A group of 12 prominent Canadian climate scientists called out the federal Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver on his support for the expansion of oil infrastructure in a letter released today.
The scientists wrote that building pipelines and developing fossil fuel production delays the transition to an economy that relies less on oil and gas.
The scientists urged Oliver to move away from the high-carbon approach that will lead to climate warming of more than 2 C.
"If we invest in expanding fossil fuel production, we risk locking ourselves into a high-carbon pathway that increases greenhouse gas emissions for years and decades to come," wrote the group that includes Mark Jaccard of B.C.'s Simon Fraser University, Gordon McBean of the Centre for Environment and Sustainability at Western University in London, Ont., and David Keith, a Canadian who is teaching public policy and engineering at Harvard University.
The group went on to say that if Canada wants to avoid dangerous climate change it "will require significantly reducing our reliance on fossil fuels and making a transition to cleaner energy."
"I'm not arguing necessarily for totally closing down the tarsands. I just think they ought to be more responsibly developed and in a way that is compatible with properly addressing climate change," said John Stone, one of the signatories and a geography and environment professor at Carleton University in Ottawa.
Stone said the country needs to have a proper discussion about energy policy and the way forward.
Need for balance
Keith was blunt in his assessment of the Canadian government's stand on climate change and resource development. He wants the government to "grow up" and represent the two important but very different needs of the country.
"They need to balance the long-term environmental risks and the benefits to Canadians ... not using the atmosphere as a waste dump for carbon. And they need to balance that against desire in current laws, for companies to export oil," Keith told CBC News.
"Those are two different goals. They are somewhat contradictory but an adult government needs do to that in a serious way. And I don't hear it."
Oliver is travelling through Europe this week as part of a campaign to promote the country's resources and to convince the European Union not to discriminate against Canadian oil by labelling it dirtier than other fuel.
Chris McCluskey, a spokesman for Oliver, said it's unrealistic to think the world can move off oil.
"Cutting off oil production would create great economic hardship, especially for the poorest nations who already suffer from an energy deficit," McCluskey said. "Indeed, one and half billion people are now without electricity. We have an obligation to responsibly develop our resources, protect the environment, create economic growth for Canadians and share our energy with the world."