Canada, U.S. agree to cut methane emissions

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and U.S. President Barack Obama have agreed to take joint steps to fight climate change, including cutting methane emissions from the oil and gas industry and protecting the Arctic.

Methane a more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide

President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau issued a wide-ranging statement on climate change ahead of their talks in Washington on Thursday. Canada has agreed to align its methane gas emissions targets with those of the U.S. The two countries are also stepping up their joint efforts to slow climate change in the Arctic. (Pablo Martinez Monsivais/Associated Press)

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and U.S. President Barack Obama have agreed to take joint steps to fight climate change, including cutting methane emissions from the oil and gas industry and protecting the Arctic.

Canada and the U.S. issued a joint statement outlining those steps ahead of a meeting Thursday between the two leaders in the Oval Office on Trudeau's first full day on an official visit in Washington.

Reducing methane emissions from the oil and gas sector is a main commitment laid out in the statement, setting a goal of reducing them by 40 to 45 per cent below 2012 levels by 2025.

Environment Canada will regulate emissions from new and existing oil and gas sources, the statement said, and move "as expeditiously as possible" to implement national  regulations in collaboration with the provinces and territories and other stakeholders. The department intends to publish an initial phase of proposed regulations by early 2017.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will develop regulations on the south side of the border and starting next month will start a process to require companies to provide information about their methane emissions.

"We know that by tackling methane emissions, we can continue to unlock amazing opportunity to better protect our environment for the future," Gina McCarthy, the EPA's administrator, said in a call with reporters.

Environmental groups welcomed the announcement, pointing out that methane is a more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide and it will be important to control it over the next 25 years.

"About one-quarter of the climate change we're experiencing now is actually driven by emissions of methane," said Diane Regas, executive director of the Environmental Defense Fund.

She said it is very "doable" for oil and gas firms to control methane emissions and quite inexpensive, as the technology already exists.

"Most companies, we don't know how much they emit. We don't know what their targets for reductions are or how they are doing, so regulations will help on all fronts," she said.

Both countries also committed to reducing emissions from hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), and said in their public procurement processes that they will seek to buy greener equipment and products.

Paris a 'turning point'

They also said they would continue to collaborate on emission standards for vehicles, and would work on adopting a carbon offset measure in 2016 for the aviation sector.

The two countries also intend to align the ways they assess the impact of greenhouse gas emissions caused by major projects, and co-ordinate measures to reduce those emissions. The White House said given the integrated nature of their economies, it is mutually beneficial for Canada and the U.S. to work together on GHGs. This will mark the first time the two countries will collaborate on calculating the effects of these projects on the environment.

The announcement said Obama and Trudeau consider the agreement reached in Paris a "turning point" in global efforts to combat climate change, and they will work together to implement it, committing to joining it and signing it "as soon as feasible."

Another part of the joint plan involves co-operating on clean energy. The two countries intend to collaborate on expanding wind, solar and other renewable energy sources and on clean energy research.

Officials had suggested earlier in the week that the efforts to address the effects of climate change in the Arctic would be part of the plan, and indeed Trudeau and Obama announced a new partnership to "embrace the opportunities and to confront the challenges in the changing Arctic." 

Protecting the Arctic

It includes sticking to the goals of protecting at least 17 per cent of land areas and 10 per cent of marine areas by 2020, and ideally going beyond those goals, the plan said. Obama and Trudeau want to engage other Arctic nations to develop a pan-Arctic marine protection area network.

The plan also talks about building a sustainable Arctic economy, and says commercial activities will only occur when the highest safety and environmental standards are met. Shipping corridors will be developed to have as little impact as possible on the environment.

"The Arctic is a  leading indicator of what the planet faces in the years and decades ahead," Sally Jewell, secretary of the interior, told reporters.

Trudeau and Obama also want a binding international agreement to prevent the opening of unregulated fisheries in the central Arctic, and Canada has offered to host talks.

When it comes to oil and gas exploration in the Arctic, the agreement says if it proceeds, it must align with science-based standards and include "robust and effective" well control and emergency response measures.

Canadian Environment Minister Catherine McKenna and Fisheries Minister Hunter Tootoo are also in Washington with Trudeau.

Earlier in the week, the White House's special envoy on climate change praised Trudeau and McKenna for their participation at the Paris climate change talks,

With files from Reuters


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