12/11/2014 05:45 EST | Updated 02/10/2015 05:59 EST

Canada Keeps Skirting the Oilsands Issue at the COP20 Climate Talks

Canada is "flying under the radar" at this year's UNFCCC COP20 climate talks in Lima, Peru according to Canadian Youth Delegation member Brenna Owen.

Canada's negotiators are working hard to sidestep the issue of the country's growing greenhouse gas emissions from the oil and gas sector according to Owen, while simultaneously keeping quiet about the oilsands as nations come up with their "intended nationally determined contributions" in the global climate agreement.

"They're not going to be able to do that much longer," she added. "And they're not going to be able to avoid talking about the tar sands."

Aleah Loney, another member of the 10-person youth delegation, said the group is eager to push Canada's ministers and negotiators to address the issue of oil and gas emissions rather than employing evasive tactics to avoid the concerns outright.

On Tuesday, as ministers and delegates from around the world continued to arrive at the climate talks to negotiate an internationally binding climate agreement, Prime Minister Stephen Harper told the House of Commons he would not regulate emissions from Canada's oil and gas sector.

"Under the current circumstances of the oil and gas sector, it would be crazy -- it would be crazy economic policy -- to do unilateral penalties on that sector," he said. "We're clearly not going to do that."

The oilsands are Canada's fastest growing source of greenhouse gas emissions. In October, Canada's environment commissioner Julie Gelfand said the country has "no overall vision" when it comes to oil and gas regulations and as a result will not meet its 2020 international greenhouse gas reductions targets agreed to in Copenhagen.

In the House of Commons Harper also claimed "nobody in the world is regulating their oil and gas sector."

"I'd be delighted if they did, Canada will be there with them. But we are not going to impose unilateral penalties."

Harper's comments add another layer of insight into the activities of Canadian negotiators in Lima who are actively skirting the issue of national responsibility by pointing fingers at other nations.

Environment Minister Leona Aglukkaq told delegates at the climate talks Canada is interested in an agreement "that would see all major emitters commit to do their fair share."

Dale Marshall, national program manager with Environmental Defence, told DeSmog that Canada "for the longest time has been trying about all major emitters to put everyone in the same boat."

"On the one hand you could argue there are major developing countries that could do more, but from what I see in terms of historical responsibility countries like Canada have much, much greater responsibility to act and much greater resources to act and should take on greater commitments."

"When you point at countries like China and India," Marshall said, "you're essentially deflecting blame and making it easy for Canada to stay with very weak targets."

Christian Holz, international policy director with the Climate Action Network, said Canada has "maneuvered itself into a corner of insignificance," at UNFCCC talks.

He said instead of talking about oil and gas regulations and growth in the oilsands, Canada is redirecting attention to a new commitment to reduce hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), which are used in air conditioning and heating.

"They decided to focus on one of the smallest areas of Canada's emissions profile. HFCs account for about one per cent of Canadian emissions and the oil and gas sector is about 25 per cent right now. So of course, we're not picking the right areas to focus on."

Holz said this kind of diversion tactic isn't even generating controversy within the negotiations or at home because "nobody's really taking Canada seriously anymore."

"I guess that's why you don't see the outrage that you would expect from bait and switches like that if Canada was considered a genuine participant in this global effort to address climate change."

Loney from the Canada Youth Delegation said her group is putting effort into keeping the oil and gas sector relevant to Canada's participation in the climate negotiations.

"We really want to talk about the oil and gas sector as a whole and that includes fracking. But we feel it's important to highlight the tar sands as well," she said. "We're talking at a very high level at the UNFCCC and people know what the tar sands are here."

Kelsey Mech from the Canadian Youth Climate Coalition and a member of the youth delegation in Lima said it's important for their group to keep the pressure squarely on Canada.

"We're linking the two worlds," between Lima and Canada, Mech said, "trying to bring back to Canada what's going on here."

"One of the reason why it's important for folks like us to be here is to put that pressure on internationally on our own government. They're not going to bring something strong to the table internationally if there isn't that pressure back home domestically."

"We're here to put tar sands back on the table."

Loney added that this process benefits from being complicated. "They take climate negotiations to such a high-brow that it cuts people off."

"It's been important for me to bring these issues back down," she added.

On Tuesday, Loney brought the question of the oilsands to the negotiations, asking Canadian representatives, "what can I bring back to my friends in Alberta? What can I take back to my friends in Fort McMurray and my friends in treaty territory that are dealing with the effects of living downstream of the tar sands?"

"These are real things that impact real people."


Photo galleryThe Oil Sands and Canada's Environment See Gallery