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North American Climate Leadership Can Be Good for the Environment and the Economy

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By Amin Asadollahi, June 28, 2016

Climate change will be high on the agenda as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, President Barack Obama and President Peña Nieto meet in Ottawa this week for the North American leadership summit. With the right approach, cooperation will make it easier for the three countries to meet their respective climate commitments, while also creating economic opportunities.

Given the integrated nature of the North American market, there are natural synergies that we can capitalize on. Here are four key areas where our governments should focus.

Reducing Emissions in the Oil and Gas Sector

Methane emissions are 25 times more potent to our climate than carbon dioxide. Eliminating leaks as well as wasteful routine venting and flaring practices would provide low-cost emission reduction opportunities in the short term. Last March, Canada and the United States agreed to a 40–45 per cent reduction in emissions from methane by 2025, and also endorsed the World Bank Zero Routine Flaring Initiative. As a next step, it will be important for Mexico to join Canada and United States on the methane reduction goals. Harmonization will prevent a patchwork of policies, improve the energy sector’s competitiveness and create opportunities to expand exports of emission-reduction technology.

A North American Approach to Clean Energy

All three countries can better connect their electricity grids from where clean energy is produced to where demand is growing. This would result in a more resilient and reliable grid, and reduce price volatility. In parallel, we must increase our clean energy production capacity and quickly move away from coal-fired electricity production. This should include phasing out coal-fired electricity generation as quickly as possible. A harmonized North American renewable energy target would also optimize clean energy production while increasing the flow of capital to the sector.

Building a Competitive Transportation Sector

A similar approach should be applied to the transportation sector. There is much that our three countries can do to drive innovation and build a more competitive sector, such as setting clear targets for engine manufactures to build the cars of the future. A North American approach can increase the competitive advantage of the automotive sector as market demand grows globally for near-zero emission vehicles. North America’s automotive sector will face serious challenges if we fail to move quickly in this regard.

North American Global Leadership in Monitoring and Reporting

One of the fundamental problems with the global climate change regime is the lack of a common framework for monitoring, reporting and verifying reductions in emission. Without this, it is not only difficult to compare levels of effort and verify results between states and provinces, but to compare countries—a must if we want to know accurately which countries are meeting their commitments and which are falling behind. This lack of a common framework can also result in inefficiencies and missed opportunities for further emission reductions.

There is an opportunity for North America to lead on this front, by taking an evidence-based approach in determining standards for measurement and reporting among the three countries trilaterally, as well as providing guidance to other jurisdictions around the globe.

Leadership and cooperation in this regard will ensure that we are getting our money’s worth when investing in reducing emissions, and ensure that the outcomes of policy reflect the ambitions of the countries and their national targets. Having this common and evidence-based framework can also better position North America to advocate for more ambitious climate efforts in other countries.

This article was originally posted on The Hill Times website on June 28, 2016, and is reprinted here with permission.