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UPDATE: Canada’s tar sands emissions vs 350 ppm

In past years the Council of Canadians has been described as Canada’s ‘official opposition’. Looking out on to the streets of Cochabamba early this morning, it feels that our job now is not just to oppose our government, but, given the urgency of the climate crisis, it is to ensure that action to address this crisis happens – and soon.

It is our position that the Harper government must commit to an emissions reduction target of at least 40 per cent below 1990 levels by 2020, and that it must have a plan to achieve this target.

The 40 per cent emissions reduction target is in keeping with the growing call for atmospheric carbon to be stabilized at 350 parts per million.

Immediate action is needed because current levels are already at 387 ppm and rising at about 2 ppm annually.

And yet the Harper government refuses to commit to meaningful action. Instead, it has only matched in words the U.S. emission reduction target of 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020, which is in reality is about a 2.5 per cent increase over 1990 levels.

Right now, the tar sands accounts for 5 per cent of Canada’s emissions, some 40 mega-tonnes of greenhouse gases a year.

By 2020, it is predicted that the tar sands will grow to account for 12 per cent of our national emissions. That would mean that Canada’s tar sands alone would produce more greenhouse gases than Austria, Belgium, Portugal, Ireland or Denmark.

In parts-per-million language, the full exploitation of the tar sands and the U.S. tar shale reserves could increase atmospheric carbon by 49 to 65 ppm.

And so, the situation is dire. The tar sands should not be allowed to continue to expand and a plan to reduce our emissions is needed now.

But just this past week Environment Minister Jim Prentice told a Senate committee that the Harper government is waiting for the United States to decide how it will address climate change before it brings in new regulations in Canada.

In other words, Canada has no plan to reduce emissions and it’s going to continue to wait on the Americans.

But it has been reported that action on climate change in the U.S. may take another 2 to 5 years to move forward. This is, in part, due to the extremely powerful and well-financed oil and coal lobbyists working Washington on a continual basis.

It’s well-past time for the Harper government to take proactive steps to address the climate damage Canada inflicts and to stop promoting the expansion of the tar sands while saying at the same time that it has no choice but to follow the U.S. lead on this critical issue of our time.

These are points we hope to be able to raise with a Canadian consular representative to Bolivia who is expected to attend the Peoples World Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth in Cochabamba which starts this morning.

The Harper government should have more senior political representation at this conference, but clearly that is not on the agenda of an eco-outlaw.

And so it’s up to the people, to all of us, to make change happen.