Climate

Canada And The U.S. May Be About To Do Something Big On Climate

CREDIT: AP Photo/Susan Walsh

President Barack Obama, right, and Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, left, stand to shake hands following their bilateral meeting at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Manila, Philippines, Thursday, Nov. 19, 2015.

Environmentalists cheered when Canada’s Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, rode a wave of popularity to the position last fall, replacing the pro-tar sands, anti-carbon regulation Steven Harper. Now, Trudeau is preparing for his first state visit to Washington, D.C., where the Prime Minister and President Obama are set to discuss climate change and trade next week.

Expectations are already high.

The Canadian trade minister told Canada’s Globe and Mail this week that she expects significant progress on several key issues between the two countries.

“The visit is still coming together but I am very hopeful there will be some real accomplishments on the environment and climate change,” Chrystia Freeland told the paper. “We are still 10 days away and negotiations are very intense right now and I am not going to get ahead of where negotiators are.”

The White House is undoubtedly looking forward to coming to terms with Canada on climate. While the Obama Administration has negotiated for impressive commitments from China and India on addressing climate change, the relationship with its northern neighbor has been more strained. At one point, Harper wrote a letter to Obama suggesting that if the United States approved the Keystone XL project, Canada would offer “joint action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the oil and gas sector.” The offer was not accepted.

In another telling exchange, during Obama’s September visit to Alaska to highlight climate issues, Canada’s then-foreign minister skipped an international climate summit.

“Any leader willing to take a gamble on a future like that, any leader who refuses to take this issue seriously or treats it like a joke is not fit to lead,” Obama said at the time.

Canadian voters appeared to agree with the American president. Climate change was a key issue during the elections just a month later.

And under Trudeau, the government has certainly pivoted. On Thursday, provincial premiers met with the administration to talk about energy and climate issues. The meeting is the result of an electoral promise to meet with the local leaders 90 days after the Paris climate talks to discuss a way forward.

“Things are happening in a way we haven’t seen in a decade,” Erin Flanagan, Pembina Institute’s director of federal policy, told ThinkProgress. “The two administrations are quite aligned on what they want to see happen.”

In February, the United States, Canada, and Mexico signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) on energy that includes sharing information on grids, clean technologies, emissions reductions, and other energy-related developments. Flanagan, whose group focuses on clean energy solutions, said she expects any official announcements coming next week to build off the MOU’s framework.

Cleaning Canada’s grid and reducing emissions from the oil and gas sector are Canada’s top climate priorities, Flanagan said. “There are a lot of areas of synergy,” she said.

Other experts agree that the oil and gas sector is a major area for collaboration. A new report from the Center for American Progress also suggests the two leaders may focus on issues pertaining to the Arctic, cutting methane and black carbon pollution, and increasing the generation of clean energy.

One item, though, that the two world leaders are unlikely to come to terms on is support for the TransPacific Partnership (TPP). The 12-nation Pacific Rim trade deal has increasingly come under fire from environmentalists, who are worried about the impacts of the investor-state dispute settlement clause, which allows private companies to sue countries that interfere with investment opportunities. Advocates for the deal say the countries, which also include Australia, Brunei, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, and Vietnam, will still be able to enact legislation to curb climate change and pollution without fear of corporate recourse.

But critics point to two cases that suggest it’s not quite so straightforward. Under NAFTA, which has a similar clause, a U.S.-based company has filed a claim for damages from Quebec’s fracking moratorium. Canada filed its argument late last month, arguing that compensating Lone Pine Resources for thwarted expectations would reduce the state’s ability to regulate environmentally risky activities — such as fracking under the St. Lawrence River.

More recently, and to greater brouhaha,TransCanada filed a claim against the United States for denying its Keystone XL permit. That claim may help propel the trade agreements into the broader environmental conversation.

“Both the Lone Pine and the TransCanada cases clearly demonstrate the threat that the TPP would pose to policies to keep fossil fuels in the ground — by empowering some of the world’s largest fossil fuel corporations,” Ben Beachy, a senior policy advisor for the Sierra Club, told ThinkProgress. “It undermines the Obama Administrations’s climate goals.”

Nevertheless, Obama continues to push the TPP forward. Canada, though, has been more trepidatious. Trudeau’s trade minister wrote an open letter to Canadians in January, committing to “a full and open debate in Parliament.”

Canada also has a formal environmental assessment program for trade deals. An initial assessment of the TPP conducted under the Harper administration, noted that “With respect to the Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) mechanism, investor-state arbitration could enable corporations to challenge domestic environmental regulations and policies.”

UPDATE MAR 4, 2016 12:07 PM

An earlier version of this post misspelled the Canadian Trade Minister's first name. It is Chrystia, not Christia. We regret the error.

Share Update