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Keystone XL and Canada's Empty Promises on Climate Action
President Obama has made it clear that the central factor in his decision to approve or reject the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline is whether the pipeline project will significantly exacerbate climate pollution. Canada is striving to present itself as a sustainable manager of the tar sands that has the tools to mitigate the substantial carbon emissions and pass President Obama’s climate test. Unfortunately, a multi-million dollar PR campaign cannot erase Canada’s lackluster climate record or make it any easier to cancel out the emissions from tar sands.
There is no credible mitigation plan proposed or even being considered by Canadian provincial or federal governments that would address greenhouse gas pollution from its growing tar sands industry. There are tremendous technological and policy barriers that make mitigation of Canada’s tar sands carbon pollution problems highly unlikely. The gap between Canada’s rhetoric and its environmental performance raises serious questions regarding the credibility of the federal government’s commitments on climate.
Canadian experts hosted a press call yesterday to release a new backgrounder “Mitigating climate impacts of the tar sands: political and policy barriers to greenhouse gas reduction in Canada” and discuss the unlikelihood of successful mitigation.
“America’s shrinking coal emissions are a stark contrast to the rapidly expanding tar sands industry which is dragging down any Canadian hopes of being part of a climate solution,” said Danielle Droitsch, Canada program director at Natural Resources Defense Council. “By pushing for a dramatic expansion of tar sands oil development and the controversial Keystone XL pipeline to carry it, Canada will never meet its international climate commitments.”
“Mitigation of Canada’s increasing carbon pollution is incompatible with the Harper government’s policy of unchecked oil sands expansion, which is driving their push for Keystone XL,” said Dr. Mark Jaccard, professor of environmental economics at Simon Frasier University and former chair of British Columbia Utilities Commission. “The Canadian government has failed to reign in the skyrocketing emissions from this carbon intensive industry and we are now at a point where the only acceptable alternative's for the U.S. government to reject Keystone XL.”
The Scale of the Problem
The tar sands are Canada’s fastest growing source of greenhouse gas pollution, and if they continue to expand as government and industry project, they will cancel out every other effort across the country to mitigate emissions. Emissions from the tar sands are projected to double by 2020, which will send Canada soaring past the 2020 climate change target it shares with the U.S.
Models show that in order to curb soaring tar sands pollution and meet Canada’s shared 2020 climate goal with the U.S., regulations on the tar sands would have to establish a price on carbon of at least $100 per tonne.
But that level of regulation—or any meaningful regulation—is highly unlikely.
Canada’s Failure to Regulate
The Canadian government is well aware of the mounting pressure to limit carbon emissions. The government has been aggressive in its talking points, but passive in action. While they have made multiple public promises, no federal regulations on emissions from the oil and gas sector have yet been proposed in Canada.
This means that the tar sands sector is currently expanding without any attention given to soaring greenhouse gas pollution.
Canada is currently on track to miss its international climate commitments by a wide margin that is greater than all of the carbon produced by the combined emissions of Canada’s power plants or the combined emissions of all of Canada’s passenger vehicles.
"It will be very difficult for the Canadian government to achieve its own emissions reduction target for 2020 even without tar sands expansion, and more so if it continues to pursue tar sands expansion,” said Dr. Danny Harvey, climate scientist at University of Toronto. “In any case, deep reductions in overall emissions, beyond the 2020 target, will be required in the following decades that will be impossible to achieve if we lock in 40 years of increased tar sands emissions by building more pipelines."
Due to political and policy barriers, it is highly unlikely that Canada would be able to mitigate the carbon emissions from the tar sands in order to meet President Obama’s climate test for Keystone XL.
"You don't have to look very far to see past Canada's empty promises on climate change," says Gillian McEachern of Environmental Defence Canada. "A long list of climate failures combined with plans to triple tar sands production takes the possibility of mitigating impacts from the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline off the table."
“Canada can’t claim to mitigate for the impacts from Keystone XL while simultaneously permitting new oil sands mines and drilling operations,” said Elizabeth May, MP and Leader of the Green Party of Canada. “If the U.S. government is serious about combating climate change then there is only one obvious choice: reject Keystone XL.”
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