Tar Sands Megaprojects Hurt Canada's Ability to Meet Climate Goals: Report

As Canada’s provincial and territorial leaders meet Tuesday in Quebec City to develop a national energy strategy in the face of federal inaction on climate change, a new report warns that tar sands megaprojects like the Energy East pipeline could hinder the country’s ability to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions blamed for global warming.

“Canada’s premiers have an opportunity to collaborate and provide leadership through a Canadian Energy Strategy,” said Erin Flanagan, an analyst with the Pembina Institute and author of the report, (pdf). “But to achieve shared climate objectives, the provinces will have to address carbon-intensive megaprojects and their consequences in terms of emissions.”

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In particular, the think tank singles out tar sands operations, which the report notes are “Canada’s fastest growing source of greenhouse gas emissions and, as such, the largest barrier to achieving national climate objectives.”

TransCanada’s Energy East pipeline proposal, for example, “would provide an outlet for expanded [tar sands] production at a time when emissions are not adequately regulated—locking Canada in to more emissions growth,” the report reads. The crude oil production needed to fill Energy East could generate up to 32 million tons of carbon emissions each year, the researchers add, an amount roughly equal to the emission reductions Ontario made by phasing out coal-fired power in its province.


With international climate negotiations set to take place in Paris this December, 2015 is “set to be a significant year for governments around the world working to address climate change,” the report declares, adding that “Canada will have to work hard to overcome its dismal record on climate.”

In an October 2014 report, the auditor general’s office stated that Canada was not on track to meet its international emissions targets because the federal government’s plan to reduce carbon pollution “has been ineffective and the action it has taken has been slow and not well coordinated” among provinces. Canadian prime minister Stephen Harper is known for his dismal record on climate change; in 2014, Jamie Henn of 350.org called the Harper administration “just another member of the carbon cartel.”

It’s up to the country’s premiers to fill the “leadership vacuum” left by Harper’s administration on climate change, the researchers say—and to do so they must “urgently reduce” the climate impacts of continued tar sands development.

“For a multi-province strategy to be credible and effective,” the report reads, “it must take the full emissions footprint of fossil fuel projects into account.”

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