Well...it didn’t take Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper long to reach out to US President-elect Barack Obama. What may or may not be surprising to some is the topic of this first message. As the Globe and Mail reported yesterday, Prime Minister Harper’s recently-elected Conservative government intends seek a climate change agreement with the new US administration.
Anyone who paid the slightest bit of attention to the US presidential election knows that energy security was a major topic in the campaign. One of Mr. Obama’s central campaign themes was a pledge reduce US dependence on foreign oil. However, he also said his government would take aggressive action on climate change and criticized Canadian oil sands as the oil extraction process is extremely environmentally unfriendly. It’s no secret that the oil sands are a very important part of Alberta’s economy and that energy is an important part of the Canada-US relationship. Canada is the largest supplier of crude oil and refined products to the US, supplying about 20% of total U.S. imports -- in fact, Canadians export more oil and products to the US than we consume ourselves.
In response to yesterday’s story that Prime Minister Harper’s Conservative government will reach out to Washington on climate change, Alberta Premier Ed Stelmach made it clear that he won’t support any climate change deal that might cool investment in Alberta’s energy sector. He stated that Alberta must be included in any negotiations or pact to reduce greenhouse gas emissions because of the impact such actions would have on energy projects in Alberta.
All of this is very interesting. Certainly, it seems savvy to appeal to the clear US desire for energy security. However, Prime Minister Harper and Premier Stelmach can work to protect oil sands industry as much as they want, but if a market-based emissions trading system is developed, then renewable energy will absolutely need to fit into the mix. Ultimately, at the most basic level, producing synthetic crude oil from oil sands results in higher greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) than conventionally produced oil (and has been identified as the largest contributor to GHG emissions growth in Canada), while renewable energy results in negligible, if any, GHG emissions. So, if an emissions trading system is established by Harper and Obama, high polluters like oil sands developers will need low polluters for balance. And, better yet, clean energy offsets from Canadian sources is a win for Canada.