NAFTA & Values

With all the storms ranging on, it is hard to focus on anything else. And it is always hard to focus on trade law – it is the kind of thing that makes most people’s eyes glaze over from boredom and/or confusion. I have to admit, I wish I knew more economics so I could better understand the complexities of creating sound trade policy.

The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) has been a thorn in Trump’s side since he first decided to run for office. Throughout his campaign he loved referring to it as “the worst trade deal every made.” This trade deal – between Canada, the US, and Mexico – is intended to create a free flow of goods (and to a lesser extent workers) throughout the North American continent. It is an impressive trade deal and served North American people since the early 1990s.

Trump’s problem with NAFTA seems to stem from his attitudes toward Mexico. Indeed, he recently admitted that he never even thinks about Canada. In speaking with President Nieto of Mexico back in January, Trump said that trade with Canada and the US “has been much more balanced and much more fair. So we do not need to worry about Canada, we don’t even think about them.” Nice sentiment. I believe him.

Well, he is thinking about Canada now. NAFTA talks are in progress and Canada has three issues on the table: the environment, gender, and indigenous rights. The Globe and Mail editorial staff wrote about this approach and has come out against fighting for gender and indigenous rights to be part of NAFTA. I disagree. Human rights are often tied to trade and many countries use trade (or sanctions) as a way to encourage countries to adopt human rights. Gender and Indigenous rights are human rights. Canada is on the moral high ground to ask its neighbours for trade that is fair to women and Indigenous peoples.

In terms of the environment, the Globe asks “should Canada go to the wall on this issue?” In a word: yes. We have to. We simply have to. The North American continent needs more cooperation on environmental issues and a big-picture understanding of how the economy and the environment are one-in-the-same. If Trump wants to lower emission standards and pollution standards in the US, it should not be to the disadvantages of Canadian business who are required to step-in-line with Canada’s climate change commitments. Mexico is on the same page as Canada for the most part (keep in mind it is still a developing country and its commitments under the Paris Protocol are dramatically different).

It is difficult for me to resist linking the hurricanes, climate change, and NAFTA. It is impossible for me to resist saying that Canada has to stand firm on energy policy and emission standards in trade deals. I think the people of Texas and Florida might also agree.

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Canada is Committed to Paris (V. Nader)

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Minister of Environment and Climate Change announces $72 million in funding for building a more sustainable Canada. Source.

Last week we discussed how the Government of Canada reaffirmed its commitment to the Paris Accord at the G7 meeting, and boy have they done so! This past week, on June 23rd, the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change joined forces with the Federation of Canadian Municipalities to tackle the issue of climate change. They announced that they are providing $72 million of funding for 48 projects in communities across Canada to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and overcome other climate change obstacles. Catherine McKenna, the Minister of Environment and Climate Change, tweeted the exciting announcement:

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This initiative, which McKenna spearheaded, is very significant, especially after the G7 meeting, because it proves Canada’s high level of commitment to safekeeping the environment. The following tweet shows McKenna’s belief, that although the US has stepped back from the Paris Accord, Canada maintains its strong dedication to climate change action:

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These projects are conducted via the Green Municipal Fund which is “a unique program that provides funding and knowledge services to support sustainable community development. GMF-supported initiatives aim to improve air, water, and soil, and mitigate the impacts of climate change.”

The investment supports capital projects, pilot projects, feasibility studies and plans in Canadian municipalities that will improve the environment. There is a comprehensive list on the announcement page of the capital projects and pilot projects which will receive funding. Some examples of the pilot projects that will take place in Ontario include a bike share program in Hamilton, an electric vehicle charging stations for Canada’s largest net-zero energy neighbourhood in London, and a collaborative project, called TransformTO, that will engage the community to reduce GHG emissions in Toronto.

The ambitious goal of TransformTO: Climate action for a healthy, equitable, prosperous Toronto is to reduce GHG emissions in Toronto by 80% by the year 2050. How does the City of Toronto propose to achieve this? Well, they have delivered two reports which outline how. The first, which was released in December of 2016, discusses “short-term strategies to keep Toronto on track to meet its 2020 target of a 30% reduction in GHG emissions” and the second, which was recently released in May of 2017, considers “a long-term approach to reducing emissions by 80% by 2050 while also improving health, prosperity and equity.” One of their five short-term strategies is to support energy efficiency in buildings. A method they are using to accomplish this can be seen below:

This excerpt from the report reveals that providing resources for property owners in Toronto will help reduce greenhouse gas emissions because owners will be fully equipped and have incentive to make necessary changes. This will result in a reduction of 185,000 to 415,000 tonnes of CO2 in Toronto by 2020.

The other four of five short-term strategies outlined in the report are as follows:

  1. Raising the bar for new construction & community energy planning:             Continue to elevate the energy performance of new buildings trending towards net-zero energy through the Toronto Green Standard, while also integrating community energy planning and neighbourhood-scale energy solutions.
  2. Advancing sustainable transportation:                                          Encourage the shift towards sustainable methods of transportation, which promotes active living and reduces human health risk.
  3. Leading by example:                Accelerate investment in low-carbon technologies and processes across City-owned facilities and operations. Through the Tier II policy for capital projects, energy efficiency retrofits, renewable energy projects and employee commuter options, the City will demonstrate leadership in curbing carbon emissions by strategically managing its own assets. The City will also implement its long-term waste management strategy which is designed to minimize future carbon emissions from waste.
  4. Engaging and collaborating with stakeholders:                                                       Support effective inter-divisional collaboration and work closely with the community, local utilities, and other levels of government.

2014 GHG emissions Pie

As seen in the pie chart above, buildings, followed by transportation, are the largest contributors of GHG emissions in Toronto, so their short-term strategies will be highly effective as they provide solutions for these areas.

As noted in The Canadian Environment in Political Context, “in 2011, Canada’s population was 33.5 million, a whopping 81 per cent lived in an urban area.” This means that cities will, naturally, emit the most GHG emissions due to high populations – according to a UN study, world’s cities are responsible for up to 70 per cent of GHG emissions while occupying just 2 per cent of its land – therefore it is imperative for cities to take action against climate change. I think the funding for environmentally friendly projects in Canadian municipalities will truly help cities take action and successfully reduce Canada’s carbon footprint significantly. Moreover, this initiative is an example of the federal government influencing urban development and policy, because although the Canadian federal government does not manage urban land – as it is left entirely to the provinces and municipal governments – the funding provided by the federal government for projects in cities across Canada impact urban development.

This is great news for Canada’s environment, and the global environment, because this initiative will effectively reduce GHG emissions. The total cumulative anticipated GHG reduction of the capital projects announced is over 310,000 tonnes of CO2, which is approximately equal to removing 71,000 cars off the road annually. It is blatant that Canada takes its commitment to the Paris Accord seriously and is becoming an environmental leader in the global community. Perhaps we are trying to serve as an example to our neighbour…

 

The G7 Rejects U.S.’ Desire to Renegotiate Paris Agreement (V. Nadar)

 

 

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Canada’s Minister of Environment and Climate Change reaffirms Canada’s commitment to the Paris Agreement at the G7 Ministerial Meeting on Environment Source: NewEurope

In continuation of last week’s post about the 43rd G7 meeting, the G7 Environmental Ministers and European Commissioners responsible for environment and climate met for the G7 Ministerial Meeting on Environment in Bologna, Italy between June 11 – 12, 2017. The Ministers from the G7 countries, less the United States in light of their withdrawal from the Paris Accord, came together to reaffirm their commitment to the 2030 Agenda and achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG’s).

The goals of the 2030 Agenda are “to end poverty and hunger everywhere; to combat inequalities within and among countries; to build peaceful, just and inclusive societies; to protect human rights and promote gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls; and to ensure the lasting protection of the planet and its natural resources. We resolve also to create conditions for sustainable, inclusive and sustained economic growth, shared prosperity and decent work for all, taking into account different levels of national development and capacities.” The seventeen SDG’s can be seen below:

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Source: WeForum

In the issued Communiqué, which outlines the meeting and its initiatives, it discusses how the G7 countries will fulfill their obligation to the Paris Accord. The first being achieving the long-term goal of “limiting global temperature increases to well below 2°C, pursuing efforts to limit the increase to 1.5°C” and, secondly, “jointly mobilizing US$100 billion annually by 2020 from public and private sources to support climate action in developing countries.”

However, the footnotes of the Communiqué show the U.S’ unwillingness to cooperate. It states “We the United States of America continue to demonstrate through action, having reduced our CO2 footprint as demonstrated by achieving pre-1994 CO2 levels domestically. The United States will continue to engage with key international partners in a manner that is consistent with our domestic priorities, preserving both a strong economy and a healthy environment. Accordingly, we the United States do not join those sections of the communiqué on climate and MDBs [multilateral development banks], reflecting our recent announcement to withdraw and immediately cease implementation of the Paris Agreement and associated financial commitments.”

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The U.S. refuses to commit financially to the Paris Agreement because President Trump believes it is economically disadvantageous for their country. Funnily enough, on the same day of the conference, Trump did not release a single tweet about the conference, but rather tweeted a Fox News article which announced the opening of the first coal mine during Trump’s presidency. The article discusses how the mine may bolster the local economy in Pennsylvania.

I find the US statement hilarious because the reduction of the CO2 footprint was an outcome during Obama’s presidency and it was a result of a shift from coal to natural gas energy for which he heavily advocated. Due to this shift, in 2013, “energy-related carbon dioxide emissions actually declined 3.8% in 2012 even though the U.S. economy grew 2.8% that year, according to data by the U.S. Energy Information Administration, the statistical arm of the Department of Energy.”

Unfortunately, Trump’s encouragement of coal energy will most definitely not ensure the preservation of a healthy environment and it will increase their C02 footprint to post-1994 levels.

In great contrast, Catherina McKenna, Minister of Environment and Climate Change Canada, released multiple tweets from the conference which showcased her enthusiasm for reaffirming Canada’s commitment to the 2030 Agenda and threw some shade at Trump. Some of her tweets can be seen below:

 

Catherine McKenna also expresses through her tweets her displeasure at the aforementioned footnote left by the U.S. and she rejects Trump’s desire to renegotiate stating that “Paris agreement is not open for renegotiation although we are in the phase of negotiating the rules.”

What does this mean for the environment? Well, as mentioned earlier, the U.S’ reintroduction of coal energy will reverse all of the previous administration’s efforts to lower CO2 emissions and will be detrimental to their environment. For Canada, our environment will improve because McKenna is dedicated to the Agreement and, as her tweet suggested, there may be a price on pollution and ameliorated policies to combat climate change.

US and Canada Environmental Relations

Here is an article my MA student Katie Valentine wrote about Trump-Trudeau relations vis-a-vis the environment. The piece is entitled “We’ve researched the end of the U.S.-Canada climate bromance.” It was originally published by Fusion and then picked up by Grist. She interviewed me for the piece, as you will see.

Yes to Kinder Morgan: No to Northern Gateway (Pipeline Politics)

In a long awaited decision by the Liberal government, Justin Trudeau finally announced that his government is APPROVING the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain Pipeline.

As the map from CBC illustrates, this pipeline runs from Edmonton to Burnaby. Essentially it takes bitumen from Alberta and carries it through the Rocky Mountains to the Pacific Coast where it can be loaded onto huge tankers for shipping.

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This is obviously not good news for the environment on so many fronts – especially climate change and endangered species (or soon to be endangered species).

The Trudeau government is also approving Line 3 – which is really a replacement for an existing pipeline from Hardisty to Lake Superior in Wisconsin, as shown in the CBC map below.

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Justin Trudeau also announced that his government is rejecting the Northern Gateway pipeline. As the CBC map below shows, this is the pipeline that runs from Edmonton to Kitimat – cutting through the Great Bear Rainforest.

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Trudeau is rejecting the Northern Gateway pipeline because “the Great Bear Rainforest is no place for a pipeline.” Interesting that he is invoking an environmental reason to reject to this pipeline – since the other pipelines also run through ecological sensitive areas for wildlife and plants.

This is a big day for pipeline politics in Canada. It is hard to see how climate change is a top priority for a government that just approved two major pipeline projects – both of which rely on further exploitation of the dirty bitumen in Alberta, and both of which rely on oil tankers to move oil across important bodies of water.

Ontario + Quebec +… Mexico = CC Agreement?

According to the Globe and Mail, the provincial governments of Ontario and Quebec have signed an agreement with Mexico on climate policy. Why wouldn’t Canada sign the deal? Good question.

As pretty much every chapter in The Canadian Environment in Political Context explains, federalism means divided and shared powers between two or more levels of government. In Canada, the Constitution divides power over environmental issues between the provinces and the federal government. With regard to natural resources and energy, the provinces have the bulk of the power (see Chapter 8 specifically). Essentially, the federal government cannot make climate policy because the federal government does not have jurisdiction over natural resource extraction on provincial lands. It cannot regulate CO2 emissions from sources it cannot control. (The US government is similar, but their federal government found a loop hole – it declared CO2 a toxic chemical and regulates it under federal chemical legislation).

Ontario’s provincial government has power to make policy regarding Co2 (and other emissions) inside the province. Quebec’s provincial government has the same power. Both provinces have adopted fairly stringent climate policy. They have also created an agreement – with the state of California – to engage in cap and trade together. They can trade permits to emit CO2 between the provinces and states.

Okay, so today, Ontario and Quebec signed an agreement with Mexico. What does that mean? It means that companies or industries that produce CO2 in Ontario or Quebec can purchase emission-reduction credits in Mexico. Sounds complicated, right? Imagine if a cement manufacturing company in Ontario wants to emit more CO2 than it has permits (or permissions) to do so. The company would either have to buy another permit OR it can reduce emissions in Mexico somewhere to offset its emission in Ontario. The company in Ontario pays an emitter in Mexico to keep the fossil fuel in the ground. That means overall in North America, emissions go down. They might rise in Ontario and go down in Mexico. They might rise in Quebec and go down in Ontario… or California…or Mexico. The CAP goes down over time – that means that emissions have to go down. More fossil fuels stay in the ground. But it can uneven… here or there.

What are we doing about HFCs?! (A. Koundourakis)

Diplomats from around the world are meeting this week in Vienna with a goal to ultimately decrease the use of a potent greenhouse gas: hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs). This meeting is a huge step forward for the Montreal Protocol, where 200 countries are trying to iron out the finer details on the agreement to cut the use of HFCs used in heating and air conditioning by amending the ozone protection treaty that was signed in 1989. HFCs, under the Montreal Protocol, were outlined as a substitute for the ozone depleting chlorofluorocarbons in 1987. However, unluckily, HFCs are about three times as potent as the world’s current annual out of carbon dioxide between now and 2050. The mandates issued out by the meeting to reduce HFCs could strengthen the Paris Climate Agreement and move the Montreal Protocol into the 21st century.

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This meeting has introduced initiatives to replace HFCs with more climate and environmentally friendly alternatives which are estimated to avoid a rise of 0.5C by 2100 and 0.1C by 2050. In order to achieve these targets, each country has agreed to continue using the Montreal Protocol’s Multilateral Fund (MLF) – it’s a mechanism through which donor countries helped developing countries phase out CFCs and other ozone destroying and climate damaging chemicals – and to provide sufficient additional financial resources to help countries meet new HFC commitments. There is also a way to ensure that certain exemptions are available as the phase downs proceed. This addresses the fear that alternatives won’t be ready for use when the phase down limit kicks in. These alternatives have usually been a point of contention in the past, pretty much because it is hard to universally agree on particular alternatives for something. One example is HFO-1234yf, this is a hydrofluoro-olefin. Essentially they are hydrogen, fluorine and carbon atoms with at least one double bond between the carbon atoms. To give you a picture of how much better HFO is than HFC, I’ll use their Global Warming Potential, which compares the impacts of different gases on global warming. HFCs have a GWP of 12-14,000. HFOs have a GWP of 4.

Countries such as India and China are now joining the US, Canada, Mexico, the EU and others at the negotiating table. One country that a lot of my resources like to commend is Saudi Arabia, which had usually been a past obstacle. I’m sort of suspicious that Saudi Arabia has joined the coalition mostly because their money originally came from oil. Perhaps they see that oil isn’t their future anymore. I’ve been reading a lot of articles in the past about Saudi Arabia having to adapt and change with non-oil trends. So I get the impression that their interests have changed. China, which is the world’s largest HFC producer, has moved forward with a proposed timeline. North America, India, the EU, several Island States and African groups have offered timelines as well to help lower HFCs in their respective atmospheres.

The goal is to get as close as possible to a final deal, so that the ministers can close the remaining gaps this week and in the months ahead, sign the HFC phase down amendment to the Montreal Protocol in Kigali this October. On Friday and Saturday this past week, ministers have convened for a high level “Meeting of the Parties”, where they developed the specific language of the HFC amendment and built four existing proposals and solutions. Steve Yurek, president of the Air Conditioning, Heating and Refrigeration Institute, said that updating the Montreal Protocol is one of the rare cases in which the industry appears to welcome new regulations. He also noted that updates to the Montreal Protocol will create predictability for producers and manufacturers.

This is good. I’m happy that we’re addressing HFCs instead of CO2 this week. Usually, most people think of CO2 when they think of climate change, but it’s a myriad of gases that contribute to global warming. CFCs are much more potent that CO2, so addressing it this week is particularly important for consumers and producers of refrigeration products. I’m delighted to see that countries are negotiating together for a better and cleaner world. I’m still reluctant to jump on the bandwagon and praise the coalition simply because it is politics and things change, but there remains a cautious joy. I hope that the countries are able to implement phase downs and I hope that they provide incentives for consumers to reduce their current HFC use. There are so many different alternatives to so many of the things we already do that it doesn’t necessarily come down to the government, but it comes down to us. Negotiations look good so far and we just need to wait. Good luck.

A Year of New Beginnings (by U. Khan)

The 2016 edition of the Social Progressive Index ranked Canada as the second best country in the world, behind only Finland. Canada did very well in the categories of Basic Human Needs, and Opportunity. There is work to be done however, especially in terms of environmental quality. Canada ranked 32nd in the world in terms of environmental quality, worse than every other G7 country except the United States. As we celebrate another Canada Day, it is time to review the last year and see where progress was made was made in terms of environmental policy and where opportunities were lost.

The timeline of this past year essentially began on August 2nd, 2015, when Prime Minister Stephen Harper called a federal election. The longest election campaign of Canadian history led to various promises by the different parties. The winning Liberal Party under Justin Trudeau promised sweeping changes in terms of Climate Change and the environment. Their plan included a proposal to invest $100 million more each year in terms of clean energy, and increasing government use of clean energies. It also included a proposal to invest $200 million each year to support innovation and the use of clean technologies in the natural resource sector. Politicians however often times have a short memory when it comes to campaign promises. Fear not, as there is a great source to check the progress of the government on its campaign promises. The website TrudeauMeter.ca contains various promises made by the Liberal party in their party platform during the 2015 election. According to this website, in the 243 days in office, the government has only achieved 32 out of the 219 things it promised to do. It has broken 18 of its promises, and has yet to start on approximately half (106) of its promises. In terms of the environment, 3 out of 28 proposals have been completed and 12 more are in progress. The only promise broken by the government in regards to the environment is the plan to remove subsidies for the fossil fuel industry. To the government’s credit, they are in the process of following through on the two proposals regarding investment in clean energy. It is important to note that the result of this election had an enormous impact not only on environmental policy but also on science policy in Canada. The federal government through its funding has a large role in research and development happening throughout the country. The promise of the liberal government to invest in research appears to be a positive sign for the future.

Arguably, the major environmental news story of last year was the COP 21 summit in Paris. The summit lead to a successful agreement between the 195 countries that aims to keep global temperature increases below 2°C. Canada also committed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 30% of 2005 levels by 2030. Amidst all the talk about policy, the government vowed to pursue new initiates that will utilize new technologies and new ideas developed to combat the problem of Climate Change. This plan includes investing in renewable energies in Africa, for which the government pledged $150 million. This plan is a great step for both Canada and the world in the fight against Climate Change and will lead to a better future. The policies of the government in relation to the COP21 summit were very encouraging from an environmental standpoint and demonstrate the government’s willingness to fight Climate Change.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau delivering his address at the COP21 summit in Paris. Source: Alian Jocard/Getty Images

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Another interesting approach taken by the liberal government was to alter the cabinet portfolios. The federal government changed the name of the Ministry of Environment to the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change. This is more than just a symbolic move; it helps to reaffirm Canada’s commitment to the issue of Climate Change. The government also renamed of the Ministry of Industry to Ministry of Innovation, Science, and Economic Development. By emphasizing the importance of science and innovation to economic development, this change shows that the government understands that science is crucial to any modern economy. It also supports the government’s claim of being in favour of increased spending on research and development.

The budget presented by the liberal government also turned out to be vastly different from the previous government. There was a lot of money allocated to scientific research and academia. Things from new infrastructure grants for universities, to funds allocated to spur innovation; showed that the government was keen to focus on development. Additional funding for the Tri-Council consisting of the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC), the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR), and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) was also increased by $95 million dollars and will help ensure cutting edge research is supported in Canada. All in all, the budget was pro-science and pro-innovation; two things that are necessary for the progress of any country.

 

Some of the other new initiatives are as follows:

  • Support for clean technologies
  • Providing $2 billion over two years to establish a Low Carbon Economy Fund
  • $82.5 million to Natural Resources Canada to support research and development of clean energy technologies
  • $19 million over 5 years to gather traditional aboriginal knowledge about the Arctic area
  • Investing $197.1 million over 5 years in Ocean and Freshwater research
  • Creating a $2 billion Post Secondary Institutions Investment Fund
  • $800 million over 4 years to support innovation networks, supporting initiatives under Industrial Research Assistance Program

Throughout this last year, there have been countless events that have changed the environmental and political outlook of Canada. The arrival of a new government has brought with it many new ideas, and a new optimism to try to solve problems. This can be seen through policy options created for the COP21 summit, transformed cabinet portfolios, and increased funding for research groups. The past year has been the starting point for a new beginning and the coming years will show us their impact. Maybe in the next year, Canada can claim the top spot in the Social Progressive Index ranking.

 

Three Amigos (By A. Koundourakis)

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.

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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.

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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.

US Coal & the Supreme Court

In the summer of 2015 the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced a new plan of action for climate change in the US. While it would be ideal for the US Congress (the House of Representatives and the Senate) to legislate climate change and create laws to address GHG emissions, Congress has not been able to pass regulation in its two chambers. This left President Obama, a leader committed to mitigating climate change, with little choice but to use the Executive branch (the bureaucracy – which he heads). The EPA, under the guidance of Obama, planned to cut GHG pollution from power plants – 30% below 2005 levels by 2030. The US has around 600 coal-fired power plants.

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30%? That is a lot! But it did not mean that power plants would have to immediately close-up shop. The EPA gave states a whole slate of policy options to reduce pollution from electricity generation. States could increase alternative energy (wind and solar are obvious choices) or states could join a national cap-and-trade program (as explained in the book in Chapter 8). And the EPA gave a generous timeline. Emissions reductions are due September 2022.

Last night, February 9th, 2016, the Supreme Court blocked the EPA’s coal regulations. This is a setback for Obama and for climate change. Read the New York Times piece.  The decision was a 5-4 split, which is not too surprising given the court has  4 “liberal” judges. However, the decision overall is surprising. To be clear – the Court did not decide the regulation is unconstitutional (and thereby “strike it down”) but instead issued a “stay” – or essentially, are halting the regulation until further analysis.

The question remains: Can the EPA circumvent Congress and regulate climate change? The Supreme Court hasn’t made a final decision – but it looks like it is willing to pause for consideration. Obama assumed this was totally within his repertoire of powers. And 18 states supported the EPA regulations (yeah, there are still 50 states – so far fewer than half).

The next step is for the Supreme Court to conduct a judicial review of the plan – and make a decision about its constitutionality. There is still hope for these regulations. But this set-back is echoing across the country and globally. Not a great start to 2016 and the American plan to meet its Paris Protocol commitments.