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OBAMA VISIT: Canada, U.S. to open clean energy 'dialogue'

TheStar.com: Allan Woods & Tonda MacCharles - February 19, 2009

http://www.thestar.com/article/590043

OTTAWA—Canada and the United States intend to work together to catapult environmentally friendly technologies into action as a way to meet their shared goals of cutting emissions from dirty energy sources in both countries.

Cabinet-level officials in Ottawa and Washington have been tapped to push ahead results and techniques for pumping carbon dioxide emissions underground before they escape into the atmosphere and to collaborate on a smart grid that will send electricity more cleanly and cheaply across the border.

The agreement appears aimed as much at reducing greenhouse gas emissions in North America as engaging some of the world’s other dirty economies as U.S. President Barack Obama seeks to assert his leadership on the global warming stage.

“I think the clean energy dialogue is an extraordinary beginning because right now there are no silver bullets to solve all of our energy problems,” Obama said after meeting with Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

“We’re going to have to try a whole range of things and that is why sharing technology, sharing ideas, sharing research and development is so important.”

The plans are focused on mitigating pollution from existing energy sources, particularly from Alberta’s oilsands and America’s vast coal deposits which are responsible for much of the greenhouse gas emissions in North America. The two governments will draw on the funds each set up for clean energy in their respective stimulus packages.

Environment Minister Jim Prentice, who will lead the file for Canada, said work on the “smart” energy transmission grids will also have impacts on the use of renewable energy such as hydroelectricity.

The agreement is seen as the first step toward the eventual harmonization of Canadian and American environmental regulations to limit greenhouse gas emissions, though Harper said it was “rather early” to make such a jump.

In actual fact, it’s more like a first date between two very complex individuals, said Prentice, who has been pitching a continental system to cap greenhouse gas emissions and trade carbon credits.

“It’s unrealistic to think that at the first meeting we’d come up with a complex cap and trade system,” he said.

Still, Obama said he wants to move quickly, within the first year, to establish U.S. credibility on the environment. Countries meet in Copenhagen, Denmark in December to negotiate a successor climate agreement to the Kyoto Accord.

“The more that within this hemisphere we can show leadership the more likely it is that we can draw in countries like China and India whose participation is absolutely critical for us to be able to solve this problem over the long term,” Obama said.

For his part, Harper appeared to breathe a sigh of relief on an issue where he has been pilloried as a climate change denier in league with former U.S. president George W. Bush.

“I’m quite optimistic that we now have a partner on the North American continent that will provide leadership to the world on the climate change issue and I think that’s an important development.”

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