Tar Sands Solutions Network

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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

Why the Earth is heating so fast: On the dangerous difference between science and political science

Bill McKibben | Common Dreams - September 2nd 2015

Press Clipping: President Obama is visiting Alaska this week — a territory changing as rapidly as any on earth thanks to global warming. He’s talking constantly about the danger that climate change poses to the planet. But of course the alarm he’s sounding is muffled by the fact that earlier this year he gave Shell Oil a permit to go drill in the Arctic, potentially opening up a giant new pool of oil.

How a cardboard sign and a Sharpie forced climate change onto the campaign trail


August 27th 2015

Blog Post: Yesterday, local activists disrupted Stephen Harper’s campaign stop in Montreal to remind him that you can’t avoid the issue of climate and tar sands expansion if you’re campaigning to be leader of this country. In a packed room of supporters in the suburban riding of Pointe-Claire, one climate activist interrupted the Prime Minister’s speech, as several other organizers rallied outside the venue.

Halifax sea levels spiked by 11cm in two years

Zachary Markan | CBC News - August 27th 2015

Press Clipping: If you live on the Atlantic Seaboard, you’ll want to read this. A new study from a group of U.S. scientists is raising concerns about the potential for extreme sea-level rises in Atlantic Canada in the years to come. Researchers divided the coastline into three areas, and the zone north of New York City saw an overall sea-level increase of 94 millimetres during the two-year period of 2009 and 2010. Halifax saw a sea-level rise of 110 millimetres during that time. Portland, Maine saw the largest increase — 128 millimetres. Yikes!

It’s time to change Canada’s climate politics

Cam Fenton | 350.org - August 19th 2015

Blog Post: On October 19th, people across Canada will head to the polls and then, just a few weeks later, hundreds of world governments will meet in Paris to try to strike a global climate agreement. In Paris our governments are supposed to agree on a shared target for climate action, and then propose national plans to meet that goal -- but the numbers just aren’t adding up. Everything being discussed will allow too many communities that have polluted the least to be devastated by floods, rising sea levels and other disasters.

Islamic call on rich countries to end fossil fuel use

Matt McGrath | BBC News - August 19th 2015

Press Clipping: Islamic environmental and religious leaders have called on rich countries and oil producing nations to end fossil fuel use by 2050. The Islamic Climate Declaration says that the world's 1.6bn Muslims have a religious duty to fight climate change. It urges politicians to agree a new treaty to limit global warming to 2C, "or preferably 1.5 degrees."

Climate change panel and consultation plan signal a shift in Alberta


Ed Whittingham | Pembina Institute - August 17th 2015

Blog Post: Pembina Institute’s Ed Whittingham says the new process for determining the fate and future of the oil sands and climate policy is "a well-balanced line up of experts who bring a mix of perspectives and experience to guide its climate change consultation process. A broad and transparent consultation process will provide valuable input as the province seeks to develop a credible climate strategy that reflects the priorities and concerns of Albertans."

Australia carbon plan sends shudder through neighbours

Matt McGrath | BBC News - August 13th 2015

Press Clipping: The Australian government recently announced its emissions reduction target for 2030, and it sucks. Figures from the Australian think tank, the Climate Institute show that Mr Abbott's new plan will cut emissions by 20% of 1990 levels by 2030. The US will cut by 32%, the EU by 40%, and the UK will have reduced carbon dioxide by 66%. What about Canada? Harper’s GHG reduction plan is worse than Australia’s.

United Church of Canada votes to divest from fossil fuels

Christine Boyle | Fossil Free Faith - August 12th 2015

Blog Post: The United Church of Canada voted to sell its fossil fuel assets and commit financially to transitioning to an economy based on renewable energy. Climate justice, whereby the world’s most vulnerable populations avoid disproportionate harms of climate chaos, stands as a clear priority for Canada’s largest protestant denomination.