Lead climate treaty scientist calls on Canada to put tar sands development on hold

Lead climate treaty scientist calls on Canada to put tar sands development on hold

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Posted September 21, 2009 in Moving Beyond Oil

Today the Montreal Gazette reported that the lead climate scientist and recipient of the 2007 Nobel Prize on behalf of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Rajendra Pachauri, said that until technologies are more advanced to address the carbon emissions from the tar sands, the operations there should be put on hold. He also pointed to the fact that Canada’s targets for reducing greenhouse gases are much weaker than the European Union’s targets.

"It’s something that perhaps could lead to regrets later on, so you might as well make sure that all the requirements that are to be met to ensure environmental protection are taken in hand right at the beginning rather than being forced to take actions later," Pachauri was quoted as saying.

This interview comes on the eve of an U.N. Special Assembly meeting in New York on climate change. All eyes are on the U.S. and Canada in preparation for Copenhagen’s major climate meeting at the end of December. The Canadian government has yet to endorse a cap-and-trade program similar to the one endorsed by the President and currently wending its way through Congress.

The controversial tar sands oil development has been at the center of this debate. Fears are that Canada’s Harper government will adopt a climate policy that let the tar sands sector off the hook – first, by imposing intensity based targets that do not cap growth in this controversial source of oil; second, by allowing unlimited reductions to be achieved with offsets; and, third, allowing the use of a technology fund as a substitution for emission reduction requirements. The Harper government’s first two climate proposals both relied on intensity targets for large polluters, rather than hard caps.

While the U.S. and Canadian targets for 2020 are similar, the U.S. proposes to accelerate its emissions cuts to what science says is needed by 2050. The Administration is also putting measures in place that could more deeply reduce U.S. emissions by 2020. Additionally, according to the Pembina Institute, the U.S. stimulus plan, pledging over US$76 billion for renewable energy and energy efficiency over the next two years, is six times per capita what the Harper government has pledged.

Because of its tar-sands-at-any-cost policies, Canada has also worked to undermine the international negotiations leading up to Copenhagen. Less than 24 hours after the G8 summit in Italy, Canada reneged on its commitment to keep global temperature increases below the critical two degree mark. Canada’s Environment Minister said the commitment was "aspirational" and that Canada would not change its policies to meet it.

Canadian Foreign Affairs briefing notes obtained through an access-to-information request set out Canada’s "strategic negotiating vision". The notes describe a strategy to undermine agreement in Copenhagen by insisting on binding emissions reductions from developing countries. Canada has also sought to weaken EU member commitments. This is a classic case of the tail wagging the dog.

So back to Pachauri’s suggestion. It is rooted in simple math. If we allow unbridled growth in the tar sands as a supply of oil for the next 30-50 years, we will lock into oil that will significantly increase the carbon content of our fuels. Growth in emissions from tar sands has been cited as one of the most important reasons Canada will miss its Kyoto targets by over 30% and, according to NRDC’s analysis, it will wipe out a substantial portion of the oil savings and emissions reductions from improved fuel efficiency of our vehicles.

In other words, tar sands oil will make it much more difficult for both Canada and the U.S. to meet significant emissions reductions in the transportation sector in the long term. But it is also making it more difficult for all countries to reach agreement on tackling climate change in Copenhagen. That is no doubt what was behind Pachauri’s statements today.

This morning the city was blanketed with copies of the New York Post that blared "We’re Screwed". The paper was in fact a project of the Yes Men who stage events to raise awareness about the risks of climate change. Unless Canada decides to act to constrain the growth of the tar sands, the New York Post Yes Men headline is sadly likely to be more truth than fiction.



~ by Cory Morningstar on September 23, 2009.

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