05/15/2013 12:30 EDT | Updated 07/15/2013 05:12 EDT

If We "Go With Canada," the Environment Is Doomed

This Sept. 19, 2011 aerial photo shows a tar sands mine facility near Fort McMurray, in Alberta, Canada. Alberta has the world's third-largest oil reserves after Saudi Arabia and Venezuela - more than 170 billion barrels. Daily production of 1.5 million barrels from the oil sands is expected to increase to 3.7 million in 2025, which the oil industry sees as a pressing reason to build the pipelines. Critics, however, dislike the whole concept of tapping the oil sands, saying it requires huge amounts of energy and water, increases greenhouse gas emissions and threatens rivers and forests. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Jeff McIntosh)

Last week the world hit a new milestone. We crossed 400 parts per million CO2 concentration in the Earth's atmosphere, 50ppm above what is considered a safe level. In the midst of this the Canadian push to get tar sands crude to international markets has become a full court press this week with offensives launched in Europe and the United States this week.

Peter Kent, Canada's Minister for the Environment, is making his way across Europe lobbying against the European Fuel Quality directive, an initiative which would see tar sands crude labelled dirty for its increased impact on the climate. Kent's tour is coming on the heels of similar trip by Joe Oliver, Minister of Natural Resources, where Oliver threatened that action by Europe could lead to a trade fight with Canada at the World Trade Organization.

At the same time, Prime Minister Stephen Harper is headed to New York City on a junket to drum up support for the Keystone XL pipeline, with Canada launching a new tax-payer funded advertising campaign aimed at convincing the United States of Canada's environmental and climate stewardship.

According to Canada's new advertising campaign website Go With Canada, our government is taking steps on environmental protection, climate action and industry monitoring. Reality paints a different picture of rising emissions, gutted environmental regulations and an industry being given free reign to develop with impunity, no matter the impact on people or the planet.

The government public relations website celebrates the fact that Canada and the United States have the same greenhouse gas reduction target of 17 per cent below 2005 levels by 2020. Both Canada and the United State have signed on for 17 per cent targets under the most recent United Nations agreement, for Canada this was a significant reduction in ambition from our legally binding commitment to the Kyoto Protocol, a global pledge we made in 1997, and pulled out of in 2011 (during that time our emissions actually increased by nearly 25 per cent). Even were this target not a backward stumble, even while Canada is celebrating our shared target, we are set to miss that target by roughly 113 megatons .

It's easy to miss your climate targets though when you make statements like the Keystone XL "will have no discernable impact on global GHG emissions." According to the International Energy Agency, tar sands expansion rates are on track to increase extraction to over three times the climate limit. That means triple the amount of bitumen being burned that our global, not mention Canada's national, carbon budget can handle.

The United States Environmental Protection Agency also flat out disagrees with Canada's assertion, stating that "over a 50 year period the additional C02 [emitted] from oil sands crude transported by the pipeline could be as much as 935 million metric tons." Frankly, I would trust your scientists over my own government.

The advertisements also claim that tar sands "emissions have dropped 26 per cent per barrel between 1990 and 2011". they neglected to mention that according to Environment Canada, tar sands emissions have risen from 15 megatons in 1990 to 55 megatons in 2011, even with a decrease in per barrel emissions intensity.

If this wasn't enough, the new advertising website touts changes to Canada's environmental protection regimes. In fact their assertion that the new Environmental Assessment Act is "providing greater certainty for industry" may be the truest statement on the site, but its coming at a major cost. Over the past two years Canada has hamstrung regulations and environmental impact assessments for all kinds of projects, especially pipelines and tar sands projects. The number of agencies responsible for overseeing environmental reviews was slashed from 40 with specific mandates to only three, funding to the body responsible for these reviews was drastically cut and the federal government was given veto power over the decision of independent reviews.

Late in 2012, Canada passed a bill which re-designated thousands of rivers and lakes to no longer fall under the jurisdiction of the Navigable Waters Protection Act, another rollback of environmental protections that bulldozes the way for new fossil fuel projects. It was later discovered, that these changes were made at the suggestion of the Canadian Energy Pipeline Association, a lobby group for tar sands pipeline corporations.

This newest ad campaign is just the latest attempt by the Canadian government to push tar sands crude on the rest of the world. They are lying to the rest of the world in order to defend an industry which is breaking the planet, and to the United States and Europe I am genuinely sorry. This government needs more than just fact checking when it comes to climate change, environmental protection and the tar sands. Quite frankly, they need a reality check.

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