions grow above 450 parts per million in the atmosphere. To stay within this limit, widely accepted computer models project that as much as 80 percent of available fossil fuels must be left in the ground.

But in analyzing the Keystone XL's effects, the State Department never considered the decline in oil use that would occur under an effective global climate treaty. Achieving a climate deal is a high priority for Secretary of State John Kerry and President Obama, who are the ultimate decision-makers on a permit for the Keystone XL .

The authoritative International Energy Agency has projected that under carbon cuts aimed at hitting the international safe-climate goal, United States demand for petroleum would drop from 17 million barrels a day in 2011 to just 10 million barrels a day in 2035.

Instead, the State Department's Keystone analysis adopted business-as-usual assumptions in which U.S. consumption either grows to 19 million barrels a day, or in the best case declines only slightly.

The agency's assumptions about the energy markets "must be interpreted as analysis centered on a world where curbing climate change is not a priority," said a separate report released Monday by the Carbon Tracker Interactive, a nonprofit that links capital markets to climate issues.

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