Energy & Environment

UN conference is opportunity to renew climate change partnership with Canada

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With the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP21) in Paris fast approaching, speculations about its outcomes continue to grow. One key question that looms large is: Can we count on North America — the U.S. and Canada, specifically — to step up and be an earnest partner this time?

{mosads}Earlier this month, Canadian Natural Resources Minister Jim Carr said that he intended to launch negotiations with the United States and Mexico on a continental energy and climate accord while in Paris. It’s a promising sign. The global community has long called on the U.S. and Canada to stop stalling and make real, binding commitments to reduce emissions. North America is the second largest carbon-dioxide emitting region of the world, trailing only China. The U.S. and Canada also rank among the top countries globally for per capita carbon dioxide emissions.

Unlike our neighbor Mexico, which ratified the Kyoto Protocol in 1993, neither the U.S. nor Canada has agreed to its emission reduction targets or been especially ambitious with emission reduction plans. While there have been progressive moves by British Columbia to implement a revenue-neutral carbon tax and efforts by Ontario and Québec to phase out coal-powered electricity, emissions in Canada continue to rise with extraction and production of oil sands. Here in the U.S., the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) developed a rule to limit carbon emissions from electric utility generating units, but Congress continues to consider legislation to override it and ban the enforcement of carbon limits on power plants.limits on power plants (H.J. Res. 67 and S. 1645, Sec. 417).

But there are signals that COP21 could be the moment when both countries shed their “split personalities” on climate change. The election of a new government in Canada marks a promising opportunity for the U.S. and Canada to be stronger allies in this fight. President Obama’s rejection of the Keystone XL oil pipeline did nothing to damper relations U.S.–Canadian relations, contrary to some pundits’ predictions. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau remarked that the U.S.-Canada relationship “is much bigger than any one project,” and new Liberal Government House Leader Dominic LeBlanc noted that the decision provided an opportunity to “reset the relationship” so that the two nations could work more constructively against the global threat of climate change. What’s more, Trudeau has pledged to focus on climate change, reform environmental regulation, phase out subsidies to the fossil fuel industry and increase investments in clean technology. The Obama administration, likewise, has established a strong agenda for climate change, provided incentives for clean energy, and released groundbreaking policies like the EPA Clean Power Plant Rule. On top of that, millions of people in both nations are embracing the emphatic message from Pope Francis that addressing climate change is a moral obligation.

Now is the time to align our countries’ efforts to realize more efficient and effective outcomes. We can create stronger links among the states and provinces that will ultimately deliver on many of our national greenhouse gas emissions goals. California and Québec already have linked cap-and-trade programs via their agreement for “The Harmonization and Integration of Cap-and-Trade Programs for Reducing Greenhouse Gas Emissions,” and Ontario is soon to join.

Partnership opportunities also exist in the development and implementation of new technology related to energy production, especially as related to commercial scale, power-generating carbon dioxide capture and storage projects. Canada recently opened the world’s first carbon-capture project (Boundary Dam) in Saskatchewan and has another planned in Alberta, while the U.S. has two carbon-capture projects under construction in Mississippi and Texas, with two others planned. Encouragingly, a recent study by ICF International reported that industry could cut Canada’s methane emissions by 45 percent by adopting currently available emissions-control technologies and operating practices — and at relatively low cost after initial capital investment.

The U.S. and Canada must work together to realize these and other outcomes. We can develop and align regulations, carbon financing, and market-based approaches. We can leverage government spending on and incentives for clean energy infrastructure. We can lead by example to decarbonize our electricity supplies. We have the resources, ingenuity and talent to be global leaders in responsibly addressing climate change. We only have to find the will.

With the Trudeau government’s interest in making real progress on reducing carbon emissions, the U.S. has the chance to work with Canada to address the global threat of climate change. COP21 is an opportunity we cannot afford to miss to ensure a more secure and sustainable future for all.

Rodewald is director of conservation science at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, faculty fellow at Cornell University’s Atkinson Center for a Sustainable Future, an associate professor in the Department of Natural Resources at Cornell University, and a Robert F. Schumann Faculty Fellow. Views expressed in her column are hers alone and do not represent those of these institutions.

Tags Canada Climate change France Paris Paris Climate Change Conference U.N. U.N. Climate Change Conference U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change UNFCCC United Nations

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