The oil sands sector in Alberta should not be singled out as the villain responsible for Canada's poor record on climate change, says a new study released Tuesday by an independent research group.

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The report, prepared by the Conference Board of Canada, said that governments must focus on a balanced approach that targets both consumers and producers to adequately address rising greenhouse gas emissions. The report also argues that some exaggerate the gap between energy-intensive production in the oil sands versus less-intensive production of conventional oil in the Middle East.

"It is much easier to pursue and criticize a few private oil sands producers operating in a neighbouring democratic nation, than to criticize state oil companies operating in weak democratic or authoritarian nations that are far away," said the report, Getting the Balance Right, The Oil Sands, Exporting and Sustainability. "More fundamentally, frustrating production by a few firms is easier than convincing millions of consumers to change their lifestyles and driving habits and thereby reduce end demand for oil products."

The report contrasts with a scathing assessment of impacts on land, water and air from the oil sands that were revealed in internal government documents released last week.

The government has estimated that the oil sands produced up to 25% more greenhouse gas emissions than conventional oil in the production process, and warned that some technological solutions such as capturing and burying emissions underground are unproven and risky to pursue.

Environmental groups have also noted that the assessments of impacts also do not always include the impact of changes in land use that eliminate natural sinks such as forests which store carbon.

"But if GHG emissions are to be stabilized and reduced, action must be taken both by energy producers and by energy consumers," said the latest report. "This will be as true in China as it is in the United States and Canada."

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