What Did The Three Amigos Really Accomplish?

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Originally published on the ECOreport.

Future generations may look back on the agreement that Canada, the United States, and Mexico just signed as a significant milestone,  or maybe not. What did they really accomplish?


President Obama told reporters,”We have an integrated economy already, the question is under what terms are we going to shape that economy.”

“Today’s summit has demonstrated that, when working together, North America can forge important progress on global issues. Trilateral commitments to accelerate renewable energy deployment, green government operations and reduce pollution from the oil and gas sector are significant climate victories for each country,” writes Erin Flanagan of the Pembina Institute.

“This historic agreement will more than double our use of clean, renewable energy like wind and solar while moving North America forward with clean transportation options like electric vehicles. By accelerating our progress toward powering our homes, businesses, cars and trucks with clean energy, this agreement moves us toward achieving America’s ambitious renewable energy goals five years earlier than under existing agreements,” writes Michael Brune of the Sierra Club.

“There were a number of areas that were promising, and probably some areas I would call a disappointment, ” said Dale Marshall, of Environmental Defence.

For Mexico, this agreement could be a step towards a North American entity.
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Uncertainty In The United States

Only the United States could make a swift Brexit if Donald Trump is elected President in November. The Republican candidate has vowed to increase fossil fuel production and renegotiate the North America Free Trade Agreement.

“I think much of this will go forward under a President Clinton,” said Marshall. “Hillary Clinton is very much in line with President Obama, in terms of her approach to international relations and climate change.”

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Another Photo-Op For Canada?

This is the latest in what could be cynically described as a series of photo ops for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. The Canadian delegation made an incredible splash at the climate talks in Paris. This was followed by an equally dramatic federal-provincial meeting in Vancouver, with questionable results. Since then, he has been to Washington and now brings the leaders of Mexico and the United States to Ottawa.

In the meantime, the Trudeau government appears reluctant to offend either the provinces or fossil fuel sector. He would like to give Alberta the oil pipeline Premier Notley so desperately wants. Despite the perceived violation of Treaty #8 with local First Nations, the Canadian Government is supporting Premier Christy Clark in her desire to build the highly controversial Site C Dam. Environment Minister Catherine McKenna appears to have rubber-stamped the approval for the proposed Woodfibre and Pacific Northwest (Lelu Island) LNG projects in British Columbia.

“Canada can’t continue to build high carbon infrastructure, like tar sands pipelines and LNG terminals, and be a leader on climate change. The two are at odds with one another. It is problematic that the federal government says the right things internationally, and even makes international commitments, but at the same time seems to promote energy that will increase our emissions significantly and make it very hard to meet those commitments,” said Marshall.

“Canada is the only North American country without a national clean energy target in effect today. This agreement gives us another excellent reason to adopt one,” said Clare Demerse of Clean Energy Canada.

Emissions Targets Untouched

Family photo during Leader Event of COP 21/CMP 11 - Paris Climate Change Conference from UNclimatechange via Flickr (CC BY SA, 2.0 License)
Family photo during Leader Event of COP 21/CMP 11 – Paris Climate Change Conference from UNclimatechange via Flickr (CC BY SA, 2.0 License)

Canadian Green Party leader Elizabeth May points to the most glaring omission in this North American agreement in her blog:

“While I’m pleased the North American leaders have committed to ratify the Paris Accord by next year, it’s disappointing that the leaders have left existing greenhouse gas emissions reduction targets in place.

“It’s clear that our existing targets utterly fail to meet the Paris Accord targets. That global agreement rests on ratcheting up our current targets, of which Canada’s are the weakest amongst G7 nations.”

According to the Parkland Institute, Canada is currently on course to be 55% above its “weak” 2030 emissions target. The government’s plan to grow the oil and gas sectors puts a near impossible strain on the rest of the economy:

“Projected growth in oil and gas production under several scenarios means that non–oil and gas sectors of the economy would need to reduce their emissions by between 47 and 59 per cent below 2014 levels by 2030 to meet the Paris Agreement commitment. This level of reduction is near-impossible without severe economic consequences.”

Elimination of Fuel Subsidies By 2025

In their agreement, the Three Amigos say, “We commit to phase out inefficient fossil fuel subsidies by 2025 and call on the other members of the G20 to do the same.”

This reference to the G20 is significant because the leaders of all three nations made a similar pledge in 2009 (see video below, starting at 1:16).

At that time, Obama believed, “This reform will increase our energy security … and it will help us combat the threat posed by climate change.”

Only, US fossil fuel subsidies actually grew under his administration.

According to a report from Oil Change International, the Three Amigos currently give the following amounts to the fossil fuel industry:

  • Canada — $2.7 billion a year.
  • Mexico — $1.4 billion a year.
  • United States — $20.5 billion a year.

“Canada (Mexico & the U.S.) made a commitment to phase those subsidies out seven years ago, we shouldn’t have to wait another nine years,” said Marshall.

40–45% Methane Reductions By 2025

Against this background, one has to ask how likely is it that the Three Amigos will fulfill their commitment to reduce methane emissions?

“Together, Canada, the United States and Mexico represent 20 per cent of the world’s oil and gas methane pollution. We applaud Mexico’s commitment to reduce oil and gas methane emissions in lock step with Canada and the United States. In order to achieve this continental 45 per cent objective, each country must develop domestic regulations immediately, and should work towards timely implementation,” Flanagan pointed out.

“It’s a 45% reduction in a decade, I’d call that significant. The methane promise is a firm commitment, with a target and a date, and the government(s) will be judges by that,” said Marshall.

He added, “Entering into this agreement first with the US, and now with Mexico, makes it pretty globally significant. Methane emissions are quite high, firstly from the oil and gas sector, but also agriculture and waste. My hope is that this becomes a model that can be adopted by other nations around the world .”

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50% Of North America’s Electricity to be Clean

The easiest target for Canada to meet is obtaining 50% of our electricity from renewable sources by 2025. We are already there.

According to Natural Resources Canada, 59.3% of the nation’s electricity is produced by hydro and another 18.9% by (presumably non-hydro) “renewable sources.” That adds up to 78.2%.

As Clare Demerse pointed out, this clause is actually “a significant export opportunity for this country’s clean energy sector.”

Mexico currently obtains less than 20% of its electricity from clean sources.

The United States produces 35%, if you count hydro and nuclear power.

An article posted on the White House website today suggests that the nation’s wind and solar capacities will have to double to reach 50%. This would mean “hundreds of thousands” of new jobs.

“Getting half of North America’s electricity production from zero-emission clean energy by 2025 is possible thanks to low-cost, reliable wind energy,” said American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) CEO Tom Kiernan.

Tom Kimbis, acting president of the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), was impressed by “the commitment to 5,000 megawatts of cross border transmission lines, which will open the door to more inexpensive utility scale solar projects.”

“If that (grid) goes forward, it would be quite important on a continental basis. The question is can Canada increase its renewable energy at the same time as it is increasing power exports to the US?” said Marshall.

Photo credits: Prime Minister Justin Trudeau Greeting President Barack Obama courtesy the White House; Minister Catherine McKenna’s twitter feed; Donald Trump’s twitter feed; Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s twitter feed 

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Roy L Hales

is the President of Cortes Community Radio , CKTZ 89.5 FM, where he has hosted a half hour program since 2014, and editor of the Cortes Currents (formerly the ECOreport), a website dedicated to exploring how our lifestyle choices and technologies affect the West Coast of British Columbia. He is a research junkie who has written over 2,000 articles since he was first published in 1982. Roy lives on Cortes Island, BC, Canada.

Roy L Hales has 441 posts and counting. See all posts by Roy L Hales