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Canada Spurns Kyoto in Favour of Tar Sands

Stephen Leahy

BONN, Jun 13 2011 (IPS) - Canada was roundly criticised by other nations at a major U.N. climate meeting last week after being caught underreporting carbon emissions from its tar sands oil production facilities, one of the country’s biggest and fastest growing sources of global warming gases.

But even the “full emissions” data that Canada finally released represents only about half of the actual emissions, according to a new report.

“Small oil sands companies are not required to report their emissions. And oil-refining emissions are not included in tar sands emissions,” said independent Canadian researcher Michelle Mech.

Canada likes to claim the city-sized tar sands project in the western province of Alberta represents only five percent of the country’s entire emissions, but the real number is closer to 10 percent, Mech told IPS.

Getting oil out of the tar sands requires extraordinary efforts, including enormous amounts of energy, and has been labeled ‘dirty oil’ as a result.

“Average emissions for oil sands production and upgrading (well-to- pump) are estimated to be 3.2 to 4.5 times as carbon intensive as conventional crude produced in North America,” concluded Mech’s report, “A Comprehensive Guide to the Alberta Oil Sands”.


“The tar sands are huge in terms of their impact on the environment but also on Canadian democracy. Oil is starting to run the country now,” she said.

As if to prove that assertion, the Canadian government informed nearly 200 countries participating in the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) negotiating session here last week that it would not sign on to a new Kyoto agreement to reduce carbon emissions.

Canada signed the original Kyoto treaty in 1997, committing it to reduce the country’s emissions six percent below its emission levels in 1990. In 2008, Canadian emissions were at least 24 percent greater than in 1990. The latest reporting year is 2009, but that data is in dispute as the Canadian government has admitted omitting a 20-percent rise in emissions from the tar sands.

Civil society attending the Bonn negotiations gave Canada a “fossil of the day” award on Friday for doing “its best to block negotiations” to create an international binding agreement to reduce climate-damaging emissions last week.

“Canada’s track record of climate inaction shows that they need a binding target more than anyone,” the Climate Action Network (CAN), a worldwide network of roughly 700 non-governmental organisations (NGOs), said in a release.

Canada has the dubious honour of receiving more “fossil awards” than any other country in the last few years.

“Oil companies are in the driver’s seat when it comes to Canadian federal energy policy, and as a result Canada is trailing other industrialised countries when it comes to taking action on climate change,” said Graham Saul of Climate Action Network Canada.

“Prime Minister Harper has made it clear that he will go to great lengths to ensure no door is closed to the Alberta tar sands, including lobby efforts to insulate them from more stringent regulations imposed by other countries,” Saul said in a statement. “Governments are acting as if they are oblivious to the fact that there is a limit on how much fossil fuel carbon we can put into the air,” warned world-renowned climate scientist James Hansen. Hansen told IPS that fully exploiting the tar sands will make it impossible to stabilise the climate.

Burning just one-quarter of the proven reserves of oil, gas and coal will push the global climate beyond two degrees C of global warming, scientists have previously reported. Hansen said the international target to limit global warming to two degrees C is “a recipe for global climate disasters” and should be changed to 1.5 degrees C.

Billions of dollars are being invested Canada’s tar sands by major oil companies from around the world pushing to expand beyond the current production of 2.7 million barrels day. Meanwhile, most of Canada’s emission reduction programmes have or will expire this year.

The negotiations in Bonn nearly expired last week after delegates spent days debating the agenda.

“Taxpayers in developed countries must be outraged that their bureaucrats are coming here and playing tricks,” said Meena Raman, a negotiations analyst with Friends of the Earth Malaysia.

The Bonn negotiations are supposed to work out the details for an agreement that will be presented to government ministers at the 17th Conference of the Parties under the UNFCCC in Durban, South Africa in late November. Earlier talks in Bangkok in April made little progress except to make clear that current emission reduction pledges from developed and developing nations were far too low to achieve the two- degree C target.

What’s utterly absent here is any sense of urgency from any of the developed nations, said Mohamed Adow, senior advisor for Global Climate Advocacy at Christian Aid in East Africa. “Some nation needs to raise the alarm and push everyone hard towards meeting their emission reductions targets,” Adow said at a press conference last Friday.

“We can’t keep taking carbon out of the ground and putting it in the atmosphere if we want to leave our children with a stable climate,” stressed David Keith, Canada Research Chair in Energy and the Environment at the University of Calgary, who reviewed and commented on Mech’s tar sands report.

Referencing the tar sands, Keith concluded: “This means there is no such thing as sustainable production of this resource. In the long run, it must be shut down.”

 
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