White House aligns with Canada, Mexico on emissions plan

Source: Amanda Reilly, E&E reporter • Posted: Thursday, June 30, 2016

The White House today formally announced an “action plan” with Canada and Mexico to address climate change that goes beyond this week’s earlier announcement that the three nations will draw 50 percent of North America’s power from no carbon sources by 2025.

The United States, Mexico and Canada committed to further boosting clean energy, curbing heat-trapping refrigerants and joining an international mechanism to reduce the aviation sector’s carbon footprint.

The nations also laid out how they plan to reduce methane emissions from the oil and gas sector.

The three countries also reaffirmed a commitment to formally join the Paris climate agreement this year. In December 2015 in Paris, more than 190 nations agreed to limit global warming to 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit warming to 1.5 C.

“North America has the capacity, resources and moral imperative to show strong leadership building on the Paris Agreement and promoting its early entry into force,” President Obama, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto, who are all in Ottawa, Ontario, for the North American Leaders’ Summit, said in a joint statement.

“We recognize that our highly integrated economies and energy systems afford a tremendous opportunity to harness growth in our continuing transition to a clean energy economy,” the leaders said.

The three countries had been expected to announce a suite of climate actions at this week’s summit (ClimateWire, June 29).

Earlier this year, Obama and Trudeau announced a bilateral agreement on climate change that included an emphasis on reducing methane emissions from the oil and gas sector. Methane is a greenhouse gas that’s more than 25 times as potent as carbon dioxide (Greenwire, March 10).

On Monday, White House senior adviser Brian Deese announced that the leaders of the three North American countries would commit to powering half the continent from nonemitting sources, including hydropower, wind, solar and energy efficiency, by 2025 (Greenwire, June 27).

Today’s announcement formalizes that agreement. As part of it, the three countries are placing an emphasis on cross-border transmission projects that have historically been hard to site.

The three nations announced a host of other clean energy goals, including aligning appliance and equipment efficiency standards.

The nations said they would work to reduce energy consumption from motor vehicles through accelerating the use of efficient vehicles in government fleets and aligning ultra low-sulphur diesel fuel and heavy-duty vehicle emissions standards by 2018.

North American countries also agreed to work together through the International Civil Aviation Organization to reduce aviation greenhouse gas emissions.

Today’s action plan also calls for big reductions in short-lived climate pollutants, including methane.

“Short-lived climate pollutants such as methane, black carbon and hydrofluorocarbons are up to thousands of times more potent than carbon dioxide,” Obama, Trudeau and Nieto said in the statement. “Common sense actions to reduce these pollutants will deliver significant climate and health benefits in the near term and into the future.”

The three countries will aim to reduce methane emissions from the oil and gas sector between 40 and 45 percent by 2025.

Today’s plan commits the nations to issuing regulations that would limit emissions from both new and existing sources in the industry. In the United States, U.S. EPA has already issued regulations over new sources and is working on limitations for existing industry equipment.

The North American countries also said they supported efforts to reduce emissions of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), an ozone-depleting refrigerant that is also a potent greenhouse gas. All three nations said they would domestically promote alternatives to refrigerants that contain HFCs.

Paul Bledsoe, a former climate official in the Clinton administration, applauded the agreement among the three big fossil fuel users and said it signaled anxiety about the long-term market viability of fossil fuels.

But he said that the national policies will go furthest.

“It’s the national policies, as always, that matter most,” Bledsoe said. “So, does the U.S. increase in an energy tax bill next year under, say, President [Hillary] Clinton, tax incentives for renewable energy? Do they strengthen the financing in production, investment incentives for carbon, capture and storage?”

Former Secretary of State and Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton has called climate change a significant issue on the campaign trail. On the other hand, Republican candidate Donald Trump has said that he would seek to undo the Paris climate agreement and Obama administration regulations.

Speaking to reporters today, Deese said that the president was not worried about his climate legacy if Trump is elected.

“If you look at what the private sector is doing, you look at what other countries are doing, there is a significant move toward clean energy, that momentum is going to continue,” Deese said, according to White House pool reports. “We are going to do whatever we can to reinforce that and try to offer the certainty that companies need to make those investments and create those jobs.”