North American Climate Compact great for Clinton, perhaps not so much for Canada

Tuesday Hillary Clinton shocked Canadians by coming out against the Keystone XL pipeline. The other shoe dropped Wednesday as she proposed a North American Climate Compact. America’s neighbours should be wary.

North American Climate Compact

Hillary Clinton, Democratic candidate for presidential nomination.

Many thought Clinton would support Keystone XL. She’s said in the past that if Gulf Coast needs 2.7 million barrels a day of heavy crude oil, they may as well buy it from Canada. And she was Secretary when State released generally favourable reviews of the project.

But Clinton is the leading candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination now, which means an entirely different set of political calculations.

For instance, how far can she really stray from Barack Obama’s aggressive climate change agenda without creating backlash within her party? Obama has always been frosty toward Keystone XL and Alberta’s oil sands. He is almost certain to deny it a permit within the next few months.

Much of the big money for Clinton’s campaign will come from donors tied to the environmental movement, including billionaire Tom Steyers, who has pledged to support Democratic candidates that toe the climate change line. No surprise, Steyers tweeted enthusiastically about Clinton’s anti-Keystone XL decision.

North American Climate Compact

VP Joe Biden, who is mulling over run for president.

And let’s not forget that Clinton’s support has been slipping of late. A recent Washington Post-ABC News poll showed that among Democratic women, once thought to be a solid base for her, Clinton slipped from 71 to 42 per cent, a stunning reversal for the presumptive frontrunner. Democratic socialist candidate Bernie Sanders and VP Joe Biden, considering a run, are both polling in the low 20s compared to Clinton.

She needed a bold, decisive move and the North American Climate Compact is it.

With one stroke she has both cozied up to Steyers et. al. and left the door open for more compromise and accommodation with Canada and Mexico, details to be negotiated after she becomes president.

North American Climate Compact

Tom Steyers.

The timing is interesting because Canada is nearing the end of a grueling two and a half month general election campaign, and Clinton’s announcement immediately catapulted energy and climate change to the forefront.

Canada is under fire on the global stage for its perceived inaction on climate change and Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s aggressive support for Keystone XL and other oil sands pipeline projects. A North American Climate Compact could provide much needed political cover for whichever party emerges victorious on Oct. 19 to silence critics and still somehow protect the Canadian energy industry, which is critical to the national economy, but especially so in the Western provinces.

The key question for Canadian politicians is, can they trust the Americans?

If Hillary Clinton is anything like her Democratic predecessor, Canadians would do well to count their fingers after the presidential handshake.

For instance, several months ago Obama launched the ambitious – and vigorously opposed by many states – Clean Power Plan, which aims to lower GHG emissions from the power generation sector by 32 per cent by 2030.

The plan is nothing short of a war on coal.

North American Climate Compact

President Barack Obama during his recent tour of Alaska.

Except that it’s not clear that American coal production – which weighs in at a staggering 1 billion short tons annually – will actually decline. Coal export terminals are under construction on the West Coast to ship American coal to Asia, which is building coal power plants with wild abandon. The International Energy Agency forecasts that global coal consumption will rise from 7.5 to 9 billion tonnes in the near future.

You can bet some of that increase will be due to American coal exports.

Is Obama really pro-climate change if he cuts domestic coal use, but then ships more coal to Asia? Isn’t he just exporting GHG emissions?

One more example. Obama has sharply criticized oil sands crude for having a 12 to 15 per cent higher carbon intensity than the average American crude. “Dirty oil,” he calls it, echoing his eco-activist supporters. And he muses about the environmental damage oil sands production causes.

North American Climate Compact

Bill McKibben, founder of 350.org.

But he recently approved Royal Dutch Shell to drill in the Arctic off of Alaska, to the great dismay of environmentalists like Bill McKibben of 350.org, who said, “It is very difficult for Barrack Obama or anybody else to say, ‘look we take this completely seriously, this is the greatest problem the world’s ever faced but it’s OK to go ahead and start drilling a whole new oil field up in the Arctic.’ Those two things are at odds.”

And let’s not forget that Obama oversaw the enormous expansion of American oil production during his presidency.

Barack Obama has spoken out of both sides of his mouth about energy and climate change over the past seven years. Sure, climate change is an issue near and dear to his heart, but he’s also a politician who needed the jobs and economic activity created by the energy sector’s remarkable growth.

Can Canadians – or Mexicans, given that they’re busy reforming their energy sector and inviting in foreign oil companies for the first time – expect Hillary Clinton to be less calculating?

Should they enter into a North American Climate Compact, only to discover a President Clinton using it to advance American interests without much reciprocity for Canadians?

Or should Canada press forward with pipeline projects to both its East and West coast in an effort to reach more domestic consumers and Asian markets?

Is Canada better served by more integration into a North America market or by diversifying its customer base?

That really is the key question for Canada.

If Clinton is anything like Obama, Canadians should be very cautious about her North American Climate Compact idea. Her flip flop on Keystone XL is likely just the beginning.