The oil sands are now the single largest and most destructive industrial project on earth

Despite ranking lower than China on climate performance, the Canadian government is defending its environmental record in response to a sobering report by the International Panel on Climate Change released last week.

At the press conference where the report was released on March 31, Rajendra Pachauri, chair of the IPCC, said, “Nobody on this planet is going to be untouched by the impacts of climate change,” and he hopes the report will “jolt the world to action.”

It found that land and ocean warming are unequivocally due largely to human activity that climate change has led to economic disparity, water scarcity, food insecurity, adverse health impacts, crop and habitat degradation and species migration and that those hardest hit live in rural communities and in the developing world.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry responded by urging governments to act dramatically. If we don’t, “science tells us our climate and our way of life are literally in jeopardy,” he said.

The Canadian government resolutely noted its successes regardless of the fact that Environment Canada reports that the feds will fail to meet even their own weak greenhouse gas emission reduction targets.

The fact is, Canada ranks 58th out of 60 countries in the Climate Change Performance Index prepared by Climate Action Network Europe and German Watch, a social advocacy group. China came in 46th. We performed just slightly better than Saudi Arabia.

Why? Because there is no federal plan to meet our emissions reduction goals, and after six years of promises, the Harper Conservative government recently announced it will delay regulating the oil and gas sector.

The bottom line: skyrocketing pollution from the oil sands is the sole reason we will not meet our emissions reduction goals.

The oil sands are now the single largest and most destructive industrial project on earth. If production increases as approved, annual emissions will quadruple from 27 to 126 million tonnes by 2015, and reach 142 million tonnes by 2020.

That means the tar sands would release twice the amount of air pollution currently produced by all the cars and trucks in Canada.

The sad truth is that emissions growth from the oil sands effectively undoes all our efforts to reduce pollution at individual, municipal and provincial levels.

Big Oil and the feds tell us we have no choice, but the oil sands represent 2 per cent of our gross domestic product.

The good news is that as technology advances, prices for renewable energy are dropping. In 2013, global investment in clean energy was $254 billion, a 400 per cent increase in just under 10 years. In fact, developments in clean tech have been so rapid that many countries are committed to going 100 per cent renewable by 2050.

Canada? Not so much.

Our federal government is gutting environmental laws, cancelling environmental assessments, attacking environmental charities and firing scientists in order to expand pipelines and oil sands production without laws or people getting in their way.

Last year’s omnibus Bill C-38 weakened 70 environmental laws, including removing fisheries habitat protection from the Fisheries Act. We protect fish now, just not where they live. The direct result of these changes was that 3,000 environmental assessments were cancelled.

Adding insult to injury, instead of investing in clean tech programs, the federal government subsidizes the oil and gas companies and spends millions of taxpayers’ dollars on ads defending one of the most profitable industries in the world.

However, there is good news in Canada. In spite of federal cutbacks and policy uncertainty across the country, this year we recorded the second-fastest clean energy growth in all the G-20 moving up five spots to seventh place. Investment rose by 45 per cent, to $6.5 billion. The wind sector grew by more than 40 per cent, to $3.6 billion.

Canada’s solar sector also recorded impressive growth in 2013, attracting $2.5 billion. This is in large part because of one province – Ontario’s Green Energy Act has stimulated the industry – but that shows the sector’s enormous potential if these policies were supported in other provinces or through federal initiatives.

It’s time for our federal government to take climate change seriously and ensure that we build a safe, clean economy and local job opportunities for all Canadians. It’s time the feds started designing policy in Ottawa and not the oil patch. But that will only happen if we engage and start reminding our elected officials that they work for us, not for Big Oil.

On May 10, I will be joining thousands of Canadians across the country calling on the government to defend our climate and communities ( Together, we can build a Canada that leads in addressing climate change, a Canada that is building a safe, advanced energy economy, a Canada we can be proud of again.

Tzeporah Berman is the author of This Crazy Time: Living Our Environmental Challenge (Knopf Canada). | @nowtoronto

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