News•March 10, 2016
U.S., Canada Pact Targets Lesser Known Climate Impacts
By John Upton
Just three months after the world united on climate action and reached a high-profile United Nations agreement in Paris to curb warming, the U.S. and Canada on Thursday announced a bilateral climate agreement.
The announcement was historically significant: both nations are in the throes of newfound commitments to protect the climate following decades of defiance in the face of calls for industrialized nations to slow global warming. The agreement also emphasized environmental protections in the Arctic, where melting ice is creating new opportunities for shipping and oil drilling.
U.S. President Barack Obama (R) shakes hands with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (L) during the arrival ceremony at the White House in Washington March 10, 2016.
Also of note is the agreement’s emphasis on lesser-known threats to the climate. The neighborly arrangement will see the North American fossil fuel heavyweights jointly tackle some of the most profound yet least-discussed climate problems vexing humanity.
Not surprisingly, the “joint statement on climate, energy, and Arctic leadership,” released by the offices of President Obama and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, outlines commitments to accelerate the growth of clean energy and to implement the Paris Agreement. But it also goes deeper into the gritty details of climate policy than that. Here’s how:
The U.S. and Canada committed on Thursday to reducing methane emissions from the oil and gas sector by 40 to 45 percent by 2025, compared with 2005 levels. To do this, both countries said they will begin regulating methane pollution from both new and existing wells and pipes.
“The EPA will be taking some immediate steps to fulfill that commitment,” EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy told reporters on Thursday.
Methane is a potent greenhouse gas that’s piling up quickly in the atmosphere, where it’s responsible for about a quarter of the warming being experienced globally. A recent Harvard University study estimated that U.S. emissions of methane increased 30 percent since 2002.
The livestock sector is a major source of methane. So too are landfills. But the main culprit may be the gas and oil sector, which releases methane when it drills for fuel, and when natural gas escapes from leaky infrastructure. And America and Canada are two of the world’s biggest oil and gas producers.
The most glaring holes in the Paris climate agreement are related to international shipping and aviation. Both are major polluters that often operate outside of the normal pollution jurisdictions of national governments.
A natural gas pipeline under construction in the U.S.
On Thursday, the U.S. and Canada said they would work together to plug one of these holes — that of the aviation industry. The industry is already one of the world’s biggest polluters, and its greenhouse gas emissions could quadruple by 2040, compared with 2010 levels.
The leaders of the countries will “work together and through the International Civil Aviation Organization,” a United Nations body headquartered in Montreal, to “reduce emissions from international aviation by fostering technological and operational advancements,” the joint statement said. They will plan to adopt a “carbon offset measure” this year for international flights.
“I see aviation emerging as the next big thing on the international agenda,” said Nathaniel Keohane, the Environmental Defense Fund’s global climate program leader. “The leadership from the White House and the Trudeau administration is going to be critical.”
Pollution from Trucks
Canada and the U.S. pledged to work together and with other countries “to encourage robust leader-level” commitments to improve the environmental performance of heavy-duty vehicles through the G-20, which is a forum of influential countries.
After the world agreed during the 1980s to radically curb the use of CFCs in refrigerants and spray cans to protect the ozone layer, many industries switched over to using HFCs instead. HFCs are chemicals that are friendly to the ozone, but, like CFCs, they are potent greenhouse gases.
Canada and the U.S. have both been working to reduce their use of HFCs in recent years. They have also been pushing for the Montreal Protocol — the treaty that phased out the use of CFCs — to be expanded to incorporate rules regarding HFCs.
Thursday’s announcement did not contain any new details in the fights against HFCs, but it said that both countries “affirm their commitment” to reducing the use and emissions of HFCs, and to adopting an HFC amendment to the Montreal Protocol this year.