The Syncrude oil sands extraction facility is reflected in a tailings pond near the city of Fort McMurray, Alta., on June 1, 2014. Canadian environment groups are at the global climate change conference in Poland today calling out the federal government for allowing the oil and gas industry to systematically weaken Canada’s efforts to be a climate leader. Environmental Defence and Stand Earth are among the groups releasing a report which shows emissions from the oil and gas sector continue to rise and intensive lobbying from the industry means about 80 per cent of those emissions will be exempt from the carbon price. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson

Canada not slowing emissions from oil and gas: environmental groups

New report released at the United Nations climate talks in Poland

Canada is living in a fantasy if the government thinks it can meet its greenhouse-gas promises without reducing how much oil and gas the country produces, environment groups told the world at a global conference on climate change Monday.

Environmental Defence and Stand.earth used United Nations climate talks in Poland to release a new report accusing the oil-and-gas industry of undermining Canada’s climate plans.

“Oil and gas is the major obstacle to Canada actually being a climate leader and not just talking about being a climate leader,” said Dale Marshall, national program manager for Environmental Defence.

The report accuses the industry of successfully lobbying Canada to water down climate policies or exempt it from them, including delaying cuts to methane emissions from oil-production facilities and exempting up to 80 per cent of oilsands emissions from the federal carbon price due to kick in next year.

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Marshall said Canada’s policies to allow oilsands production to expand, and even buying the Trans Mountain pipeline to facilitate that expansion, are counterintuitive for a government that keeps claiming it wants to be at the forefront of global climate action.

Patrick McDonald, the director of climate for the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, dismissed the report as a ”targeted effort by special interest groups looking at only our industry.”

McDonald said the Canadian oil-and-gas industry is the only one in the world subjected to a carbon tax and that it is innovating to reduce emissions.

“We’ve been very active and very environmentally responsible,” he said.

The report, however, says the emissions from each barrel of oil produced in Canada have grown 20 per cent between 1990 and 2016.

Catherine Abreu, the executive director of Climate Action Network Canada, said at a news conference at the meeting in Poland Monday that even if the industry can use technology to reduce emissions per unit of oil, gas or coal produced, that’s just a temporary fix in a world where the long-term plan has to be to stop using fossil fuels entirely.

“There are a lot of countries who, like Canada, seem to be under the impression that their fossil fuels are somehow different from everyone else’s fossil fuels,” she said. “As if their coal, oil or natural gas is magically non-emitting and actually good for the climate, while everyone else’s fossil fuels are the problem.”

The Paris agreement, the operative pact meant to head off the worst of climate change, committed the nations of the world to cutting emissions and the amount of carbon pollution trapped in the atmosphere enough to keep the average global temperature from rising no more than 2 C compared to pre-industrial times. They’re supposed to try to keep the temperature increase as close to 1.5 C as possible.

RELATED: Sounding the climate change alarm bell

The difference between the two is significant, with millions more people displaced at 2 C due to rising sea levels, extreme temperatures, and severe storms, as well as serious impacts on the world’s food supply and greater spread of disease, according to the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

Right now the world’s policies have it on track to exceed 3 C in warming by the end of the century.

Canada is currently planning to trim its emissions by about 200 million tonnes a year — the equivalent to what is produced by about 44 million passenger cars — but a recent UN report from dozens of respected climate scientists said that if the 1.5 C target has any hope of being met, Canada’s share of the necessary emissions reductions would be more like 400 million tonnes.

The oil-and-gas sector is one of the few areas where emissions are still increasing in Canada. Tzeporah Berman, international programs director at Stand.earth, said if oil-sector emissions keep growing, Canada will have to “squeeze” every other province and industry to get them to cut even more. Since most of the existing plan addresses the easiest and cheapest reductions we can get, cutting those other sectors further would require more costly and difficult regulations and policies, she said.

The Alberta government is looking at capping oilsands emissions at 100 million tonnes a year as part of its climate plan, with a view to expanding production as technology advances to reduce the emissions from each barrel of oil produced. But no such policy has yet been implemented.

Mia Rabson, The Canadian Press

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