Climate Rally in Canada Brings National Attention to the Problem of Tar Sands and Lack of Federal Action


In one of the largest climate gatherings on record in Canada, more than 25,000 people took to the streets of Quebec City to demand that Canadian premiers begin taking bold actions to address climate change. The march, organized by Act on Climate--a coalition of more than 80 environmental, union, indigenous, and student organizations and communities from across Canada--represented the largest public protest on Quebec City's streets in more than a generation. It comes as federal and Alberta policymakers continue to drag their feet on climate policy, especially in regard to the tar sands, which are on their way to making Canada's oil and gas sector the country's largest source of climate pollution. It also comes as Canadian premiers gather to discuss energy and climate policy, issues that in Canada are indisputably linked to Alberta's tar sands industry. This is because Canada's tar sands continue to be the major impediment to the country meeting its international climate targets. As climate pollution linked to the tar sands continues to rise at alarming rates, the message delivered over the weekend adds to the clarion call for aggressive climate action worldwide. And for Canada, that will mean taking aggressive action to limit the rising emissions from the tar sands industry.

Across Canada, climate action has taken place in certain areas for certain sectors. Provinces such as British Columbia, Ontario, and Quebec have adopted climate programs that have put a price on carbon, ratcheted down emissions from coal-fired power plant emissions, or encouraged clean energy production and use. But while other economic sectors achieve climate pollution reductions, Canada's oil and gas sector has almost single-handedly wiped out Canada's nationwide emission cuts (compared to 2005 emission levels). Indeed, even within the oil and gas sector, it is the tar sands alone that are driving rising climate pollution. For this reason, any climate solution in Canada must by definition include strong limits on current climate pollution from the operating tar sands industry as well as major limits to proposed new expansion.

Calls to slow and stop tar sands expansion make sense. The current swing in oil prices have dealt a serious blow to Alberta's under-diversified economic structure, and are expected to have national ramifications as well. Shifting economic and political priorities toward developing a strong, stable, sustainable, renewable, and low-carbon energy sector is not antithetical to Canada's ambition of being a world energy leader. Indeed, it is simply a choice of the kind of energy leader that Canada wishes to be.


This week's summit of Canadian leaders to discuss climate change--with notable absences from Alberta, British Columbia, and the federal government--is a positive first step. Pledges to cut climate pollution and transition to low-carbon economy signal growing political will on the part of Canadian leaders to face the reality of a warming globe and the part Canada can play in stopping this trend. Now, an honest conversation about the role that new pipelines play in the expansion of carbon-intensive tar sands must begin.


Real climate action requires standing up to tar sands expansion and plotting the course for an energy alternative for Canada and the rest of the world. This will naturally require the participation of both the Alberta and federal governments. Alberta's failure to stop emission increases in the tar sands cannot continue to undo the progress being made across the rest of the country as provinces begin to commit to climate action. Thus, it is high time that the Canadian federal government take action. With Canada's 2020 Copenhagen commitments almost certainly out of reach, Canada must honestly assess its past failures at limiting climate pollution and plot a course that will drive overall emission down in both the short- and long-term. While current province-by-province action is commendable and necessary, an overarching strategy allowing for flexible, subnational implementation is urgently needed to ensure that all Canadian provinces are working to curb Canada's climate pollution. In doing so, pursuit of a low-carbon economy and low-carbon energy sources are essential paths for Canada to follow moving forward. However, the work and expense of making this transition cannot be undermined (as it currently is) by continuing expansion of tar sands production.