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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

Sins of omission: Who’s looking out for the environment?

Josh Wingrove | Globe and Mail - November 18th 2014

Press Clipping: Oil sands production has surged but the resource’s environmental regulation has remained dubious. Provincial and federal governments have reaped the windfalls of the boom with only sporadic, often ambivalent attention to its impact, squabbling along the way over jurisdiction. Federal environment ministers have been saying emissions regulations are imminent since 2006. Companies have often been left to monitor themselves.

Globe editorial: Jim Prentice’s green ideas for the oil sands

Editorial Board | Globe and Mail - November 18th 2014

Press Clipping: Mr. Prentice also knows that an unrepentantly carbon-emitting Alberta will have a hard time convincing British Columbians and native communities to support a western pipeline. That’s why he spoke passionately about making Alberta an “environmental leader.” If he’s serious, he has a few options. The challenge, in short, is to show the world that Alberta understands that it is living in a different moment in history from the heady days of willful climate-change denial and $150/barrel crude. That’s going to be tough.

SPECIAL BRIEFING: Global Climate Change Assessment

November 4th 2014

Publication: David Suzuki Foundation has summarized key findings of the IPCC’s three reports released over the past 13 months examining the solutions, risks and science of climate change and included additional research relevant for Canada. We also outline what Canadian governments can do while maximizing potential benefits to citizens and business.

Pay attention to Syncrude’s legal efforts to eliminate greenhouse gas regulation

Gillian Steward - October 8th 2014

Press Clipping: One of Canada’s largest oil sands operators went to court to have a federal greenhouse gas regulation declared unconstitutional. The company not only lost the case but the judge declared that Syncrude was denying reality when it came to greenhouse gases and the danger they pose to the environment and human health. The case is highly significant, according to Nigel Bankes, chair of Natural Resources Law at the University of Calgary, because it is the first court challenge to the constitutional validity of any federal greenhouse gas regulations.

Auditors find significant gaps In Ottawa’s climate effort


Clare Demerse | Clean Energy Canada - October 8th 2014

Blog Post: We’d circled Oct. 7 on our calendars in anticipation of the release of an important assessment from Canada’s Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development, Julie Gelfand. And I’m glad we did: the new commissioner’s audit of Ottawa’s climate plans—which found fundamental gaps in the federal government’s approach—should be required reading for anyone concerned about climate and clean energy in Canada. Here are the highlights.