The leaders of Canada, Mexico and the United States have this week unveiled a trilateral energy and climate accord on the first day of their North American summit, with ambitious targets for scaling up of clean energy, deepening continental grid integration and build-out of zero-emission vehicle infrastructure.
The plan—that has been a year in the making—is already being hailed as a significant victory for continental climate action, although some eyebrows will likely be raised over prominent references to some controversial technologies.
The North American Climate, Clean Energy and Environment Partnership was announced on Wednesday in Ottawa by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, US President Barack Obama and Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto, and promises the continent will see 50 percent of its electricity generated from clean sources by 2025.
To achieve this, the partnership explicitly references investments in nuclear and CCS. The recognition of CCS will cheer the government of Saskatchewan, the coal-dependent province that has placed its bet on scrubbing fossil-fuel combustion of greenhouse gases and storing them underground, rather than switching to renewables. A line in the accord that recognises “Canada’s actions to further scale up renewables, including hydro” may also hit a snag, with some Canadians opposed to hydroelectricity expansion.
The overall goal is ambitious, as the clean energy proportion of the electricity mix in North America currently stands at 37 percent, according to White House figures.
Mexico and the US face considerable challenges, as only 33 percent of American electricity is fossil-fuel free: 13 percent of electricity there comes from renewables (6% hydro, 4.7% wind, 1.6% biomass, 0.6% solar and 0.4% geothermal), and 20 percent from nuclear. Some 25 percent of Mexico’s electricity comes from renewables and nuclear.
But the accord represents a significant energy export opportunity for Canada, which currently generates 81 percent of its electricity from non-emitting sources (60% hydro, 18% nuclear, 3% wind and solar). The partnership specifically emphasizes the development of new cross-border transmission lines, and highlights six such efforts (currently proposed or under review) that would add 5,000 megawatts of fresh transmission capacity from Canada to the US. Many of these projects have also come in for criticism due to concerns over biodiversity loss where the lines are placed.
The partnership also envisages an alignment of clean vehicle policies and developing “an integrated North American transportation network” with clean-vehicle “refuelling corridors” for both electric and hydrogen vehicles. A clean transport summit with industry will take place in spring 2017 to flesh out the details.
Atop this, the ‘Three Amigos’ said they will take a common position in international negotiations over emissions in the aviation and shipping sectors. They also want “inefficient” fossil fuel subsidies phased out by 2025, and the slashing of black carbon (soot) emissions. Mexico will join Canada and the US in their commitment to cut oil and gas-sector methane emissions by 40-45 percent by 2025, and the three countries will also develop a strategy for reducing methane in the agriculture and waste sectors.
Hydroelectricity has long been assumed to be a cornerstone of any future low-carbon economy, but disappearing glaciers are altering the equation