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“Three Amigos” Summit Can Spur North American Climate Action

Leaders of the United States, Canada and Mexico heralded a new phase in continent-wide collaboration on climate and energy at the June 29 North American Leadership Summit in Ottawa. For the first time, President Barack Obama, President Enrique Peña Nieto and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau have put together an aligned and comprehensive set of climate and energy priorities.

The scope of these new initiatives is broad -- covering common climate action targets and domestic policy integration in the electricity sector, transportation, short-lived pollutants and international policy – and detailed. We have rarely seen multiple countries come together to produce as specific a work plan on climate and clean energy cooperation.

The pledge to strive for 50 percent clean power generation by 2025 may be the most noteworthy among the “Three Amigos” announcements. As of 2013, the three nations combined for around 37 percent clean power generation. Based on International Energy Agency (IEA) estimates, that would increase to around 40 percent by 2025 under current policies, and to around 45 percent once the impacts of the Paris Agreement’s Nationally Determined Contributions and newer policies like the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan are taken into account. Achieving 50 percent clean power generation across the continent will require a higher level of ambition than the three countries have previously targeted.

Increase Initiatives and Incentives

To meet the 50 percent goal, which would be roughly consistent with limiting warming to 2 degrees C (3.6 degrees F), the three countries will need to increase existing initiatives and incentives promoting deployment of clean power and prioritizing energy efficiency. All of these approaches are addressed in the leaders’ announcements. Cross-border cooperation will also be paramount. The announcements highlight international transmission projects, which have the potential to significantly increase the movement of clean power across North America. Grid modernization will be a key component to hitting the target.

The summit announcement also addressed methane, a potent greenhouse gas for which North America is responsible for over 10 percent of the total global emissions and that contributes up to a quarter of man-made global warming. In March, the U.S. and Canada agreed to reduce methane emissions from the oil and gas sector by 40 percent to 45 percent by 2025. At the summit, Mexico joined that pledge, presenting an opportunity to exploit the tremendous potential to achieve low-cost methane reductions from its oil and natural gas sector.

Methane isn’t the only so-called short-lived climate pollutant covered by the announcement. Canada and Mexico have both committed to join the U.S. in taking steps domestically to regulate and reduce the use of hydrofluorocarbons, or HFCs, used primarily as refrigerants. The fastest growing greenhouse gas, HFCs are thousands of times more potent as a warming agent than carbon dioxide. While all three countries have worked for years for a global agreement on phasing down HFCs using the Montreal Protocol, it hasn’t happened yet. In the meantime, the willingness of North American countries to pursue early action sets an important example internationally.

Transformative, Economy-Wide Changes

Finally, the commitment to tackle emissions from light- and heavy-duty vehicles is also significant. The United States, Canada and Mexico agreed to align fuel efficiency and/or greenhouse gas emissions standards for these vehicles by 2025 and 2027, respectively, and to do the same for air pollutants. This is a positive step that closely corresponds with the recommendations that WRI and partner institutions from across the continent offered before the summit.

There is still more work to be done to realize the promise of the Paris Agreement to limit warming to well below 2 degrees C, or even 1.5 degrees C (2.7 degrees F). The three countries announced that they will put forward mid-century, low-carbon plans later this year. It is imperative that these plans take into account the kinds of transformative, economy-wide changes that will be necessary to achieve net zero carbon dioxide emissions around mid-century, in line with the Paris Agreement goals.

Continent-wide agreements like the one from the Ottawa summit are an important step. Sharing a common vision for the future, President Obama, President Peña Nieto and Prime Minister Trudeau have taken strong, cooperative action that can help to lock in more ambitious North American climate action for years to come.

NDC, climate

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