Superlatives for the U.S.-China Agreement on Climate Change, and what it Means for Canada

Media superlatives signal the importance of the surprising climate change announcement by the U.S. and China on November 11. President Obama pledged that the U.S. will emit 26 to 28 percent less carbon in 2025 than it did in 2005, and will double the pace of reduction it had previously targeted for the period from 2005 to 2020. China’s President Xi Jinping pledged to reach peak carbon emissions by 2030, if not sooner, and that clean energy sources would account for 20 percent of China’s total energy production by 2030.

See the White House press release and the White House Fact Sheet. For a summary of U.S. reactions, see the Blue Green Alliance at “What Leaders are Saying about the Historic Agreement”.

What is the impact in Canada? A Globe and Mail article stated that the agreement would put pressure on Prime Minister Harper to act on climate change, yet columnist Jeffrey Simpson wrote, “Leadership means a willingness to spend political capital on an issue, and in Canada’s case, there is no such leadership at the top. That this absence would suddenly shift as a result of a China-U.S. understanding is improbable in the extreme”.

Alberta’s new premier Jim Prentice announced that the province will “stiffen” its regulations for fossil fuel extraction. “It’s the desire of Alberta to be participatory in any sort of international agreement that we can arrive at, modeled on what the United States and China have been able to achieve”. When the U.S. – China agreement was announced, Ontario’s Kathleen Wynne, accompanied by green business leaders, had just returned from a trade mission to China.

According to the University of Victoria PICS Newscan, Guelph’s Canadian Solar Solutions signed a $70-million deal to build solar energy plants in China, and China Energy Conservation and Environmental Protection Group signed an agreement for future collaboration.  

President Obama’s Landmark Executive Actions to Cut Coal Plant Emissions and Protect Oceans

For details about the June regulatory initiatives in the United States, go to: Clean Power Plan Proposed Rule at the Environmental Protection Agency website at http://www2.epa.gov/carbon-pollution-standards/clean-power-plan-proposed-rule and for commentary, see `Taking Page from Health Care Act, Obama Climate Plan relies on States“ in the New York Times (June 2) at http://www.nytimes.com/2014/06/03/us/politics/obama-epa-rule-coal-carbon-pollution-power-plants.html. The Pembina Institute highlights the growing gap between Canadian and U.S. climate leadership at http://www.pembina.org/blog/us-action-on-climate-amplifies-leadership-vacuum-in-ottawa; The Natural Resources Defence Council discusses the possible impacts on jobs at http://switchboard.nrdc.org/blogs/plehner/new_carbon_pollution_standards.html and http://www.nrdc.org/media/2014/140529.asp . Regarding the U.S. Executive Order on June 17th to expand protection of the oceans, see the White House press release at http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2014/06/17/presidential-memorandum-comprehensive-framework-combat-illegal-unreporte , and “Pew Applauds Obama Administration`s New Focus on Illegal Fishing” at http://www.pewtrusts.org/en/about/news-room/news/2014/06/pew-applauds-obama-administrations-new-focus-on-illegal-fishing or “ Obama to Expand Marine Reserves and Crack Down on Seafood Black Market“ at The Guardian (June 17) at http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2014/jun/17/obama-oceans-marine-reserves-leonardo-dicaprio

U.S. Announces Strategy to Reduce Methane Emissions

On March 28th, the White House released a Strategy to Cut Methane Emissions as part of the overall Climate Action Plan. It includes plans and timetables for research and consultation for agriculture, landfill, coal mining and oil and gas. Re oil and gas, the press release states: “in the fall of 2014, EPA will determine how best to pursue further methane reductions from these sources. If EPA decides to develop additional regulations, it will complete those regulations by the end of 2016”. See the press release and overview at: http://www.whitehouse.gov/blog/2014/03/28/strategy-cut-methane-emissions; see the full Strategy Document at: http://www.whitehouse.gov/sites/default/files/strategy_to_reduce_methane_emissions_2014-03-28_final.pdf.

Capacity for Climate Change Action Diminishes in Canada, Grows in the U.S.

More cuts to Environment Canada were made public with the release of the annual departmental Plans and Priorities document for 2014-2015 in March. Although almost all programs are targeted for reduction, the 69% cut to climate change programs between now and 2016/17 speaks volumes about the current government’s attitude to climate change. See Environment Canada Plans and Priorities 2014-15 document at: https://www.ec.gc.ca/default.asp?lang=En&n=024B8406-1. Read commentary at the Toronto Star at: http://www.thestar.com/news/canada/2014/03/12/environment_canada_braces_for_belttightening.html, or at The Tyee at: http://thetyee.ca/News/2014/03/15/Environment-Canada-Cuts/.

Cuts to Statistics Canada are also on the books amidst talk of “alternative data sources”. In contrast, the U.S. White House announced on March 19th that “we are launching the Climate Data Initiative, an ambitious new effort bringing together extensive open government data and design competitions with commitments from the private and philanthropic sectors to develop data-driven planning and resilience tools for local communities….Data from NOAA, NASA, the U.S. Geological Survey, the Department of Defense, and other Federal agencies will be featured on climate.data.gov, a new section within data.gov that opens for business today”. See http://www.whitehouse.gov/blog/2014/03/19/climate-data-initiative-launches-strong-public-and-private-sector-commitments.

Presidential Executive Order Follows Up on U.S. Climate Action Plan

On November 1, U.S. President Obama signed an Executive Order to implement the goals announced in his Climate Action Plan. The Executive Order establishes an inter-agency Council on Climate Preparedness and Resilience, chaired by the White House and including more than 25 agencies, to develop, coordinate, and implement priority Federal actions related to climate preparedness. It will supervise a new Task Force on Climate Preparedness and Resilience, to be composed of state, local, and tribal leaders, who will advise on how the Federal Government can respond at the community level. In an initiative that Canadians can only dream of, the Executive Order also instructs Federal agencies “to work together and with information users to develop new climate preparedness tools and information that state, local, and private-sector leaders need to make smart decisions.  In keeping with the President’s Open Data initiative, agencies will also make extensive Federal climate data accessible to the public through an easy-to-use online portal.”

Read the full Executive Order at: http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2013/11/01/executive-order-preparing-united-states-impacts-climate-change, or the Fact Sheet at: http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2013/11/01/fact-sheet-executive-order-climate-preparedness.