Alberta and its oil sands needs to be the focus of the Trudeau government's climate action if it is serious about helping limit dangerous planetary warming to two degrees this century, warned a national group of environmental thinkers.

Climate Action Network Canada held a national media press conference Monday to give its recommendations to the federal government in advance of the Paris UN climate treaty talks, Nov.30 to Dec.11. Their toughest advice was focused on Alberta's crown energy jewel.

"The smartest thing the federal government can do is to work with Alberta to phase out, to manage that transition in the oil sands sector,” said the network’s executive director Louise Comeau from Fredericton, N.B.

"That's because oil sands production is so expensive at the margins, it would be one of the first sources of energy to come out of the system. It’s just too expensive and dirty, and it’s prudent for Canadians to accept that the implications are there will be no growth in oil sands production,” she added.

The tough statements on Alberta and the energy sector come on top of dire warnings that planetary warming will soon reach catastrophic levels. The World Bank said Sunday that climate inaction could push more than 100 million people into poverty by 2030, due to climate-induced increases in infectious diseases, farm loss and sea-level rise.

“If we get to a two degree Celsius world, then forget the Marshall Islands. Forget large parts of Bangladesh. Forget parts of the U.S. and Canada coastline,” said Steven Guilbeault, co-founder of Équiterre, in Montreal, on the same conference call.

"We’re surpassing one degree Celsius increasing temperatures over pre-industrial level —we’re there now. Our window of opportunity is smaller and smaller,” he added.

marshall_islands_climate_change
Waves crashing into the low-lying island country of Marshall Islands — a tiny nation near the equator in the Pacific Ocean. Photo courtesy of the Marshall Islands Journal.

The Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers responded by saying the oil industry wants to be part of the solution.

"Canada is uniquely positioned to help meet growing global energy demands. At the same time, we must all do our part to fight climate change," wrote CAPP spokesperson Chelsie Klassen.

"We believe that there’s an opportunity to collaborate with governments on technological investment to develop and deploy new emissions reducing technologies in the oil and gas sector while meeting global energy demands," she added.

Environment Canada's latest pollution inventory shows the oil sands emits a giant amount of global warming pollution —61 million tonnes in 2012, or 8.7 per cent of Canada's total. Oil sands are also the fastest growing source of carbon emissions.

Put pipeline hearings on hold

And if oil sands production is expanded from 2.3 million to 4 million barrels per day as planned, then tack on 41 more million tonnes of emissions, said Comeau.

“That’s clearly incompatible with climate protection.”

Environmental Defence’s Dale Marshall reminded that the Liberals pledged to overhaul pipeline reviews to include greenhouse gas analysis and upstream impacts. Now, he says, they should put current oil pipeline reviews on hold too.

“They need to stop the Kinder Morgan and Energy East processes, and spend some time strengthening that regulatory approval process, and then re-starting it on those pipelines,” said Marshall from Ottawa.

He added, Canada should recommit to a 2050 goal to de-carbonize the economy. Former prime minister Stephen Harper had pushed to delay that target to well after most people's life times to the year 2100 at recent G7 talks, Marshall noted.

But slowing pipelines, de-carbonizing, and curbing the oil sands will be a tough message for Alberta to swallow.

The province took in $3.56 billion in royalties from the oil sands in 2013, and the NDP government is getting set to announce new, tougher carbon pollution rules this month. The province hopes that doing so will increase the marketability of Alberta oil internationally.

On Friday, TransCanada's Keystone XL was nixed by the White House partly over concern Canada is not doing enough to hog tie emissions.

Alberta Premier Rachel Notely’s office said Monday it has established a Climate Change Advisory Panel to "engage with Albertans, Aboriginal communities and technical stakeholders on key issues related to climate change,” wrote her press secretary, Cheryl Oates.

Notley's office expects to make an announcement about the "government’s direction" on climate change in the week before COP 21.

Put fossil fuel subsidies into climate action

Climate Action Network also urged the Trudeau government to fulfill its promise to end fossil fuel subsidies —estimated at $1 billion annually in Canada —and transfer those monies into an international climate action fund, as part of the COP21 treaty talks.

She adds, the federal government should help Alberta —as well as Saskatchewan, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick —get off coal power, and get massively into renewable energy.

Minister McKenna meeting with Laurent Fabius, French Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Development, at pre-COP
Canada's environment and climate change minister Catherine McKenna meeting with Laurent Fabius, French minister of foreign affairs at pre-COP meeting in Paris on Monday. Environment Canada photo.

Canada's new minister of the environment and climate change Catherine McKenna is in Paris now at minister-level climate talks ahead of the COP21 summit later this month —that summit is expected to draw 80 heads of state, including Trudeau and Obama. The National Observer will be in Paris too for the summit's two weeks.

"The Government of Canada is determined to deliver real results on climate change and the environment. We will work with our international partners on the adoption of an effective climate change agreement and in the transformation towards a low-carbon, climate resilient global economy," said Minister McKenna over the weekend.

In addition to getting countries to commit to greenhouse gas targets, the UN process in Paris will oblige rich countries to fund developing country’s efforts —including mitigation and adaption programs.

Climate Action Network said a sticking point in negotiations are so-called “loss and damage” provisions. Small island nations — getting inundated by rising sea levels and super typhoons —want rich countries to pay for the climate-related disasters.

Canada, the U.S, and Australia are pushing back —saying they can provide disaster assistance, but don't want to be held liable for global warming.

But Comeau is hopeful Canada will close a bilateral climate financing deal with Mexico. That country has declared an emissions target, but has “said it can do significantly more” if Canada puts more money on the table. "Canada could link its financing to unlock that potential,” said Comeau.

She added, the global situation couldn't be more dire.

“What we face is a catastrophic climate change... We cannot fail in Paris."

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