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

‘I do not consent’

Karen Mahon - November 26th 2014

Blog Post: I have decided that tomorrow I will cross a police line on Burnaby Mountain, unceded Coast Salish territory, and risk arrest. I am doing this to protest climate change and specifically the building of the Kinder Morgan pipeline that will move bitumen extracted from the tar sands to our beautiful West Coast. I feel that by taking this action that I am writing my name in the book of history under the column "I do not consent."

Suncor argues “All of Us” are complicit in climate change, but new lawsuits could prove otherwise

Andrew Gage | West Coast Environmental Law - November 26th 2014

Press Clipping: We have heard the message that we are all responsible for climate change over and over again, and at a certain level this is true — but, we are not all equally responsible for climate change. Suncor's rhetoric conveniently side-steps questions of who should pay for the damage caused by climate change (and what portion) and whether major greenhouse gas emitters might be held legally responsible for climate change (which was the actual focus of Payback Time).

Anti-pipeline fervour not the legacy Stephen Harper had in mind: Hébert


Chantal Hébert | Toronto Star - November 25th 2014

Press Clipping: On paper the federal government and the National Energy Board have the final say on pipeline approvals. But there are myriad ways for a province to block or delay a federal infrastructure project and it would not be the first time that voters had forced governments to think twice about allowing a controversial one to go forward. The fact that otherwise business-friendly provincial governments are putting more and more distance between themselves and the pipeline file is a sign that public opposition to these projects is fast spreading well beyond the environmental movement.

Sins of omission: Who’s looking out for the environment?

Josh Wingrove | Globe and Mail - November 18th 2014

Press Clipping: Oil sands production has surged but the resource’s environmental regulation has remained dubious. Provincial and federal governments have reaped the windfalls of the boom with only sporadic, often ambivalent attention to its impact, squabbling along the way over jurisdiction. Federal environment ministers have been saying emissions regulations are imminent since 2006. Companies have often been left to monitor themselves.

Globe editorial: Jim Prentice’s green ideas for the oil sands

Editorial Board | Globe and Mail - November 18th 2014

Press Clipping: Mr. Prentice also knows that an unrepentantly carbon-emitting Alberta will have a hard time convincing British Columbians and native communities to support a western pipeline. That’s why he spoke passionately about making Alberta an “environmental leader.” If he’s serious, he has a few options. The challenge, in short, is to show the world that Alberta understands that it is living in a different moment in history from the heady days of willful climate-change denial and $150/barrel crude. That’s going to be tough.

SPECIAL BRIEFING: Global Climate Change Assessment

November 4th 2014

Publication: David Suzuki Foundation has summarized key findings of the IPCC’s three reports released over the past 13 months examining the solutions, risks and science of climate change and included additional research relevant for Canada. We also outline what Canadian governments can do while maximizing potential benefits to citizens and business.