Pembina Institute

The troubling truth about the Canadian government's efforts to derail U.S. climate policy

Did you ever think you'd hear a Canadian diplomat describe their job as ensuring the "oil keeps-aflowing?" Or that they'd call recommendations to clean up Canada's oilsands "simply nutty?"

You heard it this week.  Newly released documents obtained under Access to Information legislation reveal the Government of Canada is pursuing an orchestrated strategy to undermine U.S. efforts to combat climate change and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Correspondence obtained and released this week by the Pembina Institute reveals the Canadian Embassy partnered with industry to fight U.S. efforts designed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from high-carbon fuels. The e-mails reveal a general strategy to fight these efforts at the federal and state level.

These messages, coupled with other revelations by Climate Action Network last week, illustrate how the Canadian government is attempting to undermine climate and clean energy policies in the U.S., California and the European Union.

It's hard to say what is most troubling about these reports. Is it that Canadian diplomats are fighting U.S. climate legislation instead of supporting it?  Or is it that they are working with industry and not representing Canadian interests? It's also pretty concerning that the diplomats don't appear to acknowledge that reducing greenhouse gas emissions might actually be a good thing. 

The documents obtained by the Pembina Institute and the Climate Action Network report tell three stories: 

From 2007 to 2009 the Canadian government lobbied against a California clean energy goal to reduce the carbon intensity of California's transportation. The documents obtained by the Climate Action Network and Pembina reveal correspondence from the Government of Canada through its Ambassador and Natural Resources Minister actively opposing the effort.  And this is despite the fact oil imports from Canada are only two per cent of California's total.

Second, the Canadian government has also led a quiet campaign against a little known U.S. law that is geared to cleaning up the federal government's reliance on high-carbon fuels.  The law, a provision of the 2007 U.S. Energy Independence and Security Act known as Section 526, requires the U.S. government to buy fuels meeting an environmental performance standard that favours less carbon-intensive oil. Rather than identifying how Canada could comply with the law, the Canadian government fought the provision. Today and despite the Canadian governments lobby efforts, these provisions remain U.S. law.

And finally, the European Union is pursuing new policies to reduce greenhouse gases from transport fuels and to address air pollution. These policies will classify fuels, from higher carbon to lower carbon fuels. According to the Climate Action Network report, representatives from Foreign Affairs and Natural Resources Canada are weighing in against this policy. 

What is so revealing about these e-mails? On the one hand, it is not a surprise the Canadian government is actively promoting a major industry. But the e-mails do reveal that the Government of Canada has taken licence to actively fight policies that are designed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and fight climate change - quite the opposite to what a meaningful role in a Clean Energy Dialogue might look like.

It is a risky strategy that isn't working. These policies are still in place. Lobbying can't undo the reality that Canada's oilsands are more greenhouse gas intensive than conventional fuel and will be viewed as "dirty" unless and until they are cleaned up.

Some might ask whether the Canadian government is simply making trade arguments. This is a convenient distraction from what is really at stake here: Canada does not have a plan in place to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the short-term or even the long-term. None of these three efforts target and "ban" oilsands. Rather, they set a performance standard with an aim to use less carbon-intensive oil. It is no secret that oilsands production is estimated to be between 3.2 and 4.5 times as intensive per barrel as conventional crude oil. It certainly begs the question why industry and the federal government aren't rushing to meet the environmental performance standard rather than fighting it. 

And finally, these documents reveal the Government of Canada is working too closely with industry. The Government of Canada represents Canadians who want climate action and efforts to clean up oilsands. So they must balance interests - not pick one interest. Survey after survey shows Canadians want to see the Canadian government being proactive.

The urgency of climate change demands that countries do everything they can do to make deep reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. It is totally inappropriate for the Canadian federal government to be working against clean energy policies in other countries. We need all these policies and more to win the global fight against dangerous climate change.

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