Tar Sands Emissions Make Canada A Carbon Bully

Alberta Tar SandsAuthor John Updike once described Canada as a cool, chaste country, but that’s not how Greenpeace sees it. Earlier this week, the environmental warriors issued a harsh report that described Canada an international carbon bully.

Sooner or later, that description is going to stick. Over the last two and a half years, several different environmental groups have used that exact word to characterize one of the world’s most peaceful nations, and they do have a few inconvenient facts to buttress their claims. In the Greenpeace report called Dirty Oil: How The Tar Sands Are Fuelling the Global Climate Crisis author Andrew Nikiforuk argues that Canada has been working with Japan to deliberately undermine progress at the international climate talks for several years. Certainly, that devil could be in the details. The Alberta Tar Sands already release more greenhouse gases than several smaller European nations and — if planned expansion to 2020 goes ahead — the tar sands alone will produce more greenhouse gases annually than either Austria, Ireland, or Belgium.

But here’s the rub. Canada’s Conservative government doesn’t want rein-in tar sands emissions because the region is seen as a key economic driver, and Alberta is vitally important to the party’s tentative hold on power.

So the politics are important, and this report was released in time to embarrass Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper as he meets with President Barack Obama in Washington today for bilateral talks, and energy is certain to be on the table. Harper is arguing that the tar sands offer energy security — a point that does carry some weight in the State Department — and, as a result, must be exempt from emission standards.

Several environmental groups, including The Sierra Club, NRDC, and ForestEthics have purchased expensive ads in The New York Times, The Washington Post, and Politico to argue that Harper is trying to keep America addicted to oil — unconventional Canadian oil, which carries a heavy greenhouse gas penalty. “As elected leader, he denied climate change. Now he’s pushing Big Oil’s latest trick,” says the ad, which features an image of Harper in a cowboy hat.

“Our top line message is that Canada’s tar sands are inconsistent with President Obama’s clean energy vision,” says Gillian McEachern, a senior climate campaigner at ForestEthics. “…The fact Harper is trying to paint himself as akin to President Obama on climate change is misleading.”

Certainly, the days leading up to the Copenhagen climate summit in December will be interesting. Since the Bali summit in 2007, reports have surfaced frequently that Canada had been working countries like the United States, Japan, and Australia to scuttle the talks. One by one, Canada’s allies have fallen away. Japan’s new Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama and he is promising to cut emissions by 25% over 1990 levels by 2020. Canada favors a 2.7% cut over the same period. With a possible election looming in the Great White North, one can only wonder if Canada’s opposition parties can take advantage of Canada’s international isolation to make political hay.

Richard is a writer and editor based in Halifax, Nova Scotia who specializes in clean technology and climate change. He's the founder of One Blue Marble, a climate change activism blog and web site.

One response

  1. Before I start, let me say that no one – NO ONE – hates the tar sands more than me. I agree entirely that (next to wiping out the natives to build the country) the tar sands are the biggest disgrace the country will probably ever see, and may be the cause of our entire civilizations’ undoing. However, it is equally annoying to watch the never ending finger pointing at raw materials countries like Canada by the consumption and ownership countries as in Europe and the US. If the tar sands bothers them so much, quit owning the companies that dig it up, and then buying the oil it produces. I don’t remember hearing anyone complaining about the UAE not helping the climate agreements. Canada is an OPEC country – get used to disappointment.

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