By Patrick Rucker
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Canada will do more in the global fight against climate change as the nation develops its vast oil sands resources and tries to win backing for the controversial Keystone XL pipeline, the country's energy minister said on Monday.
The proposed pipeline that would link oil sands fields in western Canada to Gulf Coast refiners should come in tandem with plans to curtail carbon dioxide pollution, said Canada's energy minister Joe Oliver after a meeting with U.S. Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz .
Canada had to join the fight against climate change as a global citizen and "to have the social license to continue to develop our resources," Oliver told reporters at the Washington embassy.
That conciliatory tone might ease relations with the White House, analysts said, but Canada will struggle getting the pipeline approved now that President Barack Obama's supporters have framed its rejection as essential to his environmental legacy.
"Climate change concerns are now at the heart of Obama's Keystone thinking and that's a problem since Canada is not living up to its own commitments on the issue," said Clare Demerse of the Pembina Institute, a clean energy think tank.
On Friday, Canadian media reported that Prime Minister Stephen Harper had recently made an overture to President Obama to win his backing on Keystone.
In a letter late last month, Harper suggested the two nations, who are neighbors and global allies, should coordinate their efforts to curb greenhouse gas emissions blamed for climate change.
Oliver would not comment on reports of the letter but he said the Canadian government could already boast about its efforts to curb emissions.
"We don't regard the proposed policies as concessions," Oliver said, referring to a plan to curb the use of coal in power generation and an unfinished plan to ease emissions from the oil and gas sector.
Early this year, officials said a detailed plan on limiting pollution from the oil and gas industry would come this summer but they have recently been noncommittal.
The Canadian government expects an increase in oil sands production to more than triple emissions from that source over 2005 levels by 2020 - erasing predicted gains from reductions in coal-fired power plants. (Full report: See http://link.reuters.com/dyz82v)
In 2009, the United States and Canada each promised to bring their greenhouse gas emissions to 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020.
But Canada is on track to miss that target, the government says, and Oliver offered no concrete plans on how policymakers would reach their goal.
"We intend to get there but we didn't say we're getting there instantly," he said on a conference call after the press conference.
In a climate policy speech in June, Obama said the $5.3 billion pipeline that would carry 830,000 barrels per day from northern Alberta to the Gulf Coast would only be approved if it "does not significantly exacerbate" climate change.
On past visits to Washington, Oliver has been an energetic booster for the project in public appearances and private meetings with lawmakers and other officials.
Oliver had a more subdued agenda on Monday with only a visit with Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz on his agenda.
"I haven't been given a timeline on a (Keystone) decision," Oliver said, noting that the State Department is reviewing the proposal.
The ministers discussed possible points of collaboration such as carbon capture and storage technology and electric grid reliability, DOE spokesperson Lindsey Geisler said by e-mail.
(Reporting By Patrick Rucker. Additional reporting by David Ljunggren in Ottawa, Valerie Volcovici and Timothy Gardner in Washington.)