Is the US about to help Canada significantly increase its carbon pollution? The tar sands choice in front of the Obama Administration

Growth in tar sands emissions in Canada

The State Department – the same US government agency in charge of international global warming negotiations – is poised to make a decision which would help expand tar sands in Canada.  Expansion of tar sands in Canada will dramatically increase Canada’s global warming pollution according to a new Canadian government report, putting it significantly out of reach of the commitment it made at Copenhagen.  The Obama Administration has a simple choice – help stop global warming and reject the Keystone XL project OR approve Keystone XL and help another country fail to meet its global warming commitments.  The Obama Administration should not make a decision which would push Canada to fail to meet a commitment made as a part of the Copenhagen Accord – an agreement brokered in person by President Obama and Secretary Clinton.

The choice has become even more obvious as news broke that the Canadian government had released a projection showing that tar sands expansion would be the single largest contributor to the growth in Canada’s global warming pollution (see figure).  The report, as noted by the Globe and Mail, predicts that global warming pollution from tar sands will “rise by 62 megatonnes, tripling its 2005 levels.”  So the single most important action that Canada could take to help meet its global warming commitment made in Copenhagen would be to stop tar sands expansion.


The implication of tar sands expansion on Canada’s ability to meet its Copenhagen commitments is even more obvious when looking at the view of the energy minister from the Province of Alberta – the province home to tar sands.  As the Globe and Mail reported: “Energy Minister Ron Liepert said Alberta does not want to see Canada meet its commitments to international greenhouse-gas-reduction protocols.” 

As my colleague recently pointed out: President Obama is writing the climate legacy of his first term now.  President Obama is developing standards that address the two biggest sources of global warming pollution: Power plants and cars.  And President Obama has another important choice – to put a stop to the expansion of tar sands.  After all, as the New York Times notes: “The vast majority of oil produced from the [tar sands] deposits is shipped to the United States.”  

So by rejecting the Keystone XL project the Obama Administration could single-handedly make the most important decision to aid Canada in meeting its international global warming commitment.  After all, as President Obama stated in Copenhagen: “We must choose action over inaction; the future over the past - with courage and faith, let us meet our responsibility to our people, and to the future of our planet.”

The choice is now in front of the Obama Administration – take action to help stop global warming and reject the Keystone XL project.