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View of the Syncrude oil sands extraction facility near the town of Fort McMurray in Alberta Province, Canada on October 25, 2009. (MARK RALSTON/AFP/Getty Images)
View of the Syncrude oil sands extraction facility near the town of Fort McMurray in Alberta Province, Canada on October 25, 2009. (MARK RALSTON/AFP/Getty Images)

JANET PEACE

How Canada and the U.S. can lead together on climate change Add to ...

Senior vice-president of policy and business strategy at the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions, a think tank based in Arlington, Va. She is also a member of the Council of Canadian Academies on oil sands environmental technologies.

Collapsed prices, a looming recession, calls for a development moratorium, halting federal action on emissions – the oil sands are under pressure on many fronts. In a week-long series, contributors have offered their views on how Canada’s energy sector can move forward in a changing world. Today’s final instalment: alignment.

With fossil fuel production going strong on both sides of the border, Canada and the United States face similar challenges in balancing energy and economic priorities with the urgent need to reduce climate-altering greenhouse gas emissions.

By sharing solutions, many of which are rising up from the state and provincial level, both countries have the opportunity to not only craft a national approach, but also show real leadership as we work toward a new global climate agreement later this year in Paris.

At one time, governments in both countries sought to contain greenhouse gas emissions by enacting economy-wide cap-and-trade programs. But neither materialized, and the national targets the two have announced ahead of Paris rely heavily on subnational policies.

While U.S. emissions generally have been trending downward, as lower-priced natural gas has displaced coal in power production, steeper reductions require mandatory limits on power plant emissions, as President Barack Obama’s administration has proposed. But implementation of the administration’s Clean Power Plan will fall largely to the states.

In Canada, meanwhile, emissions are rising and oil sands-related emissions could double over the next decade if development continues at projected rates. Similarly, getting a handle on Canadian emissions will be largely a provincial matter – resting heavily, in this case, with the new Alberta government.

One of the great virtues of promoting climate action at the subnational level is that it allows for policy experimentation and innovation. Both countries should draw on these lessons as they move toward economy-wide approaches that can achieve greater emission reductions at lower cost. And they should work to better align their respective efforts.

Here are some specific ideas:

First, as more states and provinces turn to carbon pricing to curb emissions, we should forge stronger links among those systems. Ten U.S. states have carbon trading programs. Others may soon follow suit as they look for promising paths to meet their Clean Power Plan emissions reduction targets.

Quebec’s cap-and-trade program is already linked with California’s, and Ontario will soon join them. British Columbia has a carbon tax and Alberta just announced it is extending its carbon-intensity-based pricing system. By setting a clear timeline for a gradual price rice, Alberta is signalling that the value of taking action will increase over time.

Second, the two countries should co-operate on reducing emissions from growing oil and natural gas production. Mr. Obama’s administration is expected to propose a mix of regulatory and voluntary strategies to reduce methane emissions from the oil and gas sector. It’s essential that the United States and Canada set the right example for other major energy producers around the world.

Third, both should strengthen and more closely co-ordinate efforts to develop and deploy carbon capture and storage (CCS) technologies. Even with dramatic increases in renewable power, the world will continue to rely on coal and natural gas to generate electricity, making CCS key to any plausible strategy to reduce global emissions.

Canada has established itself as a leader with the world’s first commercial-scale, coal-fired power plant with CCS – Boundary Dam in Saskatchewan. The United States is working on its first CCS power plant in Kemper County, Miss. But the first two examples of any new technology are going to be expensive, and we’ll need greater support for CCS to build more commercial scale projects and drive costs down. Alberta has been a strong supporter of CCS. Now is the time to continue and even step up that investment.

Fourth, Canada’s abundant hydro resources can be a boon for both countries. The U.S. and Canadian electricity grids are linked through dozens of connections and more than a dozen states already import a significant amount of Canadian hydro. A recent C2ES study found that importing hydro from even a modestly sized new Canadian project (250 megawatts) could help states reduce power sector emissions. For example, California, Massachusetts and Washington state could each get about a third of the way toward their proposed Clean Power Plan targets.

Canada and the United States are blessed with abundant resources and vibrant economies. Both have the opportunity to show global leadership in dramatically reducing the emissions that are warming our planet and risking our environment and our economies. With the right mix of national and subnational policies, and by working together, the two countries can enjoy strong, sustainable growth while fulfilling the commitments they make in Paris.

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