top of page

Don't get roped into Clinton Climate Pact

Gordon Laxer

Edmonton Journal

October 7, 2015


Last month’s headlines said Hillary Clinton opposes the Keystone XL pipeline because it would move “North America’s dirtiest fuel.” Clinton’s take on Keystone matters, but the bigger story was largely ignored. If she wins the Democratic nomination and presidency, Clinton promises to immediately launch negotiations with Canada and Mexico to forge a North American Climate Compact.


Would Clinton’s compact be a good thing?


Clinton wants to see the United States lead the world by constructing state-of-the-art infrastructure in the transition to a clean energy economy and to ensure Americans’ security. To reach these goals, she contends that Washington needs a pact with its neighbours because the U.S. trades as much energy with Canada and Mexico as with all other countries combined through a deeply integrated pipeline network, rail system and electrical grid.


It’s easy to see why Washington wants a compact based on continental energy integration. Despite its recent surge in domestic oil production, the U.S. is forecast to still import one-quarter to one-third of its oil through 2035. Washington seems Canada and Mexico as much safer oil suppliers than the Middle East and Venezuela.


Naturally, Washington always speaks of energy security for Americans. Stephen Harper’s Ottawa also promises Americans energy security through continued massive exports of Canadian oil, mainly from Alberta’s oilsands. If both governments are looking after U.S. energy security, who is looking after Canadians? Canada imports a higher percentage of its oil (all into Eastern Canada) than the U.S. does.


Clinton envisages the continental climate compact setting strong national targets to cut carbon pollution. That would be a good thing as long as the targets are high enough and each country is free to find solutions unique to its circumstances. But her assumption that Canada’s greater energy integration with the U.S. would strengthen the battle against global warming is plain wrong.


Why would Canada want to tie its carbon-reducing plan with a country whose largest source of carbon dioxide emissions — one-third — are coal-fired electrical power plants? U.S. President Barack Obama’s paltry plan is to reduce dirty coal’s emissions by only 30 per cent by 2030. Ontario has already completely eliminated coal-fired electricity generation. In Canada as a whole, they will make up only six per cent of emissions by 2020.


Canada’s carbon emissions lie elsewhere. The production of oil and natural gas, not transportation, is Canada’s biggest source of greenhouse gases. Alberta’s oilsands are Canada’s fastest-growing source. Its growth is the main roadblock to meeting the target set by Canada’s House of Commons in 2008 and 2011 (and blocked by the unelected Senate) of cutting carbon emissions by 80 per cent from our 1990 level by 2050. Canada cannot do that as America’s gas tank.


If Canada phases out carbon energy exports, our country’s emissions will plummet.


Given the political power imbalances in North America, the U.S. would call the shots in a continental climate pact.


Where would that leave the growing number of Canadians pushing governments in Ottawa and the provinces to take serious climate action? There can’t be democracy without sovereignty.


Washington often doesn’t heed the wishes of American citizens. It doesn’t care what non-citizens in Canada and Mexico think, especially when vested interests like Big Oil, insist on watering down climate action.


Where democracy exists, it’s at local and national levels. There is no democracy beyond the level of countries. Certainly not in North America. That’s a major reason Big Oil favours continental pacts — to remove the influence of citizens in Canada and Mexico.


Herman Daly, former senior economist in the environmental department of the World Bank, noted that to globalize the economy by erasure of national economic boundaries through free trade and free capital mobility is to wound fatally the major unit of community capable of carrying out policies for the common good.


We should say no to Clinton’s continental climate pact, which would lock Canada into being a carbon energy exporter. To cut Canada’s carbon emissions enough, many Canadians are coming to realize we must phase out Alberta’s oilsands.

bottom of page