OTTAWA, ONTARIO--(Marketwire - Feb. 25, 2013) - Renowned climate scientists in Canada and the United States are urging the Canadian government, which says it is close to announcing its new oil and gas regulations, to ensure that total greenhouse gas emissions, including oil sands emissions, go down. Scientists expressed concern that the oil and gas regulations will fail to do anything meaningful on climate change given the federally-allowed expansion of oil sands developments, and the long history of broken promises on climate action.
"Across-the-board deep reductions in greenhouse gas emissions are required in order to avoid potentially catastrophic changes in climate. Continued expansion of the oil sands operations runs counter to this imperative, irrespective of whatever else we may be doing in Canada," says University of Toronto climate scientist Danny Harvey. "In its attempt to secure approval of the Keystone Pipeline, the Canadian government is proclaiming its commitment to reducing greenhouse gas emissions. However, the Canadian government has no credible plan for stabilizing greenhouse gas emissions, much less reducing them."
This is the fourth time in seven years that the same government has proposed oil and gas regulations and each time, failed to act. Canada ranks as the worst performer in the developed world on climate change. In the most recent ranking of climate change performance, Canada was trailed only by Kazakhstan, Iran and Saudi Arabia, ranking 58th out of 61 countries.
"Canada and the U.S. are the top emitters in the world, per capita. Both countries need to significantly reduce overall emissions if we are to stay below a two-degree increase. Recently U.S. emissions have decreased. On the other hand, the expansions of tar sands extraction will make it impossible to Canada to follow that lead," said Dr. John Abraham of the University of St. Thomas in Minnesota.
The scientists say total emissions from the oil sands need to be reduced. This does not mean emissions per barrel. With the planned expansion of the oil sands, reducing emissions per barrel could still mean total emissions will go up.
"The science tells us that if we are going to meet the two degree target, which all governments have accepted, then we are going to have to leave a significant portion of our fossil fuel resources in the ground. I am concerned that approving the Keystone pipeline will take us in the opposite direction; it will just accelerate the development of the oil sands," said Dr John Stone, IPCC Lead Author, adjunct Professor at Carleton University in Ottawa.
Canada's impending oil and gas climate regulations have been discussed publicly in recent news media and suggest that oil and gas companies will be able to operate largely business as usual, as long as they pay into an innovation fund - based on a similar model as Alberta - that would permit continued expansion of oil sands operations and increased in emissions.
"Unless the government regulations are accompanied by a credible independent assessment showing that they will achieve Harper's promised 2020 emission reduction target, they should be seen as nothing more than a front for continually rising carbon pollution from the tar sands," said Mark Jaccard, professor of environmental economics at Simon Fraser University in British Columbia.
Reducing the total emissions from the oil sands can be done in various ways including:
- Introducing long-promised federal oil and gas regulations, with the assurance from credible experts that these regulations will achieve a meaningful hard limit on oil sands emissions, and could be easily integrated into a future carbon pricing mechanism.
- Improving an Alberta Carbon Tax to establish economic incentives to reduce total emissions.
- Developing a credible plan for a clean energy transition, starting with restoration of meaningful federal support for clean energy and efficiency programs.
- Implementing compulsory policies that regulate or price emissions and that credible independent analysts agree will achieve the government's 2020 emission reduction promise.
- Preventing investments that expand the extraction, processing and transport of fossil fuels, thus leading to rising carbon pollution here and abroad.
The scientists released a background paper to set the record straight on the impact of Canada's coal regulations and climate progress. The Backgrounder can be found at canadianclimatepolicy.org.