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US, Canada climate pact targets methane, aviation, trucks, HFCs

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Climate Central

Just three months after the world united on climate action and reached a high-profile United Nations agreement in Paris to curb warming, the U.S. and Canada on Thursday announced a bilateral climate agreement.

The announcement was historically significant: both nations are in the throes of newfound commitments to protect the climate following decades of defiance in the face of calls for industrialized nations to slow global warming. The agreement also emphasized environmental protections in the Arctic, where melting ice is creating new opportunities for shipping and oil drilling.

U.S. President Barack Obama (R) shakes hands with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (L) during the arrival ceremony at the White House in Washington March 10, 2016. Credit: Reuters

U.S. President Barack Obama (R) shakes hands with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (L) during the arrival ceremony at the White House in Washington March 10, 2016.
Credit: Reuters

Also of note is the agreement’s emphasis on lesser-known threats to the climate. The neighborly arrangement will see the North American fossil fuel heavyweights jointly tackle some of the most profound yet least-discussed climate problems vexing humanity.

Not surprisingly, the “joint statement on climate, energy, and Arctic leadership,” released by the offices of President Obama and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, outlines commitments to accelerate the growth of clean energy and to implement the Paris Agreement. But it also goes deeper into the gritty details of climate policy than that. Here’s how:

Methane

The U.S. and Canada committed on Thursday to reducing methane emissions from the oil and gas sector by 40 to 45 percent by 2025, compared with 2005 levels. To do this, both countries said they will begin regulating methane pollution from both new and existing wells and pipes.

“The EPA will be taking some immediate steps to fulfill that commitment,” EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy told reporters on Thursday.

Methane is a potent greenhouse gas that’s piling up quickly in the atmosphere, where it’s responsible for about a quarter of the warming being experienced globally. A recent Harvard University study estimated that U.S. emissions of methane increased 30 percent since 2002.

The livestock sector is a major source of methane. So too are landfills. But the main culprit may be the gas and oil sector, which releases methane when it drills for fuel, and when natural gas escapes from leaky infrastructure. And America and Canada are two of the world’s biggest oil and gas producers.

Aviation

The most glaring holes in the Paris climate agreement are related to international shipping and aviation. Both are major polluters that often operate outside of the normal pollution jurisdictions of national governments.

A natural gas pipeline under construction in the U.S. Credit: WabbyTwaxx/Flickr

A natural gas pipeline under construction in the U.S.
Credit: WabbyTwaxx/Flickr

On Thursday, the U.S. and Canada said they would work together to plug one of these holes — that of the aviation industry. The industry is already one of the world’s biggest polluters, and its greenhouse gas emissions could quadruple by 2040, compared with 2010 levels.

The leaders of the countries will “work together and through the International Civil Aviation Organization,” a United Nations body headquartered in Montreal, to “reduce emissions from international aviation by fostering technological and operational advancements,” the joint statement said. They will plan to adopt a “carbon offset measure” this year for international flights.

“I see aviation emerging as the next big thing on the international agenda,” said Nathaniel Keohane, the Environmental Defense Fund’s global climate program leader. “The leadership from the White House and the Trudeau administration is going to be critical.”

Pollution from Trucks

Canada and the U.S. pledged to work together and with other countries “to encourage robust leader-level” commitments to improve the environmental performance of heavy-duty vehicles through the G-20, which is a forum of influential countries.

HFCs

After the world agreed during the 1980s to radically curb the use of CFCs in refrigerants and spray cans to protect the ozone layer, many industries switched over to using HFCs instead. HFCs are chemicals that are friendly to the ozone, but, like CFCs, they are potent greenhouse gases.

Canada and the U.S. have both been working to reduce their use of HFCs in recent years. They have also been pushing for the Montreal Protocol — the treaty that phased out the use of CFCs — to be expanded to incorporate rules regarding HFCs.

Thursday’s announcement did not contain any new details in the fights against HFCs, but it said that both countries “affirm their commitment” to reducing the use and emissions of HFCs, and to adopting an HFC amendment to the Montreal Protocol this year.

Source: Climate Central. Reproduced with permission.  

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  • Geoff

    this is all positive news. now what we need is for the US to change their constitutional laws to allow presidents to go past 8 years so that Obama can be re-elected!

    • solarguy

      Ain’t it a shame that can’t happen.

      • your local firefighter

        Yes; Thankfully we have had much progress due to the solid work of the Democrats and the mighty President Obama; The World has become a lot calmer and working toward a cooler future.

        Rocky road ahead though methinks; If the Democrats loose.

  • wideEyedPupil

    ““I see aviation emerging as the next big thing on the international agenda,” ”

    Yeah just target anything that is emitting as long as it isn’t the ag sector that is responsible for 54% of national GHG in Australia, and probably a similar number in USA and Canada given the similarity of the “official” UNFCCC method derived numbers in each country.

    90% of this 54% is from ruminant livestock (mostly from production north of the NSW/QLD border) and if internationally methane from livestock were halved it would buy us the equivalent of 15 years of FF burning at current rates of consumption to wind that down to zero. But nobody seems to be listening.

  • wideEyedPupil

    Great progress that methane is getting targeted, but not effectively in the livestock or effectively enough in the FF industry to be meaningful. Good start would be just to account for it properly though. Fingers crossed that happens now.