Oilsands and climate change
How Canada’s oilsands are standing in the way of effective climate action
b y Marc Huot
At a glance
As the United States evaluates whether the proposed Keystone XL oilsands pipeline is in its national interest or not, there are important issues it must consider, such as the ability of Canadian provincial and federal climate policies to effectively address rising greenhouse gas emissions. The Final Environmental Impact Statement for the pipeline issued by the U.S. Department of State overlooked key information and context on greenhouse gas emission management in Canada. In fact, a close inspection of Canada’s climate record illustrates key weaknesses at the federal level as well as in Alberta. This fact sheet aims to supplement the dialogue by providing key information on oilsands emissions growth, future oilsands intensity improvements, and the climate policies in effect in Canada at the provincial and federal levels. For a more detailed analysis, please refer to the accompanying briefing note, “Oilsands and climate change: How Canada’s oilsands are standing in the way of effective climate action.”
Greenhouse gas (GHG) pollution from Canada’s oilsands is growing rapidly, and existing climate policies are too weak to limit this growth
Oilsands development is the fastest growing source of GHG pollution in Canada. In the last two decades, oilsands emissions have more than doubled.
Government forecasts predict annual GHG emissions from oilsands will double again from 2009 to 2020 with current policies and practices; the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers forecasts that GHG emissions from oilsands are likely to continue climbing well into the 2030s. GHG emissions are growing faster in the oilsands industry than any other sector or sub-sector in Canada. While the Government of Canada is talking about developing oil and gas regulations, the oilsands currently have no federal GHG regulations or limits.
Provincial climate policies
Alberta’s climate targets are far below what is required, and the province’s climate policies are far too weak to achieve their goals
Alberta’s climate regulations are too weak to constrain the rapid growth in oilsands emissions. • Alberta’s climate policies are likely to achieve only about one-fifth of the emission reductions the province’s climate plan calls for by 2020, due to weaknesses in the policies and the accounting for emissions reductions.
• Given the province’s weak climate targets and severe shortcomings in provincial climate change policies, claims that the Alberta government is a climate policy leader cannot be supported. In fact, the current policies will fall far short of halting the growth in Alberta’s GHG emissions, let alone reducing emissions overall.
• While the province’s 2008 climate plan also calls for a 50 Mt reduction in annual emissions below business-as-usual by 2020, this weak target actually allows absolute emissions in Alberta to continue growing for another decade. Alberta’s long-term climate target to achieve a 14% reduction below 2005 levels by 2050 lags significantly behind the effort being made by other countries, including the U.S. target to achieve an 83% reduction below 2005 levels by 2050. ! • Alberta’s plan commits to a number of specific policy actions, but it makes no attempt to show that the policies will be strong enough to achieve the objectives. The policy actions in Alberta’s climate change plan have many weaknesses. • Alberta requires large emitters to make 12% reductions in the intensity of GHG emissions — however, much of the reductions are only “on paper” since facilities can comply by making payments of $15/tonne CO2e into a climate fund rather than making on-site emission reductions. • The $15/tonne compliance option essentially caps the price on carbon in the province at a rate far lower than the cost of achieving on-site...