In a hard hitting opinion piece in the Guardian today, Bill McKibben doesn’t mince words when it comes to Canada’s Prime Minister. Everyone seems to love Justin Trudeau. Charismatic, young, and rhetorically committed to a suite of progressive issues – compared to his counterpart to the south, he has a lot going for him.
But, as McKibben hammers home, action to back up his promises on climate isn’t on that list.
Between approving massive tar sands pipelines, and pandering to oil executives, Trudeau is simultaneously shredding his credibility on climate change and trampling the rights of Canada’s First Nations.
Take for example a recent acceptance speech for an award given by a group of oil executives in Texas where Trudeau confirmed the government’s oxymoronic position on tar sands and the climate:
“No country would find 173 billion barrels of oil in the ground and just leave them there. The resource will be developed, our job is to ensure this is done responsibly, safely, and sustainably.”
For a leader who has repeatedly made bold promises that Canada would do its part to act on climate change, this was the wrong thing to say.
It wasn’t just a gaffe either. It sounded terribly similar to his script last December as he announced that his government was approving two massive new tar sands pipeline projects, the Kinder Morgan’s TMX and Enbridge’s Line 3 in the face of clear evidence it would undermine his government’s commitments to protect the climate and respect the rights of Indigenous Peoples.
So if there is no possible way for Trudeau to even consider that Canada may need to leave some of its massive oil reserves in the ground, setting aside the realism of Trudeau’s claim, let’s look at the actual climate impact of producing and burning 173 billion barrels of oil, most of it ultra-heavy tar sands.
Forgive us for indulging some quick math for a moment. By averaging pollution data for various types of crude oils in the Carnegie Oil Climate Index, we estimate that an average barrel of tar sands bitumen releases approximately 0.7 tons of C02/barrel over its entire lifecycle, and an average barrel of Canadian conventional 0.5 tons – so the average Canadian barrel is somewhere around 0.65 tons. That means producing, processing and burning 173 billion barrels of Canadian oil would release 112 billion tons of CO2 pollution.
According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, as we said in our recent analysis on what it would take to reach the Paris Agreement goals, the entire planet can release only 393 billion tons of C02 from the end of 2015 to the end of this century if we want to have even a 50% chance of keeping global temperatures below 1.5°C.
That means Prime Minister Trudeau thinks Canada has the right to produce and sell enough oil to use up 28% of the entire global carbon budget. As a wealthy country, with less than one half of one percent of the world’s population, and the means to know and do better, at best this is astoundingly naive and at worst it is willfully ignorant and offensive.
If Canada is allowed to produce even a fraction of that amount, it would make it impossible for the world to reach climate safety.
Of course, it’s unlikely Trudeau expects Canada could actually exploit all of its recoverable oil reserves. Canada’s tar sands are so expensive to produce and so carbon intensive that major oil companies are already jumping like rats from a burning ship. A lot of tar sands has already become stranded due to changing oil markets and risks created by a growing global climate movement.
But at a time when the continent is in desperate need for leadership and a moral compass, Trudeau is too busy pandering to narrow fossil fuel interests to live up to the promises he has made to Canada and the world to do our fair share for a safer climate.