No Rip-Offsets / Tar Sands

No Rip-Offsets

Offsetting Canada’s Tar Sands with Dammed Rivers and Dead Forests

Published by: Institute for Policy Studies Sustainable Energy
and Economy Network

As Canada begins to exploit the dirtiest fossil fuels in the world, tar sands, there are some Canadians who are proposing that this exploitation be and its climate impacts be “offset” by the protection of forests or the damming of rivers. However, Canada’s forests are vulnerable to infestation by the pine beetle, one consequence of warmer winters due to climate change. And Canada’s rivers and groundwater is being polluted by the exploitation of the tar sands.

Location of one of the largest hydrocarbon deposit ever discovered: Athabasca tar sands1

Barrels of recoverable bitumen in Athabasca tar sands: 175 to 200 billion2

Estimated barrels of potential bitumen in Canada’s tar sands: 1.75-2 trillion3

Number one exporter of oil to U.S.: Canada4

Tons of earth required to produce 1 barrel of oil from tar sands: At least 25

Quantity of water required to produce one barrel of synthetic oil from tar
sands: at least 3 barrels

Quantity of water used per year by Canadian tar sands: approximately 176 million cubic metres of water or about one third of the City of Toronto’s annual consumption in 20086.

Canada’s annual greenhouse gas emissions 2007: 747,041 gigatons7

Share of global greenhouse gas emissions that Canada emits: About 2.2%

Amount Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions have increased from 1990-2005: 25%8

Primary source of the increase in emissions: Alberta’s tar sands9

Share of Earth’s forests found in boreal region: One-third

Share of carbon in the terrestrial biome stored in the boreal region: 30%10

Percent of boreal forest threatened by climate change: 65%

Quantity of Canada’s boreal forest that the Canadian Boreal Initiative proposes to be set aside to “offset” emissions from the tar sands: 50%

Percent of British Columbia’s mature pine that are infested with pine beetle and expected to be dead by 2013: 8311

Expected temperature rise in boreal region and Northern latitudes: 10 degrees C, 18 degrees F12

Oil companies involved in tar sands: Suncor, Syncrude, Imperial Oil, Conoco-Phillips, Canadian Oil Sands Quest Ltd., Petro-Canada, AEC Oil Sands Partnership, Mocal Energy, Murphy Oil, ExxonMobil, Chevron, Royal Dutch Shell, Nexen, Statoil, BP and many more.

Number of rivers that are not protected from proposals for privatization, damming, and carbon offsets in Canada: About 600

Total rivers in British Columbia: About 700

Price that oil must reach per barrel in order to make tar sands competitive: Approximately $35

Amount of energy that is required to extract one unit of energy from tar sands: Approximately 1:3

Toward a Proposal for Just Climate Finance

Toward a Proposal for Just Climate Finance

Published by Institute for Policy Studies Sustainable Energy
and Economy Network

The world will require a global commitment to limit temperature increases and stabilize CO2 emission concentrations. The vast majority of these cuts must be found in Northern countries, but some Southern countries will also likely have to cut emissions. Under debate is how developed countries will raise and channel finance to compensate developing countries for existing impacts of climate change, and provide financial support for their transition to low carbon economies. By 2030 developing countries will need between US$170-275 billion to meet their climate mitigation and adaptation needs. Civil society has demanded that it must be public funding, must be obligatory and predictable, impose no conditionalities on countries of the global South, not generate external debt, be new and additional to existing financial commitments, and be channeled through a financial architecture under the authority of the UNFCCC.

Criteria for Raising Revenue for Climate finance

Criteria Definition
ESSENTIAL Adequate Raises volume of revenue consistent with the scale of the need, in a manner that is additional to pre-existing ODA and other pledges, and with low transactions costs.
Predictable Automatic, sustainable over time, not easily evadable or subject to declining returns.
Public Must be raised and contributed by governments.
Equitable Obtains money from those countries with most responsibility for causing human-induced climate change, as well as capacity to pay. The mechanisms should also minimise negative impacts on developing countries and on low-income and other marginalised groups in all countries.
Transparent & accountable Potential for citizen input and oversight in monitoring how and from whom revenue is raised.
DESIRABLE Transformational Promotes economy-wide reform away from fossil fuel systems, promotes the transition to renewable energy sources and local control of natural resources.
Financially responsible Helps curb speculation, increase transparency of financial flows, limits trading in derivatives and other toxic financial products and move towards a balanced and well-regulated economy.

Innovative Finance Sources: Summary Table

Adequate Predictable Public Equitable Transparent & Accountable Transform-ational Financially Responsible
Financial transaction tax J K J J K K J
Global carbon tax J K J K J J K
Fossil fuel subsidy reallocation K L J K K J J
Air passenger levy K J J J J K K
Bunker fuels levy K J J K J J K
Sales of carbon quotas K J K K K J K
Climate Special Drawing Rights K K J J J K J

Proposal for a Global Climate Fund

Global civil society calls for an enhanced financial architecture in the form of a Global Climate Fund to be set up under the control of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. The Fund should be founded on the recognition of a Climate Debt owed by Northern countries for their responsibility for the majority of global warming. Their emissions deny southern countries their share of atmospheric space and cause severe climate impacts, which disproportionately fall on marginalized communities.

The Fund should acknowledge that reparations require the drastic reduction of their emissions through domestic measures. The Fund will serve as the channel for the transfer of the full financial costs to enable developing countries and peoples to adapt to the impacts and deal with the effects of climate change and pursue equitable and sustainable development. The Fund should be established according to the following principles

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  • Sustainable, Obligatory and Automatic Funding from diverse sources to generate the volume of funding needed, established on the principle of historical responsibility for causing the climate crisis
  • Representative Governance that is democratic, transparent, and accountable to the most impacted communities, with civil society formally represented in all governance structures and equitable representation of southern countries
  • Full Participation of climate-impacted peoples in developing actions and policies for adaptation and the shift to low-carbon economies; policies and actions designed by countries through sovereign and democratic processes must reflect local decisions and solutions
  • No Conditionalities must accompany disbursements from the Fund to governments or civil society groups; nor lead to the accumulation of debts
  • Direct Access for the Most Vulnerable so that social movements, NGOs and community-based groups have direct access to funds (in addition to government agencies)
  • Protecting Rights of all people, particularly recognizing and respecting the rights of Indigenous Peoples and local communities, to determine their own development path, decision-making processes, and activities related to climate change

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Executive Body under the authority of the UNFCCC, sets overall policy guidance for all windows, composed of a majority of developing countries, with seats for vulnerable countries and communities

Adaptation, Mitigation and Technology Windows disburse money directly to the recipient country for implementation of locally and nationally developed plans; Window board would judge plans based on soundness of approach, participation of affected communities, environmental sustainably, and other criteria as established by the board

Technical Panels review plans for technical merit and would make recommendations to window boards as to whether the plan is ready to receive funding

Indigenous and Women’s Rights Desks ensure Indigenous Peoples and women’s rights are central in all aspects of adaptation funding

Secretariat responsible for providing administrative, legal, and financial support to the Executive Body; collect data on the Fund’s impacts on women, marginalized communities, and the environment

Trustee manage the funding of each window in a separate bank account and disburse funding to recipients upon instruction from Executive Board

No Rip-Offsets

No Rip-Offsets

Agriculture, forests and land-based carbon credits

Published by Institute for Policy Studies Sustainable Energy
and Economy Network

Ecosystems such as forests, fields, and soils, in their natural state, sequester carbon dioxide. However, when forests are cut or cleared or replaced with plantations, their sequestration is compromised. Similarly, when soils are cleared, tilled and otherwise damaged, they, too, lose much of the carbon stored in the earth to the atmosphere. Therefore, one of the drivers—and one of the solutions—to climate change involves special care with regard to land use practices, including farming and forestry practices, and livestock management. Sustainable farming and forest management will be critical in  resequestering carbon from our atmosphere. The question remains: What laws, financial support and other measures are needed to incentivize sustainable land use practices? In the early stages of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, the notion that land-based sinks should be part of any carbon trading regime was rejected. Now, there is a huge push, coming largely from industrial agriculture and forestry, to reintroduce carbon offsets for credits from land-based sinks in the international carbon trading regime. In 2009, the U.S. House and Senate provided the first major opening for these offset credits for land-based sinks with climate legislation that has yet to pass both Houses. Should this legislation pass, it would open up a Pandora’s box of possible land-based carbon offsets globally, creating a land grab for carbon offsets globally.

Tons of carbon offsets proposed in 2009 U.S. House and Senate climate bills: 2 billion

Share of global and US manmade greenhouse gas emissions that 2 billion tons of carbon represents, respectively: 7% and 28%[1]

Share of domestic carbon offsets in US legislation that could come from agriculture: 1-1.5 billion tons.

Share of US carbon offsets that could come from soil carbon sequestration: 100%

Year in which soil carbon sequestration was ruled out by the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) Executive Board as qualifying for carbon offsets: 2003

Agency that will oversee the integrity of U.S. agricultural offsets, including soil-based carbon offsets: US Department of Agriculture (USDA)

US Government agency commonly accused of being captive of agribusiness[2]: USDA

US Agency that claimed carbon offsets were impossible to verify: US Government Accountability Office[3]

Percent of manmade greenhouse gas emissions that comes from non-energy sources: 35%[4]

Percent that comes from nitrous oxide and methane emissions from agriculture: 14%[5]

Percent that came from land use change, primarily for agricultural production: 18%[6]

Share of Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) funding that goes to agricultural offsets: 6%

Share of CDM credits in Malaysia that went to palm oil plantations: 90%

Share of CDM credits in Mexico that went to pig farms: 50%

Purported origin of swine flu virus: Smithfield Foods factory hog farms in Mexico

Corporation that would benefit economically in three different ways if its herbicide, RoundUp, were applied to its genetically modified crops which then qualified for “no till” carbon offset credits: Monsanto

Amount of acreage globally that is currently no-till: 100 million hectares

Amount the US EPA estimates agricultural and forest offsets will increase net revenues for landowners by 2020 and 2050 respectively: $1-2 billion and $20 billion per year[7]

Amount of carbon offsets the US EPA estimates can be provided by forests and farming by 2020 and 2050. respectively: 175 and 643 million[8]

Share of 2008 US emissions this represents: 3% and 9%[9]

Total annual value of US agricultural production: $200 billion[10]

Share of US emissions from US food system: 18%

Number of people that would be required to supervise and validate agricultural offsets in the U.S. if all agricultural offsets were used: over 1000[11]

Fuel which has been implicated in causing climate change which is incentivized under U.S. Waxman-Markey bill: Biofuels

Length of time biofuels are exempted from EPA regulations on international climate impacts: At least 5 years.

Amount of arable land globally required for grainfeed for industrial livestrock: one-third

Chemicals responsible for climate change released in feedstock operations: Nitrous oxide, methane

One of the proposed “solutions” to climate change: biochar, the creation of charcoal for burial in soil, thereby theoretically sequestering the carbon.

Main continent targeted for biochar: Africa

Potential amount of carbon that biochar could sequester: 9.5 billion tons of carbon per year[12]

Amount of carbon sequestered by U.S. forests and soils in 48 contiguous states: 90 billion metric tons

Amount of carbon that could be sequestered with an increase in forest cover on some US farm land: 3-7 billion tons[13]

Amount of land for biochar plantations required to sequester 1 billion tons of carbon a year: 500 million hectares[14]

Size of India: 328 million hectares[15]

Estimated hectares of tropical forest remaining in the world: 1.5 billion[16]

Type of farming that has the potential to recapture more than 2/3rds of the present excess of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere: biodiverse agro-ecological farming and agroforestry




[4] Stern Review on climate change


[6] Ibid




[10] Ibid.

[11] Personal conversation with US EPA official

[12] Lehmann, J. et al, Biochar Sequestration in Terrestrial Ecosystems: A Review (2006).


[14] Ernsting, A. & Smolker, R. Biochar for Climate Change Mitigation: Fact or Fiction? (Biofuelwatch, 2009);