Friday, February 20, 2009

Obama talks clean energy with Harper during Canada visit

Barack Obama speaks with Stephen Harper on Thursday. Photo:

US President Barack Obama met with Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper yesterday during his first presidential visit to Canada.

He spoke of a "Clean Energy Dialogue" between the US and Canada, devoted to "confronting the threat posed by climate change." The two main points were investment in carbon capture and storage technology to help negate the effects of US coal and Canadian oil, and the development of a more efficient electric "smart grid" across the US and Canada to deliver clean renewable energy.

While the talks have generally been seen as a positive step in terms of pushing US and Canadian green policy forward, there is concern from environmentalists that too much attention and money is being focused on reducing the negative effects of fossil fuels rather than developing new clean technology.

Carbon capture and storage involves capturing carbon emissions at the source and storing them deep underground. At the end of last year, the CBC obtained a ministerial briefing document highlighting the difficulties in effecting successful carbon capture and storage technology in Alberta's oilsands.

However, Obama was keen to stress that carbon capture and storage was just one solution. "Right now, there are no silver bullets to solve all of our energy problems. We're going to have to try a whole range of things," he said. "That's why sharing technologies, sharing ideas, sharing research and development is so important."

Harper has long faced criticism for his perceived lack of interest in the environment and continued support of oil companies operating in Alberta.

Matthew Bramley, director of the Pembina Institute's climate change program, argued that yesterday's talks were just a small step for Canada towards a successful green policy.

"Canada won't be ready for real cooperation with the US until it puts much more credible climate policies on the table," he said.

"President Obama appears on track to move the US aggressively into the clean energy economy of the 21st century. For example, the US stimulus package finalized this week outspends Canada's on renewable energy and energy efficiency by six to one, on a per capita basis.

"Canada is already falling behind the US on climate action, and Prime Minister Harper missed an important opportunity today to catch up - or to actually make Canada a leader."

To see the full Clean Energy Dialogue, click here.

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