Three amigos summit seen as rare chance for big moves on climate change

North American leaders should seize their rare moment of political agreement on climate when they meet next week in Ottawa, says a new report.

Leaders should pick significant climate change ideas and act decisively, says expert

U.S. President Barack Obama and Mexico's President Enrique Pena Nieto, left, will attend a Three Amigos summit with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in Ottawa at the end of June. Environmentalists say they have a historic opportunity to act on climate change. (Susan Walsh/Associated Press)

The North American leaders should seize their rare moment of political agreement on climate when they meet next week in Ottawa, says a new report.

The report, Proposals for a North American Climate Strategy, calls on the three leaders who will meet at the North American Leaders Summit June 29 to take advantage of the common approach they have on climate issues. 

"I believe you have alignment between these three nations in a way that we haven't seen before, and so we have to think about — how do we make the most of this time," said the Pembina Institute's Erin Flanagan, who is the co-author of the report compiled by a coalition of six environmental think-tanks from Canada, the U.S. and Mexico.

Flanagan said the three leaders are ambitious about the environment in their own way: U.S. President Barack Obama is thinking about his legacy on climate file; Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto has brought in a new energy transition law as part of his overall domestic reforms; and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau wants Canada to have a strong international reputation on climate.

Flanagan said it creates a unique chance for North America to become a climate action juggernaut.

"So you've three ambitious political leaders, and you've got global consensus that action is important for the world," said Flanagan in an interview with CBC News. "Those taken together gives us a big opportunity to bring in a climate plan for the three countries … that is ambitious, that's rigorous, and can really lead the way for other countries to follow," she said.


The report recommends a list of steps that leaders could agree to take toward a North American climate strategy. 

They include:

  • North American methane target — Canada and the U.S. have already agreed to reduce methane emissions by 40 to 45 per cent by 2025. Including Mexico would create the world's first trilateral methane reduction target.
  • Shared approach to carbon pricing — harmonize the way the three countries build on their existing carbon pricing systems over time so they apply fairly to both industry and consumers.  
  • Accelerate the shift to clean energy — phase out fossil fuel subsidies and work on generating and sharing more electricity from renewable energy and a charging network for electric vehicles. 

When it comes to political reality, however, wish lists often get left behind, said Jeffrey Phillips, the managing director of Dawson Strategic, a consulting company that specializes in policy research on international trade, energy and environmental issues.

He thinks the leaders should stay away from a long list of nice sounding promises and instead highlight what they can accomplish on climate.

"Turning to practical, feasible cost-effective solutions … and working away on those and staying focused, this is an opportunity and not one to be missed," said Phillips in an interview with CBC. 

A realistic move on methane

But Phillips agrees with the report's recommendation that Mexico should be encouraged to sign on to North America target to reduce methane. Mexico, the U.S. and Canada produce 20 per cent of the world's methane from their oil and gas infrastructure —  and methane is a greenhouse gas 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide.

Phillips said it doesn't take a huge amount of new technology to reduce methane, and it would also send an important message about North America's determination to meet the Paris climate agreement. 

"It fits into the bucket of something that can be done, that can make a difference and that can strengthen North America," said Phillips.

He points out that uncertainty over who will win the U.S. election is hanging over the summit.  A victory by Republican Donald Trump could change the whole North American climate scenario. 

"You can make a choice, you can let that election in the U.S. loom over everything and cast doubt on everything, or you can say we've got a really great opportunity now and let's get as far ahead as we can on some of these measures," said Phillips. 

"So in a way it's a time to be ambitious and practical."

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