With the election of Barack Obama, Canadian politicians seem to be taking the initiative in raising the issue of future climate change policy in North America. The situation is a complicated one, particularly given tensions between climate change mitigation objectives and aspirations for energy security. A further complication arises because of overlapping jurisdictions. US states, Canadian provinces, and regional initiatives are all working on climate change mitigation. To some extent, this federal government-to-government bid seems designed to supplant that. Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon has expressed the hope that a Canada-US deal could “provide uniformity and supplant the patchwork of plans that are being implemented in various states and provinces.” While uniformly good policies would certainly be a step forward, there is the distinct danger that more innovative and committed jurisdictions will be forced down towards mediocrity, and that time will be wasted as reorganization occurs.
In the end, the oil sands are both a huge financial temptation and a hugely sensitive regional issue. How they end up being treated will have a lot to do with the extent to which national governments are willing to consider overall societal welfare, as opposed to the more volatile interests of specific groups, as well as the degree to which either government is willing to bear political risks in order to achieve their existing mitigation targets. I don’t think it can be realistically argued that current oil sands policy is anything other than selfish and reckless. That is on account of both the near-term ecological damage arising from oil sands extraction and refining, as well as the long-term climatic threats associated with using such dirty fuels.
One element of the Globe and Mail reporting is rather misleading. It says that “the oil sands are comparable to conventional sources of oil, if the companies implement so-called carbon-capture-and-storage technology.” It is a bit laughable to say that two things are comparable, provided an entirely untested technology is instantly deployed in a widespread fashion. Particularly given the falling price of oil, the possibility that oil sands extraction with carbon capture and storage has the potential to be a low-carbon and economically attractive source of energy seems very dubious.