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Canada Can’t Meet its Carbon Emission Targets, Analysis Shows

Meet the "Big Lie". Stephen Harper's government continues to loudly claim Canada will meet its international climate commitments while pushing unbridled expansion of the Alberta tar sands and pipelines to carry the oil. That's simply impossible, as a new analysis by Environmental Defence shows.

"Expanding the tar sands makes it impossible for Canada to meet its 2020 Copenhagen target," said Danielle Droitsch, Canada Project Director at the Natural Resources Defense Council.

"The US is moving to meet that target while Canada is going in the opposite direction," Droitsch said in a press conference today in Toronto.

The Copenhagen target is a commitment by Canada, US and other countries to reduce their total greenhouse gas emissions by 17% compared to 2005 levels by the year 2020. Scientists say that target is too weak and will result in global temperatures rising by at least 3.5 degrees C, a very dangerous level of climate change. With 3.5C globally, southern Canada will burn and the north will melt as temperatures will likely be 6 to 8C hotter on average.

The obvious reason Canada cannot meet its Copenhagen target is that the Harper government has done "virtually nothing" to reduce emissions over the past 8 years it has been in power. That's according to Mark Jaccard an energy economist at Simon Frasier University and a Harper appointee to the now-shuttered National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy.

The only real reductions have been made by provincial and local governments but those efforts are swamped by tar sands emissions which are expected to double by 2020.

"Politicians are simply not telling the truth. You can't keep expanding the tar sands and meet the reduction target," Jaccard said.

"It will be very difficult for the Canadian government to achieve its own emissions reduction target for 2020 even without tar sands expansion," said Danny Harvey, a climate scientist at University of Toronto.

Beyond 2020, carbon emissions will have to decline even more, making expansion of the tar sands incompatible with avoiding dangerous climate change, Harvey said.

The Harper government is not interested in climate change or doing its part to keep global temperatures below 2C, Elizabeth May, MP and Leader of the Green Party of Canada, told the mainly US media outlets participating in the press conference.

"They have a single-minded focus on tar sands expansion," May said.

Emissions per barrel of bitumen from the tar sands have been rising because the industry now uses the far more energy intensive in situ method. Canadians would be delighted if the US government pressured Canada into keeping its emission reduction pledge, she said.

That pressure is starting to build with recent comments by President Obama that he would only approve the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline if it “does not significantly exacerbate the problem of carbon pollution”. The long-delayed Keystone XL would bring 800,000 barrels of tar sands bitumen (heavy oil) to refineries on the US Gulf coast.

Keystone XL will increase Canada's emissions by allowing the tar sands to expand in size, said Gillian McEachern of Environmental Defence Canada. And there is no technology nor any policies that will allow Canada to reduce those emissions before 2020, McEachern said. 

Other proposed pipelines that are needed to support tar sands expansion have met strong opposition in Canada and it is far from certain if they will be completed, said Jaccard. 

"We are now at a point where the only acceptable alternative is for the U.S. government to reject Keystone XL,” he said.

Read the Environmental Defence analysis, Mitigation Impossible: Barriers to mitigating the climate impacts of the tar sands.pdf

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We hear it time and time again:
“These are the stories that need to be told and you are some of the only ones telling them,” John, a new member of The Narwhal, wrote in to say.

Investigating stories others aren’t. Diving deep to find solutions to the climate crisis. Sending journalists to report from remote locations for days and sometimes weeks on end. These are the core tenets of what we do here at The Narwhal. It’s also the kind of work that takes time and resources to pull off.

That might sound obvious, but it’s far from reality in many shrinking and cash-strapped Canadian newsrooms. So what’s The Narwhal’s secret sauce? Thousands of members like John who support our non-profit, ad-free journalism by giving whatever they can afford each month (or year).

But here’s the thing: just two per cent of The Narwhal’s readers step up to keep our stories free for all to read. Will you join the two per cent and become a member of The Narwhal today?

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