As Canada makes major energy decisions about where and how to use our energy resources, the big elephant in the room is climate change. Our country has made commitments at home and on a global stage to reduce emissions contributing to climate change. However, as we invest in more and bigger fossil fuel infrastructure, such as pipelines, these commitments move further beyond our reach.
Aerial view of an oil pipeline of the Plus Petrol oil installation running through the Amazon, Trompeteros, Peru. © Brent Stirton / Getty Images / WWF
This is especially worrisome because the best science tells us that we’re approaching a tipping point: now is the critical time to ramp up efforts. The International Energy Agency has said that two thirds of oil, coal and gas resources in the world must stay in the ground to avoid very dangerous levels of climate change. (Think: a third of species committed to extinction, diminished food security, and the demise of coral reefs). This means that if all “business-as-usual” infrastructure gets built over the next five years, the world is locked into runaway climate change. Every decision made on energy either locks us into, or moves us away from, that future.
It’s Canada’s great irony that climate change caused by burning fossil fuels has become a crisis, at the exact moment in history when our biggest oil reserves – the tar sands – have become economically accessible. We are not alone in that challenge, and others facing this same conundrum have chosen to respond differently. Mexico, also an oil producing state, passed a landmark climate change bill earlier this year. Norway has been an example of a country with oil and gas exports and that also aims to be a global leader in climate change. Australia has introduced an economy-wide carbon tax, as part of a commitment to implement cap and trade.
Canada, however, is racing in the opposite direction: investing heavily in expanding oil and gas development and infrastructure as quickly as possible – while weakening related environmental legislation – in the absence of any Canadian energy and climate plan.
It’s a risky bet. One that assumes the world won’t get serious about climate change. In the face of a rapidly melting Arctic, recent droughts affecting food security, and the fallout of Hurricane Sandy, this seems increasingly unlikely.
What’s at stake isn’t just stranded assets and a hollowed out economy, but greatly diminished credibility on the world stage and dubious legacy. Even now, as the world gathers in Qatar at the UN climate change talks, Canada is finding itself at the back of the room—the only country in the world to withdraw from the Kyoto Protocol.
This decision on the Line 9 pipeline alone will not determine our fate. But decisions like this push us further down a path of no return. At what point do we draw the line? At what point do we accept that being an energy-superpower in the 21st century means, by necessity, being a climate leader?