US and Canadian leaders commit to Kyoto obligations

The governors of the six US New England states, which include two Republicans, have committed alongside the premiers of five eastern Canadian provinces to achieve 1990 levels of greenhouse gases within 10 years, in effect shunning President Bush’s rejection of the global treaty.

Under the Climate Change Action Plan 2001, approved on 27 August at the Annual Conference of New England Governors and Eastern Canadian Premiers in Westbrook, New Brunswick, the leaders signed the unique bilateral agreement and committed the region to cut greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2010 and by at least 10% below 1990 levels by 2020.

The governors of Maine, Connecticut, Vermont, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Rhode Island also aligned with the premiers of Quebec, Newfoundland and Labrador, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island to set a long-term goal of reducing emissions “sufficiently to eliminate any dangerous threat to the climate” – meaning cuts of 75-85% below current levels – according to the agreement.

In a thinly veiled attack on President Bush’s attitude to the Kyoto Protocol the leaders justified the agreement “due to the uncertainty of corresponding actions on a worldwide basis and the lengthy response time necessary for climate actions to have an impact”. The actions proposed, the document says, provide “a set of concrete, achievable, near-term opportunities”, which will “demonstrate leadership and build a foundation from which more dramatic progress can be realised”.

Among the precedents contained in the agreement are an encouragement of the growth of energy efficient and greenhouse gas reducing technologies in the region and a promise to undertake a planning process every five years from 2005, ensuring that targets are as “aggressive” as possible, taking into account new scientific developments and resources. The plans could involve credit trading, using more energy efficient vehicles, promoting lower-carbon fuels and energy conservation, and a special task force of state and provincial energy and environmental officials will develop specific strategies for cutting emissions. The agreement also commits to a public education effort and adapting to current effects of climate change including shifts in agriculture and forestry, building codes and coastal infrastructure changes.

Without the agreement, the leaders say, the forecast for emissions is pessimistic. Eastern Canada’s emissions are forecast to increase by 20% from 1990 to 2020 under the ‘business as usual’ scenario, while New England’s CO2 emissions will increase by 30% between 2000 and 2020.

The leaders also committed to cutting emissions of mercury from power plants and incinerators by 75% by 2010 and New Hampshire and Quebec signed a joint agreement to improve the environment across their shared border. As part of the agreement, the two administrations will establish a joint task force to collaborate on common environmental issues, including air quality, improving regional supplies of cleaner energy and combating regional haze in the White Mountains, Great North Woods and the St. Lawrence River Valley of Quebec.

“Improving New Hampshire’s air and reducing greenhouse gas emissions has been a top priority for my administration,” commented the state’s governor, Jeanne Shaheen. “Pollution, however, does not respect state borders. That is why it is so important for other states and regions to follow New Hampshire’s lead.” The governor also said that the Climate Change Plan “sends a powerful message to the rest of the nation about the importance of working cooperatively to cut pollution and clean up our air”.

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