One of the world's top climate scientists has calculated that emissions from Alberta's oilsands are unlikely to make a big difference to global warming and that the real threat to the planet comes from burning coal.
"I was surprised by the results of our analysis," said Andrew Weaver, a University of Victoria climate modeller, who has been a lead author on two reports from the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. "I thought it was larger than it was."
They found that if all the hydrocarbons in the oilsands were mined and consumed, the carbon dioxide released would raise global temperatures by about .36 degrees C. That's about half the total amount of warming over the last century.
When only commercially viable oilsands deposits are considered, the temperature increase is only .03 degrees C.
In contrast, the paper concludes that burning all the globe's vast coal deposits would create a 15-degree increase in temperature. Burning all the abundant natural gas would warm the planet by more than three degrees.
"We've heard a lot about how if we burn all the oil in the tarsands it's going to lead to this, that and the other. We thought, 'Well, let's take a look at this. What is the warming potential of this area?' and the numbers are what they are."