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Canada-US relations, energy security, and the road to net zero by 2050

April 10, 2022
Monica Gattinger

The widespread power outage in Texas in early 2021 was a devastating reminder of the importance of energy security. So was the spring 2021 ransomware attack on the Colonial Pipeline, a line that supplies half the gasoline to the US east coast. And the Russian invasion of Ukraine has focused attention squarely on the security of oil and gas supplies in global energy markets. Like the ubiquity of energy in advanced economies, people don’t stop to think how pivotal energy security is to their lives until they don’t have it. While none of these security crises occurred as a direct result of policies to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, they are important wake-up calls about energy security. And events like Texas and Colonial may become more frequent and intense in Canada and the United States if decision-makers aren’t attentive to security imperatives on the road to net zero emissions by 2050. Reliable, affordable energy will be crucial to secure and maintain political support for emissions reductions. It will also be crucial to enable businesses to pursue emissions reductions and maximize prosperity. In short, policy approaches that attend to both climate and energy security imperatives will be paramount in the years ahead.

Ottawa and Washington are both committed to net zero. They are also committed to working together on climate. But their collaboration agenda scarcely mentions energy security. This follows a trend over the last twenty years of energy security slipping further and further off bilateral agendas as a result of the “shale revolution,” which transformed the US from hydrocarbon poor to hydrocarbon-rich, and the ascendance of climate on political and policy agendas. Both developments knocked energy security ever lower on bilateral policy agendas. This is a big gap in Canada-US relations. This paper outlines why, documents how security slid off bilateral agendas, and identifies key opportunities for Canada and the US to collaborate on energy security in the decades ahead. The Russian invasion of Ukraine will no doubt see the return of energy security to the bilateral energy relationship, but it will be paramount that collaboration around security of oil and gas supplies in global energy markets advances security and emissions reductions objectives.

Key findings

  1. The rise of shale oil and gas production, along with the increasing salience of climate change on political and policy agendas, has weakened attention to energy security in Canada-US relations.
  2. But the Canadian and US governments’ commitment to net zero emissions by 2050 will require focused attention to security. Without reliable and affordable energy sources, it will be difficult to secure ongoing public, investor and political support for emissions reductions.
  3. Growing electrification of energy systems, the evolving role of oil and gas in energy systems, the need to rapidly scale up production and supply chains for critical minerals, and more frequent extreme weather events due to climate change will challenge energy security in new and unprecedented ways. So will the Russian invasion of Ukraine, which has focused attention on the security of oil and gas supplies in global energy markets against the backdrop of growing global alignment on net zero by 2050.
  4. Although the Roadmap for a Renewed US-Canada Partnership gives scant attention to energy security, there are multiple opportunities to integrate it into the bilateral collaboration agenda. Three key areas merit attention.

Three key areas

  1. Canada and the US could collaborate on planning, including producing joint energy outlooks and coordinating infrastructure planning and builds.
  2. They could collaborate on innovation and trade, including producing reliable, affordable, and carbon/cost competitive oil and gas for domestic and global markets, electricity trade to reduce emissions while strengthening reliability and affordability, security of critical minerals supply, and low or zero-emissions vehicles.
  3. They could work together on regulatory reform, public and investor confidence in infrastructure decision making, and inclusive net zero decision making.

This paper is part of the North American Colloquium (NAC), a collaborative venture between the Autonomous National University of Mexico, University of Toronto, and University of Michigan. Established in 2018, the NAC brings together leading academic analysts and practitioners from Mexico, Canada and the United States to address key social and policy issues facing all three countries. Each year, the three partner universities select a theme, and one serves as the host to convene joint activities throughout the year.