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Climate pollution: 140 nations vs Alberta's tar sands

Graphic by Barry Saxifrage

Today, the climate damage caused by extracting and burning the tarry bitumen from Alberta's oil sands exceeds the combined CO2 emissions from over 100 nations.

The industry plans to double their rate of bitumen extraction within a decade. By 2020 the climate pollution from extracting and burning all this bitumen will exceed the combined CO2 emission from over 140 nations -- home to more than one billion people.

In just the next eight years, the oil sands industry's expansion plans will cause an increase in the annual climate pollution from Alberta's bitumen equal to the combined CO2 emissions from:

Zimbabwe, Zambia, Yemen, Western Sahara, Wake Island, Virgin Islands, British, Virgin Islands,  U.S., Vanuatu, Uruguay, Uganda, U.S. Pacific Islands, Turks and Caicos Islands, Tunisia, Tonga, Togo, Timor-Leste (East Timor), Tanzania, Tajikistan, Swaziland, Suriname, Sudan and South Sudan, Sri Lanka, Somalia, Solomon Islands, Slovenia, Sierra Leone, Seychelles, Senegal, Sao Tome and Principe, Samoa, Saint Vincent/Grenadines, Saint Pierre and Miquelon, Saint Lucia, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Helena, Rwanda, Reunion, Paraguay, Papua New Guinea, Panama, Palestinian Territories, Niue, Niger, Nicaragua, New Caledonia, Netherlands Antilles, Nepal, Nauru, Namibia, Mozambique, Montserrat, Montenegro, Mongolia, Moldova, Mauritius, Mauritania, Martinique, Malta, Mali, Maldives, Malawi, Madagascar, Macedonia, Macau, Luxembourg, Lithuania, Liberia, Lesotho, Lebanon, Latvia, Laos, Kyrgyzstan, Kiribati and Kenya.

And that is just a start. The Alberta oil sands industry has already announced specific project plans that would quadruple today's bitumen extraction capacity. Neither the industry nor the Alberta government have set any limits on how much carbon they will try to extract. The Canadian government has yet to impose any regulations of any kind on the climate pollution from the industry.

This incredibly rapid expansion of high-climate-polluting oil is taking place against a backdrop of increasingly dramatic climate changes. In the last couple years, major global institutions -- like the United Nations, the International Energy Agency, the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, and international financial giants like Citi, HSBC, and UBC -- have stepped forward to say loud and clear that the extraction and burning of fossil fuels needs to ramp down quickly if humanity hopes to preserve a safe climate system.

My chart below compares the CO2 emission from extracting and burning Alberta bitumen to all the fossil fuel burning by more than a billion people in 140 nations.

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