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United States Of America’s Climate Change Action Plan: Impact(S) On Canada/Ontario

by Julian Hutchinson

On June 25th 2013, President Barack Obama released his plan to put the U.S. on the path to reach its target (the same as Canada’s) of reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 2020 — 17% below 2005 levels. Key to the U.S. plan may be its effect on spurring other jurisdictions – such as Ontario – to take similar action.

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Obama tried early in his presidency to act on climate change, but was stymied by Congress. Four years later, the new plan, through the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), is to set emissions standards for all existing power plants. America’s largest source of concentrated emissions, account for 33% of total emissions. In this area Ontario is ahead of the game, given the phase-out of coal from ourelectricity sector.

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Following Obama’s announcement, however, it will take several years for the EPA to develop new emission standards, which might not result in emission reductions until 2018. This is an aggressive timeline. Obama is directing the EPA to work closely with states and other stakeholders to build on existing efforts, and incorporate flexible policy instruments to curb emissions. Flexible policy instruments [Hyperlink] are more likely to achieve deeper reductions which are susceptible to legal challenges.

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Renewable energy development will be at the top of the agenda for the U.S. to reach its 17% target. Power generation from renewables has doubled since Obama took office in 2008, and the plan is to double it again by 2020, notably by accelerating wind and solar development (an additional 10 Gigawatts [GW]) on public lands. Ten GW represents over one-quarter of Ontario’s total installed capacity.

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An alternative approach to reducing GHGs would involve putting a price on carbon— the preferred policy option in terms of economic efficiency. This is a more transparent price for companies than a regulatory cost.

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Required complementary policies were included in the plan ranging from, energy efficiency standards for appliances and federal buildings, to double energy productivity by 2030 (from 2010 levels), to forest conservation and restoration, to post-2018 heavy-duty vehicle fuel standards, etc.

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Recently, the U.S. signed an agreement with China to phase out hydrofluorocarbons, a GHG used in many refrigeration products, including air conditioners by 2050. It also plans to develop a comprehensive, inter-agency methane emissions reduction plan, including methane leakage from shale gas production and landfills (the latter is of increasing concern in Ontario).

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The plan also addresses climate change adaptation, and the need to increase U.S. resilience. Federal agencies will increasingly take climate risk into account in their investment decisions and programs. Ontario ought to follow suit.

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Still, President Obama noted that U.S. natural gas production and consumption will continue to rise. The U.S. plans to promote fuel switching (coal to gas) globally, and to encourage the development of the global gas market in the economic interest of America—a growing natural gas producer and potential future exporter.

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Another tenet of the Obama plan is to increase international co-operation on climate change, especially in the developing world; although there are growing emissions from Canada. But, will the Canadian Government, attempt to match the U.S. in terms of scope and urgency of action?

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The Obama administration is worried about climate change . As the plan states, “climate change is no longer a distant threat,” it is already happening, and now they’re doing something about it. Ontario needs to give renewed attention to the fight against climate change and perhaps this renewed focus within the U.S. will provide some inspiration.