This article examines some of the issues causing difficulty in reaching Canada’s stated goals. It identifies some of the plans the federal government has to offset increases caused by the oil sands and related developments and, indeed, to reduce emissions enough to meet those stated goals.

Getting Started

Appropriate Subject Area(s):

Environmental studies, world issues, politics

Key Questions to Explore:

  • How far are we from reaching our stated goals for reducing emissions?
  • How much of a challenge is presented by the oil sands and proposed oil sands projects?
  • What are the plans to address these challenges and meet our stated objectives to reduce emissions?

New Terminology:

United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, megatonnes

Materials Needed:

Copies of the article for the students and access to the Internet for research

Study and Discussion Activity

Introduction to lesson and task:

Canada’s agreed-upon goal for emissions reductions has been well documented and reported – 30% below 2005 levels by 2030. Dedication to this goal, however, has varied widely. The Harper government virtually ignored efforts, placing its emphasis on supporting the oil industry. Since replacing this government, the Liberal government has demonstrated a far greater effort to address this commitment. More recently, in the last election and subsequent assignment of tasks to ministers, the government has increased its dedication to attaining this goal and, indeed, surpassing it. There are, however, significant challenges and apparent contradictions facing the attainment of this goal. The federal government remains supportive of the development of such oil sands projects such as the Trans Mountain pipeline and the Frontier mine, which will significantly contribute to greenhouse gas emissions. Nevertheless, the Liberals maintain that they will reach the stated emissions reductions goals. How does the government explain this apparent contradiction? It maintains that the oil industry is still an important part of our economy and needs to be considered in any efforts to reach our emissions goals, but ways of reducing the emissions caused by the oil sands must be developed along with alternatives to this energy source. In the meantime, the government recognizes that new initiatives must be taken and they have outlined such things as planting 2 billion trees, protecting 25% of Canada’s land and water by 2025, introducing incentives for building retrofits and expanding incentives for purchasing zero-emissions vehicles. This lesson will have the students look at the inherent contradictions of government actions and their suggested initiatives and decide if they are supportive of these positions.

Action (lesson plan and task):

  • Begin the lesson by asking the students if they can explain how the current federal government can maintain an apparent contradiction by stressing the urgent need to address climate change all the while supporting the development of oil sands projects such as the Trans Mountain pipeline.
  • Once they have offered opinions on this question, indicate to them that, through the use of group work, they are going to examine this issue and clarify the current situation.
  • Break the class into four task groups, provide them with the article as initial background information, and assign one of the following tasks to each group:
    • What are Canada’s current international commitments to address climate change?
    • What oil sands projects are the current federal government supporting and what impact will those have on greenhouse gas emissions?
    • What efforts are the current federal government supporting to address climate change? What are some of their proposals and how will those proposals help in the efforts to address climate change?
    • What goals has the federal government set to address climate change and do you believe that is sufficient?
  • Allow the groups time to read the article, research their task and prepare their reports on their assigned topic.

Consolidation of Learning:

  • Once the groups have completed their task, divide these groups into four subgroups and recombine the class into new groups – each new group having representatives of the task groups.
  • Beginning with task one, have each subgroup members present their findings to the others in the group and respond to any questions or comments that may arise.
Success and Additional Learning

Success Criteria:

The students will be able to:

  • Identify Canada’s global commitments to address climate change;
  • Explain the apparent contradiction in the federal government’s support for both oil sands projects and efforts to address climate change;
  • Outline Canada’s aspirations for greenhouse gas emissions reduction by 2030 and 2050;
  • Explain some initiatives to realize those aspirations.

Confirming Activity:

  • Hold a plenary session during which time the newly-formed groups may seek clarifications from their peers about these topics or discuss what they have just learned.