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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

Canada’s climate commitment “inadequate”


May 20th 2015

Blog Post: Canada’s new climate commitment ranks as “inadequate” under Climate Action Tracker’s methodology. Canada proposes to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 30% below 2005 levels in 2030. Without including forestry, Canada’s emissions are projected to increase on 2005 levels by 1% and 8% in 2020 and 2030, respectively. “It’s clear Canada is not serious about climate action. Without any new policies in place, its emissions are expected to balloon through to 2030, with the tar sands taking up a significant proportion. It is difficult to fathom how Canada will achieve both its 2020 pledge and its 2030 INDC,” said Bill Hare of Climate Analytics.

A note for Rachel Notley: A carbon tax is not political suicide


Marc Jaccard | Globe and Mail - May 18th 2015

Press Clipping: Alberta premier-elect Rachel Notley must be facing a long queue of oil executives with policy advice. Before getting overwhelmed, she might consider this modest proposal that solves her budget, energy, climate and political challenges in one go: Sacrosanct as this may sound in Alberta, Ms. Notley should implement a carbon tax. It should start at $10 this year, reach $20 in 2016 and $30 in 2017. Political suicide? Hear me out.

Canada reneges on emissions targets as tar sands production takes its toll

Suzanne Goldenberg | The Guardian - May 15th 2015

Press Clipping: Canada has retreated on past promises to fight climate change, setting out lower targets for cutting greenhouse gas emissions than any other industralised country so far ahead of a critical conference in Paris. Canada committed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 30% below 2005 levels by 2030. That is a far weaker target than the European Union or the US, and is less ambitious than the one Canada set in 2009 – and which it is unlikely to meet because of the vast expansion of Alberta tar sands production. “The Harper government has not only ignored its existing reduction target, but the pro-tar sands policies it has adopted are taking us in the opposite direction."

Couillard calls for Canadian unity and action on climate change

Adrian Morrow | Globe and Mail - May 12th 2015

Press Clipping: Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard devoted the strongest words of his speech before the Ontario legislature for global warming. He warned that the “cost of inaction is even greater” than the price of fighting back. “We live today in an era that forces us to resist a false choice between economic development and environmental protection,” he said. “This fight against climate change is a challenge, but it is also an opportunity to develop a 21st-century economy.”

Alberta’s new government could mean a new focus on climate and clean energy


Danielle Droitsch | NRDC - May 8th 2015

Blog Post: Canada's left-leaning New Democratic Party (NDP) gained a majority government in the Alberta election sweeping out the Progressive Conservative party that has been in power for over 40 years. While it is too early to tell what the election means for the future of Canada's oil sector, it opens a real possibility that Alberta will join other provinces like British Columbia and Ontario to help Canada meet international climate commitments.

Alberta’s oil patch now in uncharted waters with NDP premier


Jeffrey Jones | Globe and Mail - May 6th 2015

Press Clipping: The Alberta oil patch is in uncharted political territory after the NDP’s unprecedented rise to power. The energy sector, the province’s dominant industry and one that’s been friendly with the Progressive Conservatives, will find itself dealing with a left-of-centre premier and ruling party that have been among its harshest critics on issues of royalties, taxes and environmental policy. Premier-elect Rachel Notley will be bolstering the province’s reputation on climate change, as previous governments have resisted establishing tougher targets for carbon reduction from the oil sands.

U.S. action on climate change exposes Ottawa’s hypocrisy


Tim Gray | Environmental Defence - May 5th 2015

Press Clipping: Last week, when asked about the commitment Canada will be making at the United Nations climate change summit in December, Prime Minister Stephen Harper said, “It’s unlikely our targets will be exactly the same as the United States’.” Canadians could be excused for being surprised, given that the government has been telling Canadians for years that its approach on climate change is to harmonize with the United States. Now that Obama is trying to reduce GHG emissions, it doesn’t fit into the Canadian government’s plan to do as little as possible to reduce carbon emissions.

A missing issue in the 2015 Alberta Election: Curbing carbon emissions

Shaun Fluker | University of Calgary Faculty of Law Blog - April 29th 2015

Blog Post: One might think that curbing carbon emissions would be a key topic during an election in the province which emits more carbon emissions than any other jurisdiction in Canada. Carbon emission is, after all, an inherently political topic these days both at home and abroad. However, it is the absence of debate on how Alberta should address carbon emissions that is one of the more defining features of the 2015 Alberta election.