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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

Provincial energy-climate agreement cannot trade climate for tar sands pipelines


Editors | Tar Sands Solutions - March 27th 2015

Blog Post: Environmental groups across Canada today responded to a new pan-provincial energy agreement cautioning that no climate progress can be made if tar sands pipelines are approved. "A pan-provincial climate deal that greenlights tar sands expansion is a complete non-starter to any serious climate discussion," said Mike Hudema of Greenpeace Canada. "The science is very clear that more than 85% of tar sands reserves need to remain in the ground if we want to stabilize the planet. It's time we listened to the science, said no to the pipelines and yes to the green energy that Canadians want."

Vancouver City Council votes unanimously to shift to 100% renewable energy by 2050

Janel Johnson | Vancouver Observer - March 26th 2015

Press Clipping: Vancouver City Council made history in Canada by voting to support a shift to 100 per cent renewable energy sources. In the motion, which passed unanimously, councillors directed staff to work on a package of policies that would effectively convert the entire city to run on clean and renewable energy. In his introduction, Mayor Gregor Robertson called climate change "the most daunting and important challenge of our time." He called the consequences of not addressing it "catastrophic" and said we can no longer wait for federal governments to act. "Cities," he said, "as the most direct level of government, need to take action."

Greenhouse gas emissions: Who’s responsible for climate policy in Canada?


Shawn McCarthy | Globe and Mail - March 26th 2015

Press Clipping: The federal Conservatives have treated climate change as a political issue to be managed gingerly. Canadian provinces have begun to take the lead on climate policy. Should they? As Shawn McCarthy reports, the provinces have filled the legislative void by establishing their own climate policy, but polls show that’s not what Canadians want.

Complete shift to renewable energy within Canada’s reach, academics say


Ivan Semeniuk and Shawn McCarthy | Globe and Mail - March 23rd 2015

Press Clipping: In a 56-page policy document, more than 70 scientists, engineers and economists say Canada is in a more favourable position than most countries for a switch to renewable power. The most significant barrier is not technical or economic, but a lack of political will, they said. Canada could shift entirely to renewable sources of electricity by 2035 and eliminate 80 per cent of its greenhouse gas emissions by mid-century. To get there, they recommend a national carbon-pricing plan, and greater effort to move electricity produced from low-carbon sources such as hydro dams across provincial borders.

There’s something really dirty going on in Canada that these celebrities want you to know about


March 20th 2015

Visual: One hundred celebrities, scientists, artists, elected officials, labor unions, progressive organizations, landowners, and climate activists have signed a letter for the president. In the Sierra Club’s most widely watched video ever, a bevy of celebrities make the case for rejecting Keystone XL and more business-as-usual dirty oil production.

Obama calls Canadian oil extraction process ‘extraordinarily dirty’


March 7th 2015

Press Clipping: U.S. President Barack Obama has some less-than-laudatory words for Canada's oil industry in a new example of his increasingly critical take on the oilsands. He was asked about the Keystone XL pipeline during a town-hall session Friday -- and he launched into an explanation of why so many environmentalists oppose it. "The way that you get oil out in Canada is an extraordinarily dirty way of extracting oil," Obama said during the event at a South Carolina college.

Canada needs to admit it has no climate change reviews, plans or policy

Cameron Fenton | 350.org Canada - March 2nd 2015

Blog Post: Canada has no climate regulations, massive pipeline projects like Energy East receive no climate review, and all in all we have no plan for managing the climate impacts of our nation's fastest growing source of greenhouse gas emissions -- the tar sands. Not simply an environmental catastrophe in the making, this has become a reality because of a single-minded push from Stephen Harper to shackle our economy to dirty tar sands exports, a gamble proving ill planned while the price of oil stays at record lows. Meanwhile, almost no politicians seem willing to say, let alone to take action to change things.