Canada Needs To Stop Turning the Conversation Back to Keystone

Imagine you have a neighbour who just won’t stop talking about the condos that a developer wants to build down the street. Every time you bump into him, he tells you one more time how great the project is going to be for the neighbourhood.

You’re less enthusiastic, but he’s relentless, so your run-ins with him are getting a little awkward. Even worse, you were actually hoping to enlist him to help you fix up the local park — but it’s hard to get a word in edgewise.

A little irritating from a neighbour. Even more unfortunate for a country.

But it’s not far off what’s been happening with Canada, the United States, and the proposed Keystone XL pipeline.

We all know that our federal government really, really likes the Keystone proposal, and never seems to miss a chance to plead its case in Washington. Recent media reports revealed that Canada and the United States are now talking about clean energy, with Canada’s federal government saying it hopes this kind of “alignment” will help its push for Keystone XL.

But it’s a good bet that what the U.S. actually wants to talk to Canada about is — wait for it — clean energy. A recent U.S. Department of Commerce study projects $7 trillion in global private sector investment in renewables from 2012 to 2030 — and identified Canada as the top export market for U.S. renewable energy companies today. (China, Brazil, Chile and Mexico round out the top five.)

President Obama has recently followed up on a scorching June 2013 climate speechwith regulations to curb power sector emissions. Across two terms, he’s made significant moves to bolster clean energy technologies. Meanwhile, his Secretary of State has made tackling climate change his personal priority for the U.S government’s work around the world.

Earlier this month, our Prime Minister had this to say about taking action on climate change: “No country is going to take actions that are going to deliberately destroy jobs and growth in their country.”

But what if a country believes its comparative advantage actually lies in solar panels, electric vehicles, or cutting-edge energy efficiency technologies?

If you see things that way, regulations that spur clean energy and boost energy efficiency sound more like a benefit than a cost.

And an international climate deal means more global demand for clean energy — which means growing markets for companies that deliver clean energy technologies and services.

Of course, the United States is still a very significant consumer and producer of fossil fuels (though it’s worth noting that U.S. oil demand is already dropping). But it’s increasingly evident that the White House sees a big upside to tackling climate change.

President Obama says he wants to cut greenhouse gas pollution to leave our children a safer and less volatile climate — but also, he says, because American ingenuity means his country will be among the winners in a global clean energy transition.

The good news is that Canada could have a place in the winners’ circle too.

Our 700-plus clean technology companies represent an $11 billion sector today, one that saw nine per cent growth between 2011 and 2012 (and 17 per cent the year before). Analysis from Analytica Advisors, a clean technology consultancy, foresees a thriving clean tech sector — larger than today’s Canadian aerospace industry — if we make some strategic moves to support its growth.

A 2012 study from global consultants McKinsey concluded that alongside the oil and gas we hear so much about, Canada is already global leader in hydro electricity and a potential leader in solar power and energy efficient buildings.

U.S. leaders have made it clear that they want to hear more about Canada’s plans for clean energy. During President Obama’s very first visit to Canada, he and Prime Minister Harper launched a cross-border Clean Energy Dialogue that’s still going strong. Speaking in Edmonton this month, Hillary Clinton called on Canada and the U.S. to work together to become global leaders in tackling climate change and making the transition away from fossil fuels.

Despite those encouraging signs, our government seems determined to turn the conversation back to Keystone XL — a proposal that, clearly, President Obama is in no hurry to approve.

In New York this month, Canada’s Natural Resources Minister said the key question is “how much the U.S. wants to get in on the economic action.” Of course, he was talking about oilsands exports.

The United States has exactly the same question for Canada — but it’s asking about clean energy.

This post originally appeared on the Huffington Post’s blog.


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