Canada’s effort to include climate change in NAFTA worth a shot

, , Comments Off on Canada’s effort to include climate change in NAFTA worth a shot

But it is likely to get the same kind of reaction from American President Donald Trump that he levels to all climate comers.


First published on Monday, August 14, 2017 in The Hill Times.

OTTAWA—Canada’s effort to include climate change in the North American Free Trade negotiations is worth a try.

But it is likely to get the same kind of reaction from American President Donald Trump that he levels to all climate comers.

In Trump world, climate change is in the same category as the real media world of fake news. It is part of a hidden agenda by political elites to ignore the wishes of ordinary people and Trump will have none of it.

A 700-page report on climate change, co-authored by 17 United States government agencies that have been tasked with writing the National Climate Assessment for the past quarter century, will have no influence on the president.

Their scientific analysis, prepared for presidential review, is unequivocal.

Excerpts of the unanimous report were published in The New York Times last week.

At first, the newspaper was claiming the scoop of a leaked document, but two days later, a correction clarified that the material had been publicly available since last January. The White House jumped on the false claim, as the president correctly identified an opening for his ongoing allegations about fake news, including claims about climate change.

But the global warming report was not a media product. It was the result of scientific research by multiple American government agencies that concluded the long-term link between climate change and human activities is “unambiguous.”

“There are no alternative explanations, and no natural cycles are found in the observational record that can explain the observed changes in climate,” the report says, drawing its conclusions from thousands of studies. “Evidence for a changing climate abounds, from the top of the atmosphere to the depths of the oceans.”

Trump will respond to the substance of the report next week, but it is unlikely that he will embrace any conclusions.

The Canada government’s plan to replicate the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement inclusion of climate change in the NAFTA is ambitious, popular and likely doomed to failure.

Unlike the United States, the European Union has been leading the charge on greenhouse gas reductions for years. German Chancellor Angela Merkel authored the precursor to the Kyoto Accord when she served as Germany’s environment minister and chaired the first United Nations Climate Conference in Berlin in 1995.

Germany has been at the forefront of greenhouse gas emission reductions, far outstripping commitments made and delivered by Canada in the last two decades. The CETA template is definitely worth copying, but it is unlikely to get any traction in trade discussions with neighbours south of the border.

Trump will be hard pressed to embrace science, given he has long characterized the climate change claim as a hoax. He will simply dismiss the report, characterizing it as a product of the very Washington swamp mentality that he is trying to drain.

Increasing evidence that forest fires and floods are directly linked to warming climate need not disrupt Trump’s obstinacy.

He cares little of the study’s claim that even if humans stop spewing heat-trapping gases today, the world will warm another 0.3 degrees Celsius over today’s temperatures.

So the chance of incorporating the report into an American government strategy on climate change is slim to none.

There is another factor that puts the Canadian desire to include climate change in NAFTA at risk.

Mexico, which has a heavily petroleum-based economy, is not likely to be a great supporter of climate change inclusion either.

An American refusal to embrace climate change could also negatively impact the Canadian government’s aggressive carbon pricing targets and greenhouse gas reduction plan.

Business leaders have been notoriously slow to recognize the reality of climate change economic costs, notwithstanding domestic examples of severe storms, fires and floods.

They will plead their case that the integration of the two economies is so intertwined that a weakening of the American commitment will necessitate a similar move by Canada.

Ironically, an integrated NAFTA approach would actually be the most successful way to tackle common climate problems in a shared air space.

That proposal has been hanging around since the creation North American Agreement on Environmental Cooperation back in 1994. The trilateral Commission for Environmental Cooperation was launched as a result of the first NAFTA agreement.

Almost 25 years ago, the CEC explored the possibility of having trilateral air agreement that would regulate automobile emission standards and shared air sheds.

Canada, the U.S. and Mexico were unable to reach a consensus then. It is unlikely the three amigos will change their minds.


Sheila Copps is a former Jean Chrétien-era cabinet minister and a former deputy prime minister. Follow her on Twitter at @Sheila_Copps.