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

With Canada’s safe carbon budget too small for tar sands, hunt for solutions goes global


Barry Saxifrage | National Observer - July 28th 2015

Press Clipping: The Alberta tar sands contain a gargantuan 170 billion barrels of oil that are economically viable to extract using today's technology. Unfortunately, the climate pollution from extracting it all using current technology would exceed any safe and sane carbon budget for Canada. If we Canadians live up to our fundamental climate obligations and promises, there will only be enough national carbon budget to extract a tiny percentage of tar sands reserves.

It’s not climate change —it’s everything change


Margaret Atwood | Medium - July 27th 2015

Press Clipping: It’s interesting to look back on what I wrote about oil in 2009, and to reflect on how the conversation has changed in a mere six years. Much of what most people took for granted back then is no longer universally accepted, including the idea that we could just go on and on the way we were living then, with no consequences. There was already some alarm back then, but those voicing it were seen as extreme. Now their concerns have moved to the center of the conversation.

Two-degree target may still cause catastrophic sea level rise, James Hansen warns

Fram Dinshaw | National Observer - July 22nd 2015

Press Clipping: A leading climate scientist gave an alarming warning that limiting global warming to two degrees Celsius may not prevent a catastrophic sea level rise that would leave major coastal cities from Miami to Mumbai at risk of drowning. “I think that the major implication of that will be that we hand young people a climate system where it’s not possible to avoid a large sea level rise,” said Hansen, who went on to slam the two-degree target agreed upon at the 2009 Copenhagen talks as being “pulled out of a hat.”

Canada’s new energy strategy reveals irreconcilable rifts in aspirations on climate and tar sands

Anthony Swift | NRDC - July 22nd 2015

Blog Post: Following a week of negotiations, Canada's provincial and territorial premiers have released a 'unified Canadian Energy Strategy' which reveals sharp divisions in the country's aspirations. Unfortunately, the strategy as released reflects an incompatible and unworkable hybrid, promoting the expansion of high carbon tar sands infrastructure and the need to decarbonize Canada's economy. The problem with this approach is that Alberta's expanding tar sands sector happens to be the reason that Canada is the only developed nation that is expected to miss its international climate targets.

There’s no climate leadership in a tar sands pipeline

Mike Hudema | Greenpeace Canada - July 17th 2015

Blog Post: Instead of talking with the country’s other provincial leaders about how to speed up the transition to renewable energy, Alberta Premier Rachel Notley met with Quebec’s premier to talk about how to dig us further into the problem by green lighting the $12-billion Energy East tar sands pipeline. If constructed, Energy East would carry 1.1 million barrels of crude a day and producing the crude needed to fill it would generate up 32 million tonnes of additional greenhouse gas emissions each year — an impact even greater than the proposed Keystone XL pipeline.

Canadian premiers fail to live up to climate rhetoric


Hannah McKinnon | Oil Change International - July 16th 2015

Blog Post: Canadian premiers are meeting this week to discuss the so-called Canadian Energy Strategy – an effort by Canadian provinces and territories to come up with a united front on energy in Canada. Increasingly, premiers have assured the country that any energy strategy must go hand-in-hand with ambitious efforts to deal with greenhouse gas (GHG) pollution and climate change. On this count, premiers look set for a spectacular failure and yet another missed opportunity to connect the dots, deal with their collective and clear cognitive dissonance, and make Canadian energy about much more than pipelines and oil.

We are unstoppable


July 13th 2015

Visual: The wall of opposition to tar sands pipelines is unstoppable. From Canada to the US, the resistance to Big Oil knows no borders.”Boxed In On All Sides” shows just home much we accomplished this year. So do yourself a favour and spend 7 mins on your lunch break and watch this people powered victories wrap up video from the past 10 months of this epic campaign.