7 april 2016

US and Canada continue climate alliance with move to curb methane emissions

Meeting represents one of the last chances to grow on climate partnership agreed on by Justin Trudeau and Barack Obama before US president leaves office

Suzanne Goldenberg in Washington DCJ, The Guardian, Thursday 7 April 2016

The US and Canada will take their newfound climate alliance to the next level on Thursday, advancing efforts to curb emissions of methane, a powerful warming agent produced at fracking sites and tar sands, ageing oil installations and pipelines.

Thursday’s meeting in Ottawa represents one of the last chances to grow on the climate partnership agreed on by the US president, Barack Obama, and Canadian prime minister, Justin Trudeau, before the president leaves the White House.

The US and Canadian leaders enjoyed a mind meld on climate change, according to Gina McCarthy, who heads the Environmental Protection Agency.

“We have real kindred spirits in Canada right now, and a tremendous interest on the part of prime minister Trudeau and president Obama to really work together,” McCarthy told a breakfast hosted by the Christian Science Monitor.

Obama and Trudeau agreed last month to cut methane emissions from the oil and gas industry by up to 45% from 2012 levels by 2025. The understanding was a break with the pro-energy policies of Stephen Harper, the former prime minister, who had lobbied heavily for the Keystone XL pipeline.

McCarthy said the US-Canadian initiative and other such partnerships were a key part of Obama’s efforts to use his presidency to shore up the Paris climate change agreement.

“I think the president has brought a visibility to the issue in a way no president has before,” she said. “He has been using more of his personal time to connect with leaders in other countries. I think if you ask anyone, that changed the dynamic in Paris.”

Now it falls to McCarthy and Catherine McKenna, Canada’s environment and climate change minister, to find ways of making those cuts during Thursday’s talks.

McKenna publicly fretted about the difficulties of navigating between provinces such as Ontario and Quebec, which this week launched new clean energy initiatives, and energy producers Alberta and Saskatchewan whose economies depend heavily on fossil fuels.

“I’m a realist on this,” she told a forum in Ottawa last week. “There are a lot of people who have lost jobs in Alberta. I’m not saying that we destroy our planet. But I think we need to be thoughtful of how we move forward.”

Methane is more than 80 times more warming than carbon dioxide over 20 years, and scientists are increasingly concerned that fugitive emissions from ageing oil and gas infrastructure could overwhelm other efforts to reduce climate pollution.

McCarthy said the officials would be looking at how to reduce emissions along the entire oil and gas production and supply chain – from mining sites to pipelines.

The EPA is already in the process of cracking down on methane emissions from new and existing oil and gas wells. Alberta, which is Canada’s biggest oil-producing province, committed to a 45% cut in methane emissions last November.

But methane is a moving target, McCarthy admitted. As the fracking boom got underway, the EPA drastically underestimated emissions from the oil and gas industry – by nearly 30%, according to the agency’s own figures. The EPA now has more work to do just to get an accurate measure of the powerful climate pollutant, McCarthy said.

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