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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

Poll: Most Albertans want stronger climate change policies


September 30th 2015

Blog Post: New public opinion research shows that 53 per cent of Albertans want the province to adopt stronger policies to cut carbon emissions. This result comes from a survey of more than 1,800 Albertans conducted by EKOS Research Associates and commissioned by the Pembina Institute. Half of Albertans (50 per cent) also support the introduction of a carbon tax that applies to all polluters, including both individuals and companies. Support for this kind of carbon price is 10 to 20 percentage points higher when the revenue is directed to specific sources, such as infrastructure projects or technologies that reduce carbon emissions.

Focus Canada 2015 - Public Opinion on Climate Change

September 29th 2015

Blog Post: As part of its ongoing Focus Canada public opinion research program, the Environics Institute partnered with the David Suzuki Foundation to ask Canadians about climate change, to determine how perceptions have changed (or not) over the past year or so. Results from the latest survey reveal that the Canadian public is not yet having its “climate moment”, and appear to be little influenced by new scientific warnings, unusual weather, or recent pronouncements by Barack Obama and Pope Francis. This is by no means surprising given the limited media attention devoted to climate change at the national and regional levels.

What Exxon knew about climate change


Bill McKibben | The New Yorker - September 28th 2015

Press Clipping: Wednesday morning, journalists at InsideClimate News, a Web site that has won the Pulitzer Prize for its reporting on oil spills, published the first installment of a multi-part exposé that will be appearing over the next month. The documents they have compiled and the interviews they have conducted with retired employees and officials show that, as early as 1977, Exxon (now ExxonMobil, one of the world’s largest oil companies) knew that its main product would heat up the planet disastrously. This did not prevent the company from then spending decades helping to organize the campaigns of disinformation and denial that have slowed—perhaps fatally—the planet’s response to global warming.

Canadian courts could face climate-change cases in wake of Dutch ruling

Jeff Gray | Globe and Mail - September 18th 2015

Press Clipping: Canada could one day face a lawsuit such as the one that saw a court in The Hague order the Netherlands government to slash greenhouse gases, the lawyer who spearheaded the groundbreaking legal action says. Mr. Cox said in an interview that the Canadian government is a good target for this new kind of climate-change litigation, given Canada’s reputation in recent years as an environmental bad apple for its oil sands and its withdrawal from the Kyoto Protocol: “I think it’s a very beautiful country, but on the climate-change issue, there is a lot to be done.”

New report sets out how to incorporate climate test into environmental assessments

September 15th 2015

Blog Post: Climate change is the most pressing environmental issue of our age, yet the provincial government keeps adding fuel to the fire by ignoring the carbon footprint of proposed projects like the Kinder Morgan pipeline or various LNG proposals. This week, Sierra Club BC released a report, written by University of Victoria’s Environmental Law Centre, detailing how British Columbia’s Environmental Assessment (EA) process fails to consider climate change. "Blind Spot: The Failure to Consider Climate Change in British Columbia’s Environmental Assessments" recommends a set of urgently-needed policy changes to ensure proposed projects are assessed on the basis of a scientifically valid climate test.

Ewart: Oilsands still seeking ‘transformative technology’ to curb emissions

Stephen Ewart | Calgary Herald - September 12th 2015

Press Clipping: Suncor Energy’s acknowledgement its GHG emissions will increase 28 per cent by the end of the decade — even as it slowly reduces emissions per barrel — reveals that 25 years after Alberta’s oilsands boom started, industry is still seeking transformative environmental technologies. Although emissions intensity has declined by 30 per cent, the improvements per barrel aren’t as impressive as they appear. Pembina’s P.J. Partington pointed out in a report last August that most of the reductions came in the 1990s, but after picking off the “low hanging fruit” progress has largely stagnated.

If we burned all the fossil fuel in the world


Elizabeth Kolbert | New Yorker - September 12th 2015

Press Clipping: If mankind managed to combust the world’s known conventional deposits of coal, gas, and oil, and then went on to consume all of its “unconventional” ones, like tar-sands oil and shale gas, the result would be emissions on the order of ten trillion tons of carbon. Average global temperatures would soar, and the world would remain steamy for millennia. After ten thousand years, the planet would still be something like fourteen degrees Fahrenheit hotter than it is today. All of the world’s mountain glaciers and the Greenland ice sheet would melt away; Antarctica, too, would eventually become pretty much ice free. Sea levels would rise by hundreds of feet.