Risk blindness in local perspectives about the Alberta oil sands hinders Canada's decarbonization

Luis D. Virla*, Dirk Jan van de Ven, Jon Sampedro, Oscar van Vliet, Alistair Smith, Hector Pollitt, Jenny Lieu

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

4 Citations (Scopus)
56 Downloads (Pure)


Local perspectives can conflict with national and international climate targets. This study explores three stakeholder (community, provincial, and federal) perspectives on the Alberta oil sands as risks for a sustainability transition in Canada. In an ex-post analysis, we compared outputs from stakeholder consultations and energy-economy models. Our research shows that different local stakeholders groups disregarded some policy risks for the Alberta oil sands and Canadian energy transition. These stakeholders expected the sector to grow, despite increasing environmental penalties and external market pressures. The study revealed that blind-spots on risks, or “risk blindness”, increased as stakeholders became less certain about policy climate goals. We argue that “risk blindness” could be amplified by dominant institutional narratives that contradict scientific research and international climate policy. Strategies that integrate local narratives, considered as marginalized, provide perspectives beyond emission reductions and are essential for meeting climate targets while supporting a just transition.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)569-585
JournalEnvironmental Innovation and Societal Transitions
Publication statusPublished - 2021


  • Energy transition
  • Ggreenhouse gas emissions
  • Oil sands
  • Risk and uncertainties
  • Risk blindness
  • Stranded assets


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