To limit global warming, 85% of Canada’s tar sands must stay in the ground: Study

by: Obert Madondo  | Jan 8, 2015

Alberta Tar Sans Pollution - Kris Krug

A new report published in the scientific journal Nature says 85% of Canada’s tar sands must “remain in the ground” to limit global warming.

The report, published Jan 8, explored measures needed to keep average global temperatures from rising more than 2 °C this century.

Characterizing the tar sands as “unburnable oil,” the report’s authors urged Canada to refrain from digging any more of the dirty stuff out of the ground.

Keystone XL pipeline

The study is bad news for TransCanada’s Keystone XL pipeline, the key plank in the planned expansion of the tar sands.

In a recent interview with DemocracyNow!, Canadian journalist and bestselling author, Naomi Klein, said “Keystone is a pipeline that’s intimately linked to plans by the oil and gas industry to dramatically expand production in the Alberta tar sands.”

In 2013, Oil Change International said the full cost of the Keystone XL “to society could be upwards of $100 Billion per year in damages to health, property, ecosystems, and the climate.”

If approved, the 1,900km pipeline would ship 830,000 barrels of carbon-intensive tar sands oil from Alberta to the Texas Gulf Coast every day. Research conducted at the Stockholm Environment Institute last summer found that Keystone would produce 110 million tonnes of carbon dioxide annually.

That’s too much additional CO2 entering the atmosphere. A UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report, published last November, stated that 75 to 86 percent of the world’s fossil fuels must stay undeveloped to escape serious impacts of climate change.

The Guardian (UK) reports: “Currently, the world is heading for a catastrophic 5C of warming and the deadline to seal a global climate deal comes in December at a crunch UN summit in Paris.”

In her new bestselling book “This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate,”  Klein called for radical change to prevent catastrophic global warming.

The radical change Canada needs to implement?

“85% of its reserve base of 50 billion barrels has to remain in the ground,” said Christophe McGlade, a research associate at University College London’s Institute for Sustainable Resources (ISR) and lead author of the report.

The report also says the “unabated use of all current fossil fuel reserves” in Canada, US, Russia and Saudi Arabia “is incompatible with a warming limit of 2 °C.”

“If we want to reach the two-degree limit in the most cost-effective manner, more than 80% of current coal, half of gas and one third of oil need to be classified as unburnable,” said McGlade.

According to the study, here’s are the places around the world where coal, gas and oil must not be burnt to prevent climate change:

A global deal to keep fossil fuels in the ground is expected to be signed in December.

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Photo credit: Fort McMurray, Alberta, by Kris Krug/FLICKR

Obert Madondo is an Ottawa-based progressive blogger, and the founder and editor of The Canadian Progressive. Follow me on Twitter: @Obiemad

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Obert Madondo

Publisher and editor
Obert Madondo is an Ottawa-based independent journalist and progressive political blogger. He's the publisher and editor of The Canadian Progressive.