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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

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.

Report highlights industry plans to flood West Coast with tar sands


Anthony Swift | NRDC - April 29th 2015

Publication: The West Coast could soon become a destination for huge volumes of tar sands crude oil - one of the world's dirtiest fuels - setting back efforts to combat climate change and exposing communities to significant new health and environmental risks. NRDC and a coalition of twenty-nine partners organization released a report -- "West Coast Tar Sands Invasion" -- that examines the spike in oil infrastructure, climate pollution, and public health risks that will result from oil industry proposals to expand tar sands refining and export capacity on the West Coast.

Vatican official calls for moral awakening on global warming


Stephanie Kirchgaessner | The Guardian - April 29th 2015

Press Clipping: Increasing use of fossil fuels is disrupting Earth on an “almost unfathomable scale”, a top Vatican official has said, warning that a “full conversion” of hearts and minds is needed if global warming is to be conquered. “In our recklessness, we are traversing some of the planet’s most fundamental natural boundaries,” warned Cardinal Peter Turkson, Pope Francis’s point man for peace and justice issues. “And the lesson from the Garden of Eden still rings true today: pride, hubris, self-centredness are always perilous, indeed destructive. The very technology that has brought great reward is now poised to bring great ruin.”

Top stories from Canada’s latest greenhouse gas emissions inventory


Barend Dronkers | Pembina Institute - April 27th 2015

Blog Post: The latest numbers confirm yet again that Canada is nowhere near meeting its emissions target of 17 per cent below 2005 levels by 2020. By contrast, the EU and U.S. are projected to meet or exceed their commitments and both are proposing more stringent targets beyond 2020. In Canada some provinces are slowly filling the leadership void left by federal government — leading with new measures and recognizing the need for economy-wide carbon pricing. Still, growth in oilsands emissions is undoing progress in the electricity and transportation sectors.

HSBC warns clients of fossil fuel investment risks

Luke Hurst | Newsweek - April 22nd 2015

Press Clipping: Global banking giant HSBC has warned investors of the growing risk of their fossil fuel assets becoming useless. In the report, titled ‘Stranded assets: what next?’, analysts warn of the growing likelihood that fossil fuel companies may become “economically non-viable”, as people move away from carbon energy and fossil fuels are left in the ground. The report argues that investors who stay in fossil fuels “may one day be seen to be late movers, on ‘the wrong side of history’”.

Wynne urges Harper to act on climate at Quebec premier’s summit


Krystle Alarcon | Vancouver Observer - April 22nd 2015

Press Clipping: Three days after 25,000 Canadians marched in Ottawa to demand more action on climate, Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne said Canada needs to take "more responsibility" to tackle climate change, and that Prime Minister Stephen Harper has to "take a position" on the issue. Wynne said she believes the prime minister would be present at the UN climate conference in December, but urged the federal government to take a stronger stance. "I think the federal government has to take a position," Wynne said.