Tar Sands Keeps Canada from Climate Leadership

The leaders of Canada's provinces are meeting today to discuss climate change, among other things. They were greeted by Greenpeace protesters with signs that Canada is dying for climate leadership. This is a theme that is likely to follow the Canadian provincial and federal government as we move towards the next major international climate treaty negotiation in Copenhagen in December. Canada is claiming that it is on track with its climate policy, but in truth Canada's growing reliance on the heavily polluting tar sands oil production has caused the country to neglect its commitments to curb global warming.

Meeting in the next few days - August 9-10 in Guadalajara, Mexico - the "three amigos" - U.S. President Barack Obama, Mexican President Felipe Calderón and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper will continue the last five years' tradition of a North American Leaders Summit. Originally created to focus on security and counter-terrorism, President Obama has added a new priority this year: clean energy and climate change. Will Canada once again use this as a forum for trying to put a good face on what has been an appalling lack of action at home? The United States and Mexico are both moving ahead with putting climate commitments in place. Canada is not meeting its climate commitments. As home to the tar sands with its fast-growing carbon emissions, Canada has been unable to meet its Kyoto targets and is a laggard rather than a leader in tackling climate change.

Canada's climate change plan relies on intensity-based targets. Emissions would still be able to grow significantly in the tar sands where the industry is projecting a major expansion. Canada expects tar sands emissions to rise from 29 Mt in 2006 to 49 Mt in 2020 (they would spike at 80 Mt in between). Even worse, Canada appears to have abandoned work on the regulations that would enforce their targets, opting instead to "wait and see" what the United States does. Canada's greenhouse gas emissions are expected to significantly exceed Kyoto targets, with tar sands operations likely accounting for half of the 24% increase in emissions projected between 2006-2020.

As we can see in the provincial leaders' meeting this week, Canadian provinces do not see eye to eye on what to do about climate change. Yet Canada says that it will speak with one voice at meetings such as the upcoming one with President Calderón and President Obama - or in the recently announced Canadian Prime Minister visit to the White House in September. Hopefully at this week's meeting, the Canadian provinces will provide the clear leadership on climate that the public is demanding. Hopefully Canada will treat its upcoming heads of State meetings as more than window-dressing to hide its poor performance in tackling climate change.