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    Part 1: How does production of non-renewables contribute to climate change?


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    In part one of our look at energy production and climate change, Energy IQ breaks down the GHG emissions associated with non-renewables.

    The term “climate change” is used to describe changes in global temperature and long-term weather patterns caused by excessive greenhouse gas emissions. Greenhouse gases, or GHGs, include carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide and fluorinated gases, and are released into the atmosphere through both natural processes and human activities...

    The term “climate change” is used to describe changes in global temperature and long-term weather patterns caused by excessive greenhouse gas emissions. Greenhouse gases, or GHGs, include carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide and fluorinated gases, and are released into the atmosphere through both natural processes and human activities.

    Carbon dioxide is the primary GHG emitted by human activities. Canada is one of the highest GHG emitters in the world. Of the 704 million tonnes of GHGs emitted in Canada in 2016, the oil and gas sector and transportation sectors accounted for almost 50% of total emissions.

    Crude Oil

    Canada is the fourth largest producer and exporter of oil in the world. Our country produces more crude oil than it can consume, almost 80 per cent of our oil is exported and 99 per cent of exports go to the United States. Mining Alberta’s oilsands is one of the most energy-intensive production processes, and emits more overall GHGs than any other type of energy extraction.

    Deep oilsands deposits are usually mined by injecting large quantities of steam (generated by heating water with natural gas) underground, to loosen heavy oil from the sand and bring it to the surface. The oilsands account for almost 10 per cent of Canada’s total GHG emissions and 0.1 per cent of global emissions. 

    Natural Gas

    Natural gas emits 50 to 60 percent less carbon dioxide than a typical coal plant. The combustion of natural gas can be controlled to minimize emissions and it is cleaner than other fossil fuels. Nevertheless, when natural gas is burned, it releases nitrous oxide and sulphur. Likewise, in its natural form, methane, it has a global warming potential (GWP) of 28-36 over 100 years, meaning that one tonne of methane has the equivalent warming effect of 28-36 tonnes of carbon dioxide.

    Besides emitting GHGs, transporting and producing natural gas is taxing on the environment. Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, in order to extract natural gas, is very water intensive, using millions of gallons of water per well.


    The combustion of coal emits sulphur dioxide, nitrous oxides, particulate matter, mercury and other heavy metals into the atmosphere. In fact, coal-fired generators are responsible for 75 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions from Canada’s electricity sector. Mining coal also releases methane gas. Of Canada’s energy sources, coal-generated power produces the most GHG emissions and is the "dirtiest" energy source.


    Nuclear energy itself does not emit GHGs. The emissions from the nuclear industry originate from the construction of nuclear plants, mining and processing uranium and decommissioning plants at the end of their lifecycle. The International Energy Agency has put nuclear lifecycle emissions at two to 59 grams of carbon dioxide equivalent per kilowatt-hour, which is comparable to that of renewable energy.


    This article is an overview of some of the ways energy production creates GHGs and contributes to climate change.

    To learn more about climate change and its causes and effects, visit:


    Pollution Probe

    Show Me More [+] Show Me Less [–]

    Climate change [+]

    A term used to describe the change in the earth’s climate caused by excessive greenhouse gas emissions. 

    Natural gas [+]

    Petroleum in a gas form.

    Uranium [+]

    A mildly radioactive element and the basic fuel of nuclear energy.

    Non-renewable resources [+]

    Natural resources that cannot be replaced once they are consumed.

    Conventional crude oil [+]

    Naturally flowing, liquid petroleum capable of being pumped without further processing.

    Take the Quiz

    How does production of energy sources contribute to climate change?

    Coal on the rails

    The average greenhouse gas emissions for oilsands extraction are estimated to be between three and five times more intensive than for conventional crude oil.

    Energy exports

    It takes about two tonnes of oilsand to produce one barrel of synthetic crude oil.

    Oilsand in its natural state is a blend of crude bitumen, sands and other contaminants. It represents 98 percent of Canada’s oil reserves.

    Canadian coal exports

    Nucear fission [+]

    The act of splitting uranium atoms into lighter nuclei, causing a release of energy.

    Crude oil [+]

    Liquid petroleum that is naturally occurring.

    Nuclear reactor [+]

    A device in which a nuclear fission chain reaction occurs under controlled conditions to produce heat which can be harnessed to generate electricity.

    Nuclear energy [+]

    A way of creating heat through the fission process of uranium atoms. All power plants convert heat into electricity using steam.

    Oil [+]

    A flammable liquid derived from petroleum. It is used to produce heat and energy.

    Crude oil by rail

    Processing a cubic metre of surface-mined oilsands uses anywhere from 2 to 4.5 cubic metres of water.

    Natural gas is transported by a 480,000-kilometre-long pipeline system in Canada.

    Household consumption
    Energy for heat

    Over the past 20 years, global demand for crude oil has risen from 60 million barrels per day to 88 million.

    Carbon dioxide (CO2) [+]

    A non-toxic gas produced from decaying materials, plant and animal respiration and the combustion of organic matter (including fossil fuels), it is the most common greenhouse gas emitted into our atmosphere.

    Oil sands deposit [+]

    A natural reservoir containing deposits of sand saturated with bitumen.

    Shale gas [+]

    Natural gas that is found, along with crude oil, in underground reservoirs. As the oil surfaces, the gas expands and comes out of the solution.

    Coal [+]

    Hardened sedimentary rock made of ancient plant material. Thermal coal is burned to produce heat, which can be converted to electricity. Coking (metallurgical) coal is a vital ingredient in the steel-making process.

    Oil sands [+]

    A mixture of sand and other rock materials containing crude bitumen.

    Top consumers of energy
    Canada energy production

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    Attention all teachers

    The new "Classroom in a Box" is now available! Packed with lesson plans, factbooks, videos, quizzes, maps and more, this one-stop digital download is an essential resource for any educator looking to improve their students’ energy literacy. Visit Canadian Geographic Education’s Online Classroom to download the ready-to-use Classroom in a Box.