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Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver Says Climate Change Concerns "Exaggerated"

In an interview with the editorial board of Montreal's newspaper, La Presse, Minister Joe Oliver seems to have 'out' himself as a climate change denier.

As La Presse reports, Minister Oliver suggested Canada should push for more aggressive development in the tar sands. The global demand for oil is on the rise while concerns about the climate are beginning to fade.

"I think that people aren't as worried as they were before about global warming of two degrees," he said.

"Scientists have recently told us that our fears (on climate change) are exaggerated," he added, although could not point to which scientist are behind that claim.

Minister Oliver did point to a report by the highly-respected International Energy Agency (IEA), which suggested oil demand will grow by 36 percent. "We have the opportunity to participate in this growth, but we must hurry," he said.

As Postmedia's Mike De Souza reports, Oliver also pointed to a recently revised warming prediction by the UK's Met Office. The Office says temperatures are predicted to rise by 0.43 degrees Celsius by 2017, rather than the previously stated 0.54 degrees.

The revised prediction was "seized upon by by climate sceptics who were already arguing that global warming had 'stopped' since the record breaking year of 1998 and that this new development further undermines both climate science itself as well as any policy response to rising temperatures," reported Leo Hickman from The Guardian.

"Climate scientists have responded saying that to draw such a conclusion is misleading."

Minister Oliver also admitted that he was unfamiliar with the IEA's recent conclusion that the majority of the world's oil reserves must remain in the ground if a 2 degree Celsius increase in temperature above pre-industrial levels is to be avoided. A 2 degree rise in temperature would put the earth's atmosphere beyond the 'tipping point' of runaway global warming.

"No more than one-third of proven reserves of fossil fuels can be consumed prior to 2050 if the world is to achieve the 2 degrees C goal," the report states.

Minister Oliver told La Presse, "I have no idea, I didn't read that conclusion."

The IEA report also emphasized a dwindling demand for unconventional fuel sources, like the tar sands, according to a number of energy scenarios. The high carbon emissions associated with the tar sands are likely to contribute to the fuel's undesirability moving into the low-carbon future.

The IEA says Canada already has more tar sands oil in the works than the world will want, reports the Vancouver Observer's Barry Saxifrage.

Despite Minister Oliver's claims to the contrary, global concern about climate change is having an affect on Canada's high-carbon energy production. The Minister's own office is already concerned about the impact climate change efforts will have on production in the tar sands.

On this point, Minister Oliver seems dangerously out of date. In a separate article he told La Presse the government cannot "analyse the world each time" an energy project is up for environmental assessment and review. The federal government currently refuses to consider tar sands emissions when considering the environmental impact of tar sand pipelines like the Northern Gateway Pipeline or the recently-proposed west to east tar sands line.

The Minister's climate change denial is certainly bad for Canada's credibility as a nation, but it may come to damage the country's economic development too, if basic global environmental concerns are something our leaders willfully choose to ignore.

Minister Oliver's sentiments today are certain to rub the United States, a country committed to reducing its carbon emissions, in the wrong way.

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