Public outcry against tar sands pipelines increases as Canadian Prime Minister meets with President Obama

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Protesters today at the Canadian Embassy objecting to Prime Minister's Stephen Harper's Canada's anti-climate policies.

Today, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper will meet with President Obama in Washington DC.  While the public reason for the meeting is about border issues, it is expected that climate, tar sands and the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline will be discussed.  Indeed, the Canadian conservative government has waged its pro-tar sands, anti-climate agenda in the U.S. for several years now as well as in Europe.  This is out of sync with the Canadian and American public who are increasingly rejecting tar sands as unsustainable and incompatible with combating climate change.  Just yesterday, Canadian regulators announced the permitting process for the Enbridge Northern Gateway tar sands pipeline has been put on hold for a year largely due to need to carefully consider the extraordinary public opposition and concern.  It is time for the Canadian conservative government to stop being a lobbyist for Big Oil and to stop trying to undermine climate and clean energy policies around the world in an attempt to clear the way for unchecked tar sands oil expansion. And if Prime Minister Harper expects to change the commitment of the Obama Administration to conduct a new review of the proposed Keystone XL tar sands pipeline, he will find he has misjudged the depth of U.S. concerns about tar sands.

Unfortunately, the Harper government has been on a roll lately – a roll that is quickly taking Canada’s international reputation downhill:

International Climate Negotiations: As the ongoing Durban climate talks continue, Canada has created dissension announcing they are formally withdrawing from the Kyoto Protocol citing that major polluting countries like China needed to participate in an international agreement.  But even after China signaled its possible willingness to engage on Kyoto, the Canadian government held firm – showing that the real impetus is the growing climate change pollution from the tar sands, not China’s actions.  The prospect of withdrawing from the Kyoto Protocol has outraged other countries and the Canadian public.  Even before this announcement, Canada’s record on climate has been disappointing.  According to the Pembina Institute, even if Canada were to implement all existing federal and provincial climate policies on the books, Canada would be nowhere to meeting its climate target.   Skyrocketing emissions from tar sands is a big part of the problem.  In the last two decades, tar sands emissions have more than doubled.  Tar sands emissions will double again from 2009 – 2020 and are likely to climb well into the 2030s.

And while the U.S. has a long way to go to seriously combating climate change and also needs to get its act together in the current international negotiations, Canada isn’t even matching the U.S. on key climate policies.  The Obama administration is now regulating GHG emissions from certain emitters this year; Canada has no plan in place.  The Obama administration has also proposed 18 times more spending on renewable energy per capita than the Government of Canada.

European Clean Fuel Standards:  In Europe, the Canadian conservative government has been aggressively lobbying against a proposed clean fuels policy by the European Commission to reduce its carbon footprint.  This lobbying has been documented extensively by Friends of the Earth Europe.  Because tar sands oil is so much more greenhouse gas intensive than conventional oil, the European Union wants to put tar sands in a different category.  This has prompted an intense counter lobby by the Canadian government working closely with the oil industry to undermine this climate effort.  The Harper government’s interference in Europe’s pursuit of a clean fuels policy has been controversial.

African civil rights leaders: Last week, Nobel Peace Laureate  Archbishop Desmond Tutu and other African leaders issued an open letter to the Canadian government stating that Canada’s previous global leadership on human rights and environmental protection has given way to its poor record on climate in the name of producing tar sands oil. This comes on the heels of a letter from more than a dozen Nobel Laureates, including the Dalai Lama, decrying the Keystone XL pipeline.

Canadian and American opposition to tar sands pipelines:  Yesterday, in response to significant Canadian opposition and concern, Canada’s permitting agency announced the decision to permit the proposed Enbridge Northern Gateway tar sands pipeline would be delayed by a year.  This comes on the heels of another major announcement in the U.S. also responding to significant public concern to conduct a new environmental review of the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline.  Greenhouse gas emissions from tar sands is one of the key issues in these pipeline debates.  For example, replacing conventional crude with tar sands from the Keystone XL pipeline would create the equivalent emissions of adding over five million new cars on the road, eliminating many of the gains the Obama Administration has made in better fuel efficiency standards.  Both pipelines would trigger an expansion of all tar sands operations.

Around the world we see a growing sentiment that it is time to draw the line at tar sands.   In Canada, the public wants strong clean energy and pro-climate policies which is happening at the provincial levels such as in Ontario and British Columbia.  In the U.S., Americans are opposing Keystone XL given the project would help lead to an increased dependence on tar sands making it far more difficult – if not impossible – to meet clean energy goals and to address catastrophic climate change. Adopting clean fuel climate policies is urgent given evidence that climate change is already happening in both countries impacting water supply and creating extreme weather.  Unfortunately, the Harper government has allied itself with big oil isolating itself from the Canadian public as it seeks undermine climate policy in Canada but also abroad.  It is time that both the U.S. and Canada draw the line and stop this growing trend to rely on tar sands which only takes us only further and further to irreversible climate impacts.