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Looking ahead to the COP 21 climate summit in Paris

The COP 21 climate summit in Paris will begin about six weeks after the October 19th federal election in Canada. Voters in this country will therefore have a chance to vote on Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s climate record at a critical juncture in history as science – and without exaggeration the survival of the planet – demands a substantive global agreement to keep the Earth’s temperature from increasing more than 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.

Mr. Harper’s record so far is not promising.

At COP 15 in Copenhagen, he said Canada would reduce its emissions by 17 per cent below 2005 levels by 2020. But according to his government’s own figures, Canada’s emissions could be 20 per cent over that target in 2020 if action isn’t taken soon. And a year before his government assumed office, the Kyoto Protocol came into force with Canada committing to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions to 6 per cent below 1990 levels by 2012. When Mr. Harper formally withdrew from the protocol just after COP 17 in Durban, Canada’s emissions were 30 per cent above that target.

There will be some key moments prior to COP 21 for Canadian politicians to take action to change this.

At the end of this month, provincial premiers will gather in Ottawa to discuss a Canadian energy strategy. Will this feature meaningful regulatory limits on greenhouse gas emissions? Then in February, the federal government is convening a meeting with provincial and territorial environment ministers to discuss new post-2020 emission goals. Will this result in Canada submitting substantial emission reduction targets to the UN the following month? And in April the premier of Quebec will convene a meeting of provincial premiers to discuss ‘concrete commitments’ for the Paris summit. Could we see the premiers agreeing to a rapid expansion of public and community-owned renewable energy here?

Not too likely, but that needs to be our aim.

It is also crucial at this moment that Canadian governments – federal, provincial and local – should be speaking against two proposed pipelines that would facilitate a massive expansion of the tar sands in Alberta and together would move almost two million barrels of oil per day by 2017-18.

The 1.1 million barrels per day Energy East pipeline – that would generate about 32 million tonnes of greenhouse gases a year – would transport bitumen 4,600 kilometres across the country from Alberta to a deep water export port in New Brunswick. Some of that will make its way to Europe. The 890,000 barrels per day Trans Mountain pipeline – which would be responsible for 270 million tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions over a 35-year period – would move bitumen 1,150 kilometres west to an export terminal in British Columbia.

We believe that both these pipelines – along with the proposed Northern Gateway, Keystone XL, Arctic Gateway and a host of others – must be stopped.

A study by researchers from University College London recently concluded that 85 per cent of the tar sands cannot be burned if the world is to limit climate change to 2 degrees Celsius. More specifically, this means that no more than 7.5 billion barrels of oil can be extracted from the tar sands by 2050. Right now about 1.08 billion barrels a year (2.98 million bpd) are extracted from the tar sands and the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers sees that increasing to 2.35 billion barrels a year (6.44 million bpd) by 2030. The proposed Energy East, Trans Mountain, Northern Gateway, Keystone XL and Arctic Gateway pipelines would move about 1.26 billion barrels a year (3.45 million bpd). In other words, the fuse is very short.

Mr. Harper’s agenda of tar sands expansion and pipeline construction is clearly incompatible with the math of climate change. It is imperative that his government – or the government Canada elects in October – come to this realization before December in Paris.