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Will COP 21 be used to greenwash the tar sands, advance the Energy East pipeline?

Photo: Barlow at a rally at the time of the UN climate talks in Copenhagen, December 2009.

Is it possible that the COP 21 climate summit could be used as a moment to promote the tar sands and export pipelines?

CBC reports, “Rather than sound the death knell for Alberta’s oilsands, industry watchers should view the annual UN Conference of Parties gathering, also known as COP21, as a fresh start, a chance for the oilpatch to clean up its image. …Paris might offer a window of opportunity for Alberta’s oilpatch. A chance to change its stained image, increase support for pipelines in Canada, and showcase the technological advances it has made. It may be hard to believe, but the oilsands might emerge as a winner as part of the world’s largest climate change conference.”

The article highlights, “Alberta’s new NDP government certainly views it that way.”

This ‘optimism’ is backed up by a series of new climate measures announced by the provincial government this past Sunday. Alberta premier Rachel Notley has stated, “I’m hopeful that these policies will help us send an important message to the world next week in Paris — Canada is back.”

And yet the reality is that science says that 85 per cent of the tar sands must remain in the ground and that global warming must be limited to under 2 degrees Celsius, neither of which would be accomplished under Alberta’s climate plan. In fact, the province sees the tar sands expanding from its current 70 megatonnes of annual emissions to a cap of 100 megatonnes a year by 2030.

A Globe and Mail article comments, “Alberta is hoping to dent fast-rising oil sands emissions in exchange for popular support for pipeline proposals after U.S. President Barack Obama scuttled TransCanada Corp.’s $8-billion Keystone XL project earlier this month. The industry is now pinning its hopes on rival proposals to funnel crude to Canada’s coasts, including TransCanada’s $12-billion (Canadian) Energy East project and Kinder Morgan Inc.’s $6.8-billion Trans Mountain expansion. Supporters of both projects have come out in favour of more stringent environmental controls in the oil sands…”

Both the Alberta government and the federal government have also noted their support for the 1.1 million barrel per day Energy East oil pipeline. Alberta’s energy minister Margaret McCuaig-Boyd has expressed her support for the Energy East and TransMountain pipelines. Federal foreign minister Stephane Dion has noted his support for both expanding the tar sands and Energy East. He says, “We support this … but we want that to be done properly and it will be difficult to do if we don’t strengthen the process itself, the process of consultation with communities and the process of scientific environmental assessment.”

Countering the criticism that Alberta has not set an emissions reduction target, Alberta’s environment minister Shannon Phillips has stated, “We are not going to commit ourselves, like previous governments did, to magical thinking and magical targets.” And the Trudeau government, refusing to be ‘rushed’ on the issue, will be going to Paris with the previous Harper government’s (extremely weak) target of 14 per cent below 1990 levels by 2030 as a “floor”. In the meantime we are left to believe their “magic” that somehow the tar sands can expand, export pipelines can be built and that we can keep under the 2 degrees Celsius limit.

The United Nations says that pledges from countries in advance of Paris would result in a global temperature increase of 2.7 degrees to 3.0 degrees Celsius.

For more on our energy and climate justice campaign, please click here.

Further reading
Barlow calls for freeze to fossil fuel extraction (Oct. 6, 2015)

Photo: Barlow at a rally at the time of the UN climate talks in Copenhagen, December 2009.