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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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Overview:
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

Oilsands talking point collides with reality

P.J. Partington | Pembina Institute - April 18th 2014

Blog Post: If you’ve been following the Canadian government’s sales pitch for the Keystone XL pipeline, you’ve probably heard this claim before: “Emissions per barrel have been reduced by 26 per cent between 1990 and 2011.” It’s more or less true, but it’s also a red herring. The oilsands sector’s overall emissions intensity will fall by only one per cent between 2010 and 2030; meanwhile, the GHG intensity of the bitumen extraction process itself is projected to rise by 17 per cent.

Jimmy Carter: Reject Keystone XL oil pipeline

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Jake Miller | CBS News - April 18th 2014

Press Clipping: Former President Jimmy Carter urged President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry to reject construction of the Keystone XL oil pipeline on Wednesday, warning that the project would worsen the damaging effects of climate change and saying their decision would define their legacy "on one of the greatest challenges humanity has ever faced.”

Tar Sands makes energy sector Canada’s biggest source of greenhouse gases

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Emily Atkin | Think Progress - April 15th 2014

Blog Post: Canada’s energy industry has officially surpassed transportation as the largest producer of climate-change causing greenhouse gases, in no small part because of large increases in tar sands extraction, according to a recent government report. Environment Canada said that oil and gas production now accounts for one quarter of Canada’s greenhouse emissions. Emissions from the oil and gas extraction sector has increased substantially since 2005 — largely due to a tar sands production increase of 107 percent.

Reality Check: Climate Change and the Tar Sands

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April 15th 2014

Blog Post: Big Oil is spending millions of dollars trying to greenwash the tar sands, Canada’s fastest growing source of greenhouse gas pollution. A new report, Reality Check: Climate Change and the Tar Sands, sets the record straight on industry claims when it comes to global warming pollution.

Donner, Harrison & Hoberg: Let’s talk about climate change

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Simon Donner, Kathryn Harrison and George Hoberg | National Post - April 12th 2014

Press Clipping: Kinder Morgan’s proposal to triple the capacity of its Transmountain pipeline is expected to lead to 50% more carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions each year than all of British Columbia currently produces. That fact prompted 26 university professors who study climate change to apply to lend our expertise to the NEB’s assessment of whether this project is in the public interest. Every one of us was rejected, because we proposed to talk about climate change.

More than 100 scientists and economists call for rejection of Keystone XL tar sands pipeline

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Elizabeth Shope | NRDC - April 8th 2014

Blog Post: Dear President Obama and Secretary Kerry: As scientists and economists, we are concerned about climate change and its impacts. We urge you to reject the Keystone XL tar sands oil pipeline as a project that will contribute to climate change at a time when we should be doing all we can to put clean energy alternatives in place.

Canada’s economy battered by climate change catastrophes in 2013

Dene Moore | Canadian Press - April 7th 2014

Press Clipping: Extreme weather events such as the flooding in Calgary and Toronto nearly kept the federal government from meeting its budget targets last year, says an insurance industry official. Barbara Turley-McIntyre of the Co-operators insurance agency told delegates at a forum on livable cities in Vancouver that the Alberta flood alone cost the Canadian economy $4.8 billion in economic losses. “Those are huge numbers,” Turley-McIntyre said in an interview. “There must be a way that we can come up with adaptation plans that lower those numbers in the future, being proactive rather than reactive.”