Next week, Canada’s premiers are set to meet in Quebec City to discuss climate change and a Canadian energy strategy. So it’s a good time to look at what has happened on climate change at the provincial level and what the future looks like.

Today Environmental Defence and Greenpeace released a new study, Digging a Big Hole: How tar sands expansion undermines a Canadian energy strategy that shows climate leadership. As the title suggests, soaring emissions from the tar sands make it almost impossible for Canada to meet its 2020 carbon reduction targets or show any leadership on climate change.

Canada’s emissions have increased by 18 per cent since 1990. Alberta is responsible for 73 per cent of that growth, and the tar sands are the main driver for that. While emissions have declined or held steady in all other oil and gas sub-sectors, emissions from the tar sands have soared, more than doubling since 2000. And remember the tar sands are responsible for just 2 per cent of Canada’s GDP.

If the tar sands continue to grow, by 2020, emissions from Alberta, with just 11 per cent of Canada’s population, will approach pollution levels in Ontario, Quebec, and British Columbia combined, which together have 75 per cent of the population.

The solution is obvious for provincial or federal governments trying to craft a Canadian climate and energy strategy. The most important initiative that can be taken in Canada to reduce emissions is to stop the expansion of the tar sands. In fact, the primary goal of an energy strategy must be to transition Canada away from fossil fuel production and use. This transition away from tar sands production and use will take time but it has to start now and be completed by mid-century in order for Canada to do its fair share and meet our international commitments to tackle climate change.

That’s the test. Is the energy strategy being developed by the provinces actually about moving away from fossil fuels, or is it cover for producing more? An energy strategy that is about building pipelines isn’t worth the paper it’s written on. Provinces and premiers that are both leaders and laggards on climate change need to heed that warning.