Tar Sands Solutions Network

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Climate Impacts

Few energy projects pose a larger threat to the climate than Canada's tar sands. Oil sands production emits three to four times more climate-warming greenhouse gas emissions than producing conventional crude oil, making it one of the world's dirtiest forms of fuel. 

Due to more energy intensive extraction processes coming online, it's only going to get worse: climate pollution per barrel has increased 21 per cent since 2010. According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), the oil industry's expansion plans will commit us to as much as six degrees Celsius of global warming, all but guaranteeing the destabilization of the global climate.

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Tar sands is 3-4 times worse for the climate than conventional oil
Key Issues:
- Industry expansion plans will lead to far greater than 2 degrees of global warming
- Canada's climate performance is the worst in the Western world
Current Status:
There are no meaningful emissions limits on the tar sands industry today

The tar sands are the fastest growing source of greenhouse gas emissions in Canada, which emits more greenhouse gas emissions per capita than either the United States or China. The tar sands are the only reason Canada cannot meet its greenhouse gas-reduction commitments, and why it was the only country to pull out of the Kyoto climate change agreement.

Tar sands emissions have doubled in the past decade, and the industry’s expansion plans will double emissions again this decade, from 48 million tonnes in 2010 to 104 million tonnes in 2020. That’s twice current emissions from Norway, and exceeds the combined emissions from 85 nations.

If you thought that was bad, Alberta has already approved enough tar sands projects to produce climate pollution that exceeds the current combined emissions from 150 nations.

According to International Energy Agency projections, tar sands projects already under construction will supply all the tar sands oil the world can burn if we hope to keep average global warming below two degrees Celsius and avoid catastrophic climate change. But Alberta won’t stop there. Its government has already has approved further expansion to supply more tar sands oil than the world can burn even if we stay on the path to six degrees warming, or “climate catastrophe."

Current regulations do not meaningfully reduce greenhouse gas emissions from tar sands development. In the short term, more stringent regulations need to be put in place to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

To allow Canada to meet its commitment to reduce greenhouse gases, the oil and gas sector needs reduce its emissions by 42 per cent by 2020. This will require curtailing tar sands expansion and/or putting a price on carbon emissions of at least $100 per tonne by 2020.

Climate Impacts Updates & Resources

On emissions, talk has been Ottawa’s only action

Jeffrey Simpson | Globe and Mail - July 19th 2014

Press Clipping: Bruce Carson saw the early years of the Harper government from the inside, and today he wonders why Prime Minister Harper hasn’t bothered to implement policies to reduce GHG emissions from the oil and gas sector. "What happened to the resolve Harper expressed in January, 2010, in relation to the oil and gas sector, especially the oil sands?”

Dirty Deals: Trade talks undermine EU climate change regulation

July 17th 2014

Publication: This briefing demonstrates how corporate lobby groups are using trade threats, and particularly the EU-US trade talks as a vehicle to attack, weaken and delay important environmental regulation still in the making. The Fuel Quality Directive has already being delayed and potentially weakened threatening EU climate policies and an influx of tar sands to Europe.

How not dealing with climate change is killing our economy

Andrew Gage | West Coast Environmental Law - July 3rd 2014

Blog Post: The costs of climate change are being hotly debated. Sometimes it seems that the two sides of the argument aren’t even hearing one another. But a series of reports this month make it clearer than ever that inaction on climate change is already damaging our economy and a continued failure to take immediate and dramatic action amounts to economic negligence.

Scientists Call for Tar Sands Moratorium


Jane Kleeb | Bold Nebraska - June 25th 2014

Blog Post: In a groundbreaking Nature Journal article, a group of economists, policy researchers, ecologists, and scientists make the case for a moratorium on new pipelines in North America until a “more coherent approach” can be developed to evaluate tar sands projects in the context of a broader energy and climate strategy.

No turning back for a PM fixated on bitumen


Jeffrey Simpson | Globe and Mail - June 20th 2014

Press Clipping: With the industry playing defence, and the governments in Edmonton and Ottawa doing so little (except engaging in endless sales campaigns), bitumen oil is struggling to find new markets. You would have thought that after five years of salesmanship, it might be time to step back and take a hard look at performance, but that’s apparently not in the cards for the industry or the Harper government.

Obama calls out climate deniers, asks young people to force climate change issue

Ben Adler | Grist - June 16th 2014

Press Clipping: In a commencement speech at the University of California-Irvine, President Obama called on young people to push the climate change issue past its current partisan divide. The speech was particularly notable for Obama’s forthright confrontation of climate change deniers, in particular Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) and Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.).