Friday, March 11, 2016

US and Canada Agree on Climate Action and Arctic Protections

US President Barack Obama and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau agreed on an ambitious climate action plan that includes efforts to protect the Arctic. The official visit of Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to the White Hose set the stage for some poetic political theater. As the greenest President in US history nears the end of his term, he symbolically passes the torch to a young leader who is full of hope and promise. Despite the optics this meeting cannot be reduced to merely symbolic rapprochement between the two nations. We have not seen this level of agreement between Canadian and American leaders since Brian Mulroney and Ronald Reagan's so called "Shamrock Summit" in 1985.

This is the first time in almost two decades that a Canadian head of state has gone to the US on an official visit. The degree of climate harmonization between the US and Canada is unprecedented for the two nations. "The issues that are important to him and to me are climate change," Trudeau said.

After seven years of strained relations with the former Conservative Prime Minister climate Luddite Stephen Harper, Trudeau was welcomed as a breath of fresh air. Obama noted that ties between the two nations are now closer than ever. Trudeau referred to the new relationship with Washington as a "nice alignment". The mutual respect the two men shared was evident. Obama sang the praises of the Canadian leader saying:
“On the world stage, his country is leading on climate change and cares deeply about development, so from my perspective, what’s not to like?”

Trudeau lauded Obama for his climate leadership and spoke of the need for a "clean and prosperous future,” then he added, “Canada and the U.S. will stand side by side to confront the pressing needs that face not only our two countries, but the entire planet.”

This means that the two leaders will not only work on climate action in their own nations, they will also strive to garner the support of other nations particularly those in the G20 and the Arctic.  

As explained in a White House Statement:
"The two leaders regard the Paris agreement as a turning point in global efforts to combat climate change and anchor economic growth in clean development...They resolve that the United States and Canada must and will play a leadership role internationally in the low carbon global economy over the coming decades, including through science-based steps to protect the Arctic and its peoples."
The Arctic

In the rapidly warming Arctic there is to be greater cooperation between the US who is the current leader of the Arctic Council and Canada the former leader. The deal includes Arctic protection and research projects. One of the chief concerns is Arctic shipping. The Arctic's ice-free summers will radically increase shipping traffic and the Joint Statement agrees to protect the Arctic from "commercial activities" including oil and gas drilling. The statement explicitly states that Arctic commercial activities should be based on "scientific evidence." Specific initiatives include helping indigenous communities cope with climate change and efforts to reduce the amount of heavy crude used in the Arctic.

There will be a high-level summit in August that will focus on temperature increases, sea ice loss, permafrost thaws, wildfires, changing weather patterns and sea-level rise.

Methane and other GHGs

The climate plan calls for a 45 percent reduction in joint methane emissions in the oil and gas industry. They also agreed to work together to protect the warming Arctic. Methane is both potent and a fast growing source of climate change causing greenhouse gas. The US and Canada are both in the top five nations in the world in terms of methane emissions. So it stands to reason that cutting methane is one of the single most important things we can do to combat climate change.

At the end of last year the new government in the Canadian oil producing province of Alberta put forward a climate action plan that included a 45 percent reduction in methane levels compared to 2014 levels within the next decade. Through the EPA Obama has also proposed methane reductions, he recently upping the ante by proposing the same target and the same time frame but compared to 2012 levels.

Canada and the US have also agreed  to “align approaches” to assessing and communicating the social cost of greenhouse gas emissions. They will align measures to reduce GHGs including a regulatory process to achieve their emissions reductions pledges.

Carbon Markets

Both heads of state agreed to promote North American carbon markets and the White House statement also suggested the two leaders would try to consolidate existing regional carbon markets.

Trudeau's meeting with Obama is not about the pomp and circumstance of an official visit, nor is it about the rock star allure of the young Prime Minister. What makes this meeting memorable is that it produced an historic climate plan. This is more than just a symbolic agreement between two neighboring countries. This is a plan that touches on some of the most important issues and includes concrete goals and objectives. The final details of the plan will be unveiled by the end of this year.

Click here for the joint statement

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