By Hannah McKinnon, National Program Manager at Environmental Defense.
In last week's State of the Union address, President Obama reiterated his vision for clean energy and urgent action on global warming. With TransCanada’s Keystone XL tar sands pipeline on the frontlines and looking threatened, oil industry supporters are suddenly desperate to look like the environmental and climate risks of the tar sands are under control.
But there’s a massive credibility gap as Canada’s contribution to global warming is spiralling out of control, with the reckless expansion of the tar sands.
We’ve always believed that actions speak louder than words. So while the oil industry and government embark on a pro-tar sands PR campaign, let’s look at how Canada has behaved on climate action and the environmental risks of the tar sands.
The federal government has repeatedly promised, and then failed, to take strong action on climate change. We’ve become a pariah internationally, thanks to the government’s weakening of our global warming goals and pulling out of the Kyoto Protocol.
Domestically the federal government hasn’t kept promise after promise at home to address Canada’s fastest growing source of greenhouse gas pollution – the tar sands. Currently, there is not one federal regulation on climate pollution from the tar sands. Even the government’s own reports are clear that it would almost take magic to meet our weak 2020 climate goals.
Blocking clean energy at home and abroad
In Canada, the federal government has failed to renew meaningful investment in clean energy and energy efficiency – the tools that will not only get us out of this mess, but can help us build a strong economy founded on good jobs and safe, clean and renewable energy. Instead of supporting popular clean energy programs, the government hands out over $1.3 billion per year in tax breaks to Big Oil.
Outside our borders, the government has taken its pro-tar sands show on the road, with aggressive lobby efforts in California and Europe, aiming to undermine other countries' efforts to fight global warming and use cleaner fuel. Although both jurisdictions are standing their ground, the Canadian government continues to pressure them to weaken their rules so Canada’s dirty oil gets a free pass and doesn’t pay its fair share for higher than average pollution.
Dismantling science and science-based policy
Respected scientists and scientific bodies across the country are voicing their concerns about recent attempts to dismantle science and science-based policy investigating climate change and other environmental issues. This ranges from cuts to funding for critical, long-standing research programs to not allowing federally funded scientists to speak to media about issues of national concern, like climate change.
In 2012, the federal budget bill was undemocratically used to force through major and devastating blows to environmental laws – dismantling decades worth of policies that protect our natural environment, lakes, rivers and fish. The best explanation for these sweeping changes is that these laws, designed to protect our green spaces, waters and animal life, would have made it that much more difficult to rubber stamp pipeline approvals through Canada’s most sensitive ecosystems.
Fighting a public relations battle rather than battling pollution
The Alberta tar sands are already Canada’s fastest growing source of global warming pollution. And the expansion plans in the works make current projects look like child’s play. There are plans to triple tar sands production in the next seven years. This would cause Canada’s emissions to soar well beyond what our climate can handle.
Instead of reducing pollution, our government has engaged in a public relations war. This has included labelling environmental groups radicals, singling out First Nations as ‘enemies,’ and massive diplomatic campaigns abroad to paint a rosy picture of one of the dirtiest projects on the planet.
Closing the Credibility Gap
Canada’s credibility will continue to be tarnished, as long as the government keeps breaking promises, weakening environment regulations and commitments, and muzzling climate scientists.
To close the credibility gap, oil industry supporters will need to accept that their tar sands plans and climate action cannot co-exist. Period.
According to the International Energy Agency, in order to live up to our commitment to keep global warming below 2 degrees, two thirds of all remaining fossil fuels must stay in the ground. That would include a big chunk of the tar sands.
It’s not too late
The good news is that there are solutions. To start with, the government could implement long-promised robust regulations for oil and gas, requiring those sectors to do their fair share to cut pollution. Instead of subsidizing the oil and gas industry, the government could invest in clean, profitable, reliable energy.
In recent years, Canada’s climate policy has often followed the United States. With renewed interest in climate change south of the border, it’s time to change our actions – not just our PR spin.
Image Credit: Kris Krug, used with permission.