The Current

How this expert says Canada could benefit from Biden's climate plan

Joe Biden’s climate change plan could be an opportunity for Canada to sell its southern neighbour the goods it needs for its “clean energy future,” says the head of an energy think tank at Simon Fraser University.

Canada could deliver 'green, clean' energy to U.S., says Clean Energy Canada CEO Merran Smith

Merran Smith is the executive director of Clean Energy Canada, a think tank based out of Simon Fraser University in B.C. She says Canada needs to send a 'clear signal' about its energy plan if it wants to be a leader on climate. (Merran Smith)

Story Transcript

Joe Biden's climate change plan could be an opportunity for Canada to sell its southern neighbour the goods it needs for its "clean energy future," says the head of an energy think tank at Simon Fraser University.

"Canada actually has a lot of green, clean energies and things that the United States wants,"  Merran Smith, executive director of Clean Energy Canada, told The Current's Matt Galloway.

She cited Canadian companies that are producing electric vehicles as one example, and added that 82 per cent of the country's electric grid is powered by sources that don't create emissions.

"That's the signal the U.S. is sending — they want to buy clean, low-carbon products. And we're here next door to them and could be delivering them."

U.S. President Joe Biden has signed a series of executive orders, including some addressing climate change, since taking the reigns at the White House earlier this month. (Evan Vucci/The Associated Press)

Since his presidential inauguration earlier this month, Biden has rapidly signed an array of executive orders, including some aimed at tackling climate change. 

On Wednesday, the U.S. president announced he is pausing new oil and gas leases on federal land and cutting fossil fuel subsidies. Another one of his orders makes climate change a national security priority.

The measures mark a significant change in policy direction from former Republican president Donald Trump's administration, which sought to maximize U.S. oil, gas and coal output by removing regulations and easing environmental reviews. 

While Biden's move has been praised by environmentalists, it has also earned backlash from the oil industry.

Patrick Payton is the mayor of Midland, Texas. He says wants to see a bigger conversation about making energy affordable and available as people move toward alternative energy sources. (Helen Sledge)

Division over U.S. climate plan

In Midland, Texas, where oil and gas are the backbone of the local economy, Mayor Patrick Payton worries the conversation around energy doesn't address how to achieve alternative energy sources.

He added that he's open to conversations about the transition to clean energy.

"What we're tired of is being told that fossil fuels are the enemy of mankind," Payton told Galloway. 

"So let's calm the rhetoric a little bit, and let's finally sit down and say, through the use of fossil fuels, how do we move forward … with an abundance of energy that's cheap, reliable, plentiful and available to everyone as we move forward and get to alternative energy sources?"

Others argue Biden is already trying to make that conversation a reality. 

Climate scientist Michael E. Mann, who works at Penn State University, said Biden doesn't want communities to be left behind in the transition to clean energy.

"Part of the problem is that the rhetoric coming from those who don't want to move on is, for example, 'We've got to get people at the table,'" Mann said. 

Michael E. Mann is a climate scientist and works at Penn State University. (Joshua Yospyn)

"Well, that's what Joe Biden is doing. He is working with Congress."

Smith said now is the time for Canada to think about its energy plans, too.

"The Trudeau government has done some good things on climate: put in place a carbon price, the coal phase out, a clean fuel standard," she said. "But we have been very slow to really pick up the pace on transitioning to the clean energy economy."

She said if Canada wants to be a leader on climate, it needs to "send a clear signal" about the direction it is moving in. That means making investments in green energy, and putting policies in place to support that, she said.

Transportation is one area Canada could focus on, Smith said.

"A quarter of our carbon pollution in Canada comes from transportation…. And Canadians actually want electric vehicles," said Smith. 

"What the problem is, is the supply. So we need some policies for the government to take action to create a zero-emission vehicle mandate."

Canada could also focus on how to make key industries like mining and manufacturing clean, she said.

"If you've got the right policies, you know, the transition happens. But it doesn't happen without government support, clear policy signals, clear investment timelines and milestones," said Smith. "And that's what we need."

Written by Kirsten Fenn, with files from CBC News. Produced by Lindsay Rempel and Paul MacInnis.


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