President Obama and Canadian Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau re leased a joint statement on ‘Climate, Energy, and Arctic Leadership’ (Photo: Creative Commons)
On March 10, the US and Canada released a joint statement on ‘Climate, Energy, and Arctic Leadership’. The statement outlined how the two nations were cooperating to be leaders in the low carbon economy, and implementing their Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) as part of the Paris Agreement signed at the end of 2015.
As the US has been experiencing pushback from a Republican-controlled Congress, President Obama is calling on international cooperative pressures to ensure that the Paris Agreement is upheld, as well as his Clean Power Plan, which intends to close a number of coal-fired power plants around the US.
The joint statement was released just before the Obamas hosted earlier this month, an official dinner honouring Canadian Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, and his wife, Sophie Grégoire-Trudeau, publicly bolstering the partnership between the two nations.
A major focus of the environmental goals had to do with methane, the greenhouse gas that is up to eighty times more potent than carbon dioxide, and has been known to leak, sometimes into groundwater supplies, through the controversial natural gas extraction process known as ‘fracking’, or hydraulic fracturing.
“Ahead of the meeting, a joint statement on environmental cooperation announced that the US and Canada would cut methane emissions by 40-45% below 2012 levels, by 2025.” The environmental relations between the two nations had been contentious during the tenure of former PM Stephen Harper who wanted to expand Canada’s oil industry, when President Obama rejected the Keystone XL pipeline, which would have moved tar sands oil from Alberta, Canada, down to refineries in southern Texas.
Obama has gravitated more towards the new PM’s familiar message of ‘hope and change’ and the two leaders align on many issues, particularly those regarding environmental protection and climate change. As Obama’s time in office comes to a close, and Trudeau’s term only just beginning, solidifying the relationship and maintaining measurable goals to force down GHG emissions is a very important step before the US votes its next leader into office, which some fear could be a climate sceptic who intends to dismantle the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) altogether.
When it comes to reporting emissions, nations have very different methods of collecting data, which can impact their accuracy. “Given the integrated nature of many aspects of the US and Canadian economies, alignment of analytical methods for assessing and communicating the impact of direct and indirect GHG emissions of major projects, and of measures to reduce those emissions, can be mutually beneficial.”
For such major emitters, streamlining data collection can make all the difference in maintaining reliable figures to report to the UNFCCC (United Nations Framework Conventions on Climate Change) and showing the world that they are committed to the new low carbon economy.
On the issue of clean energy, the nations pledged to enhance efforts to: facilitate the integration of renewables on their interconnected grids, align energy efficiency standards and expand shared labelling programs (i.e. Energy Star for appliances), accelerate clean technology innovation, advance global efforts to fast-track clean energy, and develop an joint US-Canadian strategy for strengthening the security and resilience of the North American electricity grid.
The final facet of the Agreement regarded the Arctic, citing the specific importance of protecting indigenous peoples and their culture. “Arctic communities rest on the territories of Indigenous peoples, who possess a wealth of knowledge, distinct ways of life, and a richness of cultural diversity.”
The four objectives for the Arctic were laid out as follows:
conserving Arctic biodiversity through science-based decision making with national goals of protecting at least 17% of land areas and 10% of marine areas by 2020;
incorporating Indigenous science and traditional knowledge into decision-making;
building a sustainable Arctic economy through low-impact shipping corridors, maintaining an abundance of arctic fish by preventing the opening of unregulated fisheries, and a so-called
‘science-based approach to oil and gas’ citing appropriate preparation and emergency response measures;
supporting strong arctic communities by respecting the rights and territories of indigenous peoples.
In all, the newly solidified partnership was a success, and puts forth a clear path for the two nations to move forward on their climate commitments. Around the world, many countries do not feel a strong push to work towards their INDCs if they do not see major polluters doing their fair share.
The statement also touched on improving the environmental performance of heavy-duty vehicles, reducing HFCs (hydro fluorocarbons), and exploring an innovative carbon market.
Leadership changes can change the course a nation has charted, but international cooperation can put pressure on new leaders to uphold promises made by their predecessors. Obama is doing all he can to stay on track to reduce the emissions of the US, the world’s largest per capita polluter, before he leaves office and the fate of those promises lies in the hands of another leader.
Sarah Sakeena Marshall, B.S. Environmental Policy