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

New Alberta climate policy is symbolic step - more is needed

Anthony Swift | National Resources Defense Council - June 26th 2015

Blog Post: Alberta's NDP government has announced a new climate policy that places heavier fines on facilities that exceed emissions targets. While this policy will not have a significant impact on Alberta's overall emissions, it is an important symbolic gesture of the Notley government's intention to adopt more ambitious reforms in the future. But will it be enough to put Alberta - and Canada - back on track to meet its climate targets?

Inaction on climate change is mutually assured destruction

John Cartwright | President of Toronto & York Region Labour Council, representing 200k union members - June 18th 2015

Blog Post: In July, Toronto will host a Pan-American Climate Summit and an Economic Summit, where politicians like Stephen Harper will join corporate leaders to push an austerity agenda that increases inequality while ignoring the pressing environmental crisis. On the eve of those summits, I will be joining many others in the streets of Toronto to demand a justice-based transition to a new energy economy. I hope you'll join us as well.

Pope Francis, in sweeping encyclical, calls for swift action on climate change


Jim Yardley and Laurie Goodstein | New York Times - June 18th 2015

Press Clipping: Pope Francis called for a radical transformation of politics, economics and individual lifestyles to confront environmental degradation and climate change, as his much-awaited papal encyclical blended a biting critique of consumerism and irresponsible development with a plea for swift and unified global action. The vision that Francis outlined in the 184-page encyclical is sweeping in ambition and scope: He described a relentless exploitation and destruction of the environment, for which he blamed apathy, the reckless pursuit of profits, excessive faith in technology and political shortsightedness.

Pope Francis blames ‘human selfishness’ for global warming


June 18th 2015

Press Clipping: Pope Francis has blamed human selfishness for global warming in his long-awaited encyclical calling for action on climate change. In the letter, he urges the rich to change their lifestyles to avert the destruction of the ecosystem. Pope Francis writes that: "We have come to see ourselves as her lords and masters, entitled to plunder her at will. The violence present in our hearts, wounded by sin, is also reflected in the symptoms of sickness evident in the soil, in the water, in the air and in all forms of life."

Why Jeb Bush and other Republicans are wrong to chide Pope Francis for taking a climate stand


Andrew Revkin | New York Times - June 18th 2015

Press Clipping: Scientific knowledge reveals options. Values determine choices.That is why the Roman Catholic Church — with its global reach, the ethical framework in its social justice teachings and, as with all great religions, the ability to reach hearts as well as minds — can play a valuable role in this consequential century. This is particularly true for planet-scale problems like human-driven climate change, in which national governments tend to put national interests ahead of planet-scale interests.

As Harper stalls on climate, Canada moves without him


Geoff Dembicki | The Tyee - June 16th 2015

Press Clipping: Harper’s Conservative government passed laws to accelerate the growth of Canada's oil and gas industry, while pledging carbon regulations that never came. He pulled Canada from the Kyoto Protocol, muzzled federal scientists and cut funding to their research, strong-armed the U.S. on bitumen pipelines and set climate targets he had no clear intention of meeting. But something unexpected happened. A frustrated cohort of students, provinces, investors and unions decided to take decisive climate action on its own. As the federal election this fall nears, how long will Harper ignore the forces rising against him?