“We’ve talked for 40 years about climate change … and we’ve done very, very little about it.” That isn’t an environmentalist talking. Or a scientist. It’s Derek Evans, executive chair of the Pathways Alliance, a consortium of Canada’s largest tar sands producers. The Pathways’ goal is achieving net-zero emissions in their industry by 2050.”

He went on to ask of Conservative Party leader Pierre Poilievre what he’s going to do about it, specifically where he stands on industrial carbon pricing. Poilievre loudly announces ad infinitum his intention to scrap the consumer carbon tax if his party wins the next federal election, but he has been evasive about the carbon price for industrial-scale emitters.

Industrial carbon pricing is one of the government policies the Pathways’ plan to achieve net-zero depends on. The plan involves capturing, compressing and compartmentalizing the gases deep underground. This is a hugely expensive technology and the companies want assurance that taxpayer handouts will come their way.

It is also important to keep in mind what they mean by decarbonization, just what emissions they will keep out of the atmosphere. When they refer to net-zero by 2050 they mean zero emissions from production of the product—the emissions at the upstream end—not the total greenhouse gas emissions from a barrel of oil.

This is, in fact, a small part of the problem. For Canadian tar sands, extraction releases only about 21 percent of the emissions from a barrel of bitumen/crude oil. About 68 percent is released when the barrel is combusted, the remainder when the product is refined and transported.

Most tar sands bitumen/crude oil is exported and combusted somewhere else where it becomes their emissions problem. In other words, we pass the buck. Nonetheless many Albertans, including it appears our government, take this to mean that tar sands oil as a whole could actually become net zero.

Alberta is the country’s pollution province and the tar sands is the country’s pollution industry. The province produces many more greenhouse gas emissions than any other, 70 percent more than Ontario with less than a third of the population. Oil and gas produces more emissions than any other industry, with emissions from the tar sands rapidly escalating.

So every bit helps. We need every tool in the box. It is, therefore, encouraging to hear of the companies’ intention to decarbonize their industry, even if it is only the upstream end.

And it is encouraging that they are demanding the federal Conservatives put up or shut up. I wish Mr. Evans luck in getting more out of Mr. Poilievre than what he offers the rest of us. “Axe the tax” is not a policy for dealing with global warming. It’s more a policy for weaselling out. We deserve more.

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