Years from now, 2021 may well be regarded as a tipping point on global climate action. The COVID-19 pandemic that gripped the world in 2020 ravaged communities and economies. Many of those communities, already vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, were forced to deal with unprecedented wildfires, extreme weather events, flooding and severe storms.
But in the global economic shutdown, we also caught a glimpse of what a less polluted planet could look like. Air quality improved for a time in major cities, carbon emissions dropped (if only temporarily), and the drop in ambient ocean noise provided an influx of data on the sounds and actions of whale populations and other marine life worldwide. As we work to get the global economy back on track, there is a growing recognition that we need to do so in a way that is environmentally responsible and climate smart.
Canada has already started. In 2018, the Government of Canada released the Pan-Canadian Framework on Clean Growth and Climate Change, which set out a plan for how Canada plans to meet its emissions reduction targets, grow the economy and build resilience to climate change. In December 2020, Canada took further action with A Plan for a Healthy Environment and Healthy Economy, announcing 64 new measures and CDN $15 billion in investments to make good on the outlined commitments.
But we also understand that if we are to combat climate change effectively, we must work in partnership with others – starting with our closest friends.
President Biden made clear on his first day in office that addressing climate change would be at the heart of his Administration’s economic recovery plan. In the Roadmap for a Renewed US-Canada Partnership, agreed to just a month later, Prime Minister Trudeau and President Biden committed to accelerating bilateral ambition toward combating climate change. We have since launched a high-level Ministerial dialogue on climate change, which will help translate these commitments into tangible progress.
So what does all of this look like in practice? In celebration of Earth Day, here are three ways that Canada and the US are working together to combat climate change while growing our economies:
- Zero-emission vehicles
- First, we are working to accelerate the transition to zero-emission vehicles (ZEVs). As part of this, we are strengthening the Canada-U.S. Joint Action Plan on Critical Minerals, which will contribute to, among other things, the development of made-in-North-America batteries for ZEVs. We are working collaboratively on establishing stringent vehicle standards to improve fuel efficiency and reduce greenhouse gases. We are creating incentives for consumers to buy or lease a ZEV, exploring how to use our respective governments’ purchasing power to increase demand, and taking steps to invest in the infrastructure necessary to support the deployment of electric vehicles on a large scale.
- The climate benefits of this are obvious, but there are significant economic benefits as well. Canada and the US have one of the most tightly integrated cross-border manufacturing and supply chain networks in the world, totalling USD $86.4 billion in 2019. That figure includes both finished vehicles and vehicle components, which often cross the border multiple times during the assembly process. More than 1.1 million people – nearly 85% of whom are in the US – are directly employed in the auto sector. Millions more benefit indirectly from that strong cross-border trade.
- Cross-border clean energy infrastructure
- Second, we are working to increase the production and use of clean electricity. In Canada, more than 80% of our electricity is non-emitting, including hydroelectricity, and we are working to increase that figure to 90% by 2030. President Biden recently affirmed a similar goal: for the US to achieve a net-zero, carbon-pollution-free power sector by 2035. In Canada, the federal government is working with provinces and territories to connect parts of Canada that have abundant hydroelectricity with parts that are more fossil-fuel-dependent. Likewise, we are working with the US to facilitate the development of cross-border transmission infrastructure. Those connections will help ensure a steady flow of clean electricity between our countries, which can in turn bolster intermittent forms of renewable energy, increase grid reliability, and help achieve our climate objectives – all while creating jobs. In 2019, cross-border electricity trade was valued at over USD $2.3 billion, which brings enormous economic benefits to both our countries.
- Nature-based solutions
- Finally, we are investing in nature-based solutions. As the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has noted, avoiding climate catastrophe requires not just an energy transition, but a fundamental shift in how we use and value nature. As part of the US-Canada Roadmap, Prime Minister Trudeau and President Biden committed to work together on environmental restoration and conservation efforts. Both leaders have now committed to conserving 30% of their respective territory and waters by 2030. Our countries are working to achieve significant reforestation; in Canada, this includes a plan to plant 2 billion trees, in addition to the 500 million trees replanted annually as a part of sustainability and reforestation efforts. And we are exploring ways to support our farmers and agriculture workers. For example, Canada’s $185 million Agricultural Climate Solutions (ACS) program is part of the Government of Canada’s commitment supporting nature-based climate solutions in tackling climate change, over the next ten years. On both sides of the border, we stand to benefit immensely in this effort from collaboration with Indigenous peoples, sub-national governments, workers, and other stakeholders.
If 2021 is indeed the tipping point on climate change action, then Canada-US cooperation is providing momentum for that shift. On April 22, Prime Minister Trudeau will join President Biden at the Leaders’ Summit on Climate, where both countries will announce their new emissions targets under the Paris Agreement. These are small but important, coordinated steps, and will help to ensure that Canada and the US continue to address the causes and impacts of climate change while growing our economies together.