Federal responsibility in Canada’s oil sands


in Canada, Economics, Law, Politics, Science, The environment

The Pembina Institute – in cooperation with Environmental Defence and Equiterre – has released a new report on Canada’s oilsands. It concludes that even with optimistic assumptions about carbon capture and storage, greenhouse gas emissions from the oil sands are set to be unacceptably large by 2050, making Canada’s climate change mitigation targets infeasible:

A key finding of the report is that the math on carbon emissions doesn’t add up. If expansion of the oil sands proceeds as planned, the oil sands industry will outspend its proportional share of Canada’s carbon budget under the government’s current target by a factor of 3.5 times by 2020 and by nearly 40 times by 2050, even assuming very optimistic application of carbon capture and storage technologies. The oil sands sector must do its fair share to reach the federal government’s commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, or other sectors of the economy will be asked to shoulder the extra burden.

The report calls for oil sands operations to be subject to a carbon price, which would be applied equally across the economy.

The report stresses how, if the government gives the oil sands soft treatment, everybody else will need to work harder to achieve Canada’s climate targets.

The report does not particularly stress the sheer size of the fossil fuel reserve embedded in the oil sands, which may actually be the biggest problem from a climate change perspective.

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

R.K. October 25, 2010 at 11:30 am

Is it really important for the proportion of Canadian emissions that come from the oil sands to stay constant?

It seems OK for their share to increase, as long as total emissions are falling at the correct rate. For instance, if there was a hard cap and the industry was still profitable after buying permits.

. October 25, 2010 at 11:55 am

Barbara Yaffe’s outrageous opinion piece in the Vancouver Sun argues that environmentalists ought to shift their focus in their rallying calls against the tar sands. Yesterday, the Pembina Institute, Equiterre and Environmental Defence made a united call to the Harper government to start being more stringent in its enforcement of environmental laws, and to do more to respect aboriginal treaty rights in Canada’s tar sands.

The environmentalists’ report, Duty calls: Federal Responsibility in Canada’s Oilsands aptly argues that filthy tar sands development is on track to derail any and all of Ottawa’s targets for greenhouse gas emissions reductions. Duty Calls outlines Ottawa’s responsbility for environmental management in the oil sands and explores what’s at stake if Ottawa continues to neglect this responsibility.

Milan October 27, 2010 at 10:13 am

It seems OK for their share to increase, as long as total emissions are falling at the correct rate.


In an ideal policy environment, the whole economy would face a single price on carbon which would drive emission reductions wherever they were cheapest.

Right now, Canada is far from being an ideal policy environment. The government seems determined to allow unlimited expansion of the oil sands. That means, if Canada is to have any chance of meeting its climate change targets, other sectors are going to have to go above and beyond their ‘share’ of the targets, incurring greater expenses.

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