At the North American Leaders Summit this past Wednesday, Obama, Trudeau and Nieto met in Ottawa to discuss a variety of initiatives ranging from the TPP, economics, and even the monarch butterflies. However, for our purposes, I’m only covering the environmental policy and how it affects us. The trio was hit with positive press for the days to come due to their partnership (even though the TPP is a touchy subject) and particularly after their awkward handshake; the social media-sphere blew up.
Photo Credit: NPR
The three nations made it a top priority to strengthen and renew their trilateral relationship in order to ensure a clean and prosperous future for North American citizens. During the summit, the leaders stressed their common commitment to a competitive, low carbon and sustainable North American economy and society. This summit is a result of the Paris pledges made by each country as they discuss to find the means to execute their targets. Environmentally, a number of initiatives were discussed such as methane reductions, advancing clean and secure power, promoting clean and efficient transportation, protecting nature and advancing science, displaying global leadership and finally protecting the migratory monarch butterfly.
One of the more ambitious commitments by each country is that clean energy will become 50% of the power of supply by 2025. According to the Prime Minister’s Office, this will be accomplished primarily by scaling up clean energy through aggressive domestic initiatives and policies, creating and collaborating on cross border transmission projects, and a trilateral collaboration on greening of government initiatives. The picture below will show that Canada’s main source of energy derives from hydro; with America and Mexico’s main source of energy coming from fossil fuels, at 68 and 82 percent respectively. I understand that these are 2012 numbers, but for Mexico, who already isn’t known for being particularly politically stable, their quick acceptance to lower their reliance on fossil fuel by 32 percent and use another type of non-carbon energy source makes me hesitant. Furthermore, Pena Nieto’s approval rating is at a record low the past few months because of corruption scandals and concerns over the Mexican economy. For Mexico, these problems need to be addressed as soon as possible before changes can occur; at least the leaders can see the urgency as the commitments are aggressive initiatives and policies, but following through on commitments is a different thing entirely.
Image Credit: The Toronto Star
Each country has agreed to reduce short lived climate pollutant amounts in the atmosphere. Climate pollutants in this category include black carbon (soot), hydrofluorocarbons and methane, each of which is thousands of times more potent than carbon dioxide. At the summit, the leaders had agreed to reduce their methane emissions by 40 to 45 percent by 2025. In order to achieve this goal the three countries will commit and implement federal regulations to reduce emissions from existing and current sources in the oil and gas industry. Canada had further pledged to continue to collaborate with America and Mexico in order to commit to reducing their black carbon and hydrofluorocarbon amounts. Reducing methane gas emissions is fantastic; according to EPA, currently methane is the second most prevalent greenhouse gas, making up 10.4% of America’s emissions. Currently, 60% of global methane emissions are manmade, despite a decreasing trend over the past decade. Also, environmentalists compare global warming impacts of different gases by using a term known as The Global Warming Potential. It is a measure of how much energy the emissions of one ton of gas will absorb in a period of time. Carbon dioxide has a rating of 1, methane is 28-38. Yeah, let’s go America, Mexico and Canada, let’s drop our methane emissions.
The countries’ commitments to promote green and efficient transportation are something I haven’t seen anywhere else. Most policies I read about address ground transportation, cars and trucks specifically. The initiatives proposed at the summit include planes, trains and automobiles. Canada, US and Mexico will commit to reducing greenhouse gas emission on light- and heavy-duty vehicles by 2025 and 2027, respectively. Furthermore, the countries will commit to aligning their air pollutant emission standards for light- and heavy-duty vehicles and corresponding low-sulphur fuel standards beginning 2018. Canada will also encourage greener freight transportation throughout North America by expanding the Smart Way program into Mexico. Aviation will enter a market based measure proposed by the International Civil Aviation Organization to allow for carbon-neutral growth from international civil aviation by 2020.
Another big initiative, that the public seems to have a large interest in, is the conservation of the species habitat, particularly the Monarch butterfly. The three countries have committed to ensuring that sufficient habitat is available to support the 2020 target for the Eastern Monarch population. This will be achieved by promoting sufficient breeding, staging, mitigation and overwintering habitat is made available domestically to support the 2020 Eastern Monarch population. This protection, I find is important simply because of the pollination capabilities that the butterflies hold, especially considering they cross country borders.
Protection of migratory birds and their habitat is also a big initiative, even though there doesn’t seem to be much physical efforts being done by the governments. They only seem to mention collaboration and exchanging information on how best to protect migratory birds. Finally, aquatic migration will also be addressed, in a much similar way that the governments are addressing the bird migrations: through collaboration and “recognizing the importance of climate services, robust observations and modelling networks for mitigation and adaptation efforts.” However, there does seem to be some action whereby the countries will enhance conservation and restoration of wetlands.
I like this collaboration; I don’t think that any of these environmental policies necessarily will harm anyone. I say harm and not better people’s lives because of the environmental and political transition necessary in Mexico. As I mentioned earlier, Nieto’s presidency is riddled with fraud and corruption allegations. Mexico is going from 80% fossil fuel reliance down to 50% (assuming it keeps with the average) while increasing their renewable energy amounts as well and all of this in 13 years. Even for Canada, this is aggressive; I never hear a program taking at least a decade to complete. Even our Paris Pledge is due by 2030. America’s part is influential, for obvious reasons: they’re our neighbours, our air is their air. However, Mexico is quite a distance away, in terms of visible benefits to the average Canadian citizen; I don’t really see if there are any. That being said, Canada and America’s efforts to help a developing country’s environmental policy are admirable and should not be sneered at. I’m all for this cooperation despite our immediate benefit. Like I said before, tackling climate change is a global effort, its cooperation like this that helps us move forward. Lastly, Mexico isn’t like Canada or the US, I don’t expect that they will commit their limited funding to protecting the butterflies when they have the drug war to deal with and keeping their citizens employed, fed and healthy. I do hope for the best regardless.