A landmark agreement was concluded at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in Paris on December 12, 2015.  This agreement was signed by 196 nations, the Paris Agreement is the first comprehensive global treaty to combat climate change, and will follow on from the Kyoto Protocol when it ends in 2020. It will enter into force once it is ratified by at least 55 countries, covering at least 55 percent of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.  Here are the key points of the Paris Agreement:

  • The Warming Levels:  The Agreement commits nations to keep temperatures well below 20C above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit temperature increase to 1.5oC.

There is a scientific rationale for the number. John Schellnhuber, a scientist who advises Germany and the Vatican, says “1.5oC marks the point where there is a real danger of serious Tipping Points” in the world’s climate; and

  • The Carbon Budget:  To keep warming below 2oC we can limit a total of around 3.6 of GHG.  But this only gives us a 66 percent chance.  For a better chance or for a lower warming limit, we will have to limit much less. 

The Paris Agreement calls for global emissions to peak “As Soon As Possible”, and for a balance to be achieved between the rate of GHG emissions and the removal of these gasses from the atmosphere by sometime between 2050 and 2100.

According to the United States environmental Protection Agency, Canada, Mexico and the United States have historically forged close regional economic and environmental cooperation on issues such as trade, transportation, acid rain, and mercury pollution over the past three decades.  This environmental cooperation has allowed decision-makers and the scientific community in the three countries to develop holistic policies that have positively shaped and influenced environmental protection. A North American-wide partnership on climate change, clean energy and environment is a veritable opportunity for the three countries to reinforce and build on past collaboration and achieved results. It is also a positive signal and strong message by governments of the three countries that climate change and clean energy are serious issues of the day.

  1. ­­Clean Energy:

Following the Paris Agreement, energy ministers from the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) partners signed a memorandum of understanding in February 2016 on “Climate Change and Energy Collaboration”.  This deal was further advanced in June 2016 at a meeting in San Francisco where the Canadian Natural Resources Minister, US Energy Secretary, and Mexico Secretary announced the launch of a “North American Renewable Integration Study”.

According to a joint news release, the focus of this study is to better understand the planning and operational impacts of integrating growing renewable energy resources, such as solar, hydro, and wind into electricity grids.

The Three Amigo Summit was held in Ottawa, Canada, and the American President Brock Obama, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto concluded the summit on June 29th.  The leaders from the three NAFTA nations committed to a North America-wide goal of 50 percent clean-energy electricity by 2025 up from the current 37 per cent, and supported the construction of new transmission lines needed to enhance continental integration in the power sector.

Here is what the three leaders said in their joint statement:

  • “Together, we estimate that the development of current and future projects and policies to achieve this goal will create thousands of clean jobs and support of our vision for a clean growth economy.”

They noted that there are three transmission projects:

  • One from Quebec to New England;
  • One from Manitoba to Minnesota; and
  • One from Texas to Mexico.

It is expected that these three projects together would deliver 5,000 megawatts of clean-power capacity to those markets.

Canadian power producers – ranging from giants like Hydro-Quebec and Manitoba Hydro, to smaller renewable energy generators – hope to boost their exports as a result of American efforts to reduce GHG emissions in the electricity sector.

The industry – along with the Canadian federal government – financed a report released Wednesday on how US states can use Canadian imports to meet the requirements of Mr. Obama’s clean power plan. That Environmental Protection Agency regulatory effort has been put on holding pending court appeals but, if enacted, would require states to reduce GHG emissions in the electricity sector by 32 per cent from 2005 levels by 2030.

The goal to achieve 50 percent of clean power generation across North America by 2025 will include renewable energy, nuclear power, carbon capture and storage and cutting energy waste through increased efficiency.  This goal could turn out to be an ambitious one for the US and Mexico as the current generation of clean energy for those countries represents only 32 percent and 25 percent respectively.  However, Canada currently generates over 80 percent of clean energy which puts Canada in the position export more power to the United States.

Meanwhile, two Canadian provinces, British Columbia and Newfoundland and Labrador, are currently wrestling with massive new hydroelectric projects that critics say will produce power that’s surplus to the Canadian market for years to come.  Securing American hydro sales for the province of British Columbia’s  controversial Site C dam on the Peace River and Labrador’s Muskrat Falls could be one piece in the federal Liberal government’s energy infrastructure jigsaw puzzle, a potential key to provincial co-operation on other fronts such as pipeline approvals and carbon pricing.

Here is the current configuration of clean power generation from non-emitting sources in:

  • The US: The total being 32 percent – 13 percent from hydroelectricity or renewable energy sources like wind and solar and 19 percent from nuclear power; and
  • Canada:  The total being 80.3 percent – 59.3 percent from hydro; 5 percent from wind and other renewables; and 16 percent from nuclear power; and
  • Mexico: About 25 percent from non-fossil fuel producing sources including nuclear power.

The leaders agreed their governments will purchase cleaner vehicle fleets and encourage public and private investment in continental electric power “refueling corridors.”

They also pledged to reduce black carbon, a short-lived pollutant linked to health problems and climate change. But it will be the electricity export opportunities that could have Canada’s provinces sitting up and taking notice.

Furthermore, the official leaders’ statement from the summit announced a joint study on adding more renewable energy to the grid “on a North American basis.”

  1. Methane:

The White House announced when the Prime Minister Trudeau paid a state visit to Washington in March that the President of Mexico Pena Nieto agreed to sign the Canada-US methane reduction deal.

The Memoranda of Understanding (MOUs) signed by all three countries have served as timely and effective measures to expand North American cooperation in a manner responsive to the new energy landscape.  These trilateral efforts are likewise being supplemented by valuable bilateral engagement, such as the joint pledges on climate and clean energy made by Canada and the US in March 2016.

The trilateral agreement that concluded in Ottawa, Canada, also includes a commitment to reduce methane emissions in the oil and gas sector by up to 45 percent below 2012 levels by 2025.  North America accounts for about 20 percent of global methane emissions, which are a potent GHG that the Pembina Institute estimates accounts for a fifth of all man-made global warming to date.  By targeting methane emissions reductions from the oil and gas sector, Canada, Mexico, and the United States are combating climate change and supporting global development goals.

Canada, Mexico, and the United States are all among the top emitters of methane from the oil and natural gas sector. Together, they currently produce nearly one-fifth of global oil and gas emissions.  Here are some realities:

  • Methane emissions contribute to the formation of tropospheric ozone, a major component of smog. Respiratory conditions, including asthma, bronchitis, and emphysema, can all be exacerbated by the presence of ozone. Children and older adults are particularly susceptible. So significant methane reductions mean we can all breathe a little easier;
  • Ozone can also be toxic to plants. It damages normal functions and has been shown to reduce crop yields. With the challenge of feeding a growing global population, reducing methane is a good start toward ensuring greater food security. Notably, one study even suggests that Mexico can expect a particularly large percentage increase in total crop yields with reductions in methane; and
  • Oil and natural gas systems are leaky and methane can escape into the atmosphere across the entire supply chain. One estimate suggests that some $30 billion in revenue is being lost worldwide as a result of methane leakage. That makes no sense. Communities stand to benefit from better regulated methane emissions, and cost-effective solutions to manage leakage exist.

Although less abundant than carbon dioxide (CO2), methane is over 80 times more potent at shorter time scales, so reductions of methane in the near-term have an outsized impact on reducing global warming and can help buy time for deeper reductions in CO2. Indeed, if North America achieves its methane goal, it will be like taking about 85 million cars off the road.

Addressing methane emissions is critical to achieving all three countries’ climate action plans and raises the bar for the rest of the world to follow suit in pursuing actions to quickly mitigate non-CO2 pollution as well.

“This continental initiative could inspire other oil and gas-producing countries to follow suit, leading to globally significant reductions in emissions that cause climate change,” Dale Marshall of Environmental Defence said in a release.


  1. United Nations: Framework Convention on Climate Change;
  2. The Globe and Mail: Trudeau, Obama, and Pena Nieto agree to emission reduction goals summit;
  3. Rhodium Group: Untapped Potential – Reduction global Methane Emissions from Oil and Natural Gas Systems;
  4. The Politics of Poverty: North American methane target is a global win-win;
  5. Anthropogenic and Radiative Forcing;
  6. EDF environmental Defense Fund: Canada, US, and Mexico can cut oil and gas methane pollution more than 40 percent; and
  7. INDCs as communicated by parties.