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Oilsands 5th on Greenpeace list of global climate battlegrounds

Alberta’s oil sands are among the planet’s top five fossil fuel mega-projects threatening to accelerate the “catastrophic impacts of climate change,” a new report from Greenpeace International concludes.

Projected greenhouse gas emissions from Canada’s bitumen industry rank below planned coal expansions in Australia, China, the U.S. and Indonesia.

But oil sands production could have climate impacts bigger than or equal to offshore drilling in the Arctic, Brazil, Gulf of Mexico and Caspian Sea; unconventional energy production in the U.S. and Venezuela; and large oil and gas projects in Africa and Iraq.

The rankings are nevertheless a bit arbitrary. Each of the 14 identified projects “are the worst of the worst,” the Greenpeace report reads, and “are in direct conflict with a livable climate.”

If all go ahead as planned, it adds, they would “produce as much new carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions in 2020 as the entire US, and delay action on climate change for more than a decade.”

The selection of these 14 projects is also a strategic decision. Myriad daily human activities, after all, contribute to our planet’s dangerously warming climate.

But by drawing attention to tangible international symbols of our planet’s fossil fuel addiction, Greenpeace hopes to rouse people into joining a global “campaign to stop the dirtiest coal and oil-extraction projects…and replace them with the available sustainable energy solutions.”

Contrast Greenpeace's zero-sum tactics with a recently released Pembina Institute report, which casts fossil fuel producers as a potential ally in Canada’s clean energy transition.

The report was based off interviews with “nearly two dozen clean energy entrepreneurs, executives, investors and academics”. It suggests that a national carbon pricing regime, combined with integrated funding incentives for clean energy providers, could hasten our transition to a lower impact economy.

“It is not about fossil fuels versus clean energy,” reads the report’s forward. “It is about how we use both in the right way. It is about how we transition to more clean energy production and use, so our economy remains competitive and new jobs emerge.”

Expect both approaches -- that of incremental policy change, and that of open battle with fossil fuel producers -- to intensify in coming years. Especially given International Energy Agency projections that the door to limiting global temperature increases to a potentially safe two degrees celsius "is about to close."

Geoff Dembicki reports for The Tyee.

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