US, Canada pledge to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050

Ahead of UN climate summit, small island states and UK warn of ongoing threats to stability as global temperatures rise.

The US and Canada's decision to form a joint ministerial-level effort to fight climate change comes after US President Joe Biden's move to revoke a key permit for the Keystone XL crude pipeline that would have transported oil from Canada to the US [File: Nati Harnik/AP Photo]

United States President Joe Biden says that he and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau have agreed to work towards achieving net-zero emissions by 2050.

“We’re launching a high-level, climate-ambition ministerial and to align our policies and our goals to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050,” Biden said in a speech on Tuesday following a bilateral meeting with the Canadian leader.

US Special Climate Change Envoy John Kerry and his Canadian counterpart, Environment Minister Jonathan Wilkinson, will host the ministerial effort.

The partnership comes after Biden revoked a key permit for the Keystone XL pipeline, which would have transported 830,000 barrels a day of carbon-intensive heavy crude from Canada’s Alberta to Nebraska in the US, on his first day in office last month – one amid a flurry of executive orders aimed at curbing climate change.

A US official said the North American neighbours will “cooperate on policy alignment” and aim to announce new emission reduction targets under the Paris climate agreement for the year 2030 by April 22 – the day that the US will host a climate leaders summit.

The official told reporters that areas of policy alignment “of mutual interest” would include reducing methane in oil and gas operations, transport and vehicles and climate change resilience.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told the Reuters news agency earlier this month that the US is interested in boosting imports of hydroelectric power. In a separate interview, Environment Minister Wilkinson said combining Canada’s clean energy with US wind, solar and geothermal power was a priority for early talks between the two countries.

‘A current reality’

Meanwhile, in a speech to the UN Security Council on Tuesday, representatives of some of the world’s small-island nations – among the most vulnerable to rising seas caused by warming temperatures – highlighted the urgent need for new tools to predict and prepare for climate-linked security threats. They also called for changes in international law to accommodate people displaced by climate change.

“Make no mistake, climate change’s existential threat to our own survival is not a future consideration, but a current reality,” said Antigua and Barbuda Prime Minister Gaston Browne in a speech at the virtual event.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who hosted the session ahead of the COP26 United Nations climate negotiations planned for November in Glasgow, said climate change had become “a geopolitical issue every bit as much as an environmental one”.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson watches a video address by conservationist David Attenborough at a session of the UN Security Council on climate and security [Stefan Rousseau/Pool via Reuters]

Around the world, weather-related disasters are now displacing 16 million people a year and increasing migration, with water shortages and crop failures also making vulnerable people prey to violent “extremists” and human traffickers, he said.

Climate change effects – from sea-level rise to worsening wildfires, droughts, floods and storms – are undermining development in poor countries and will worsen without swift action to slash planet-heating emissions, he and others said.

Security threat

The dangers are increasingly obvious for rich nations as well as poor, they added, whether in the form of wilder weather, soaring insurance costs or more migrants crossing borders.

“It is absolutely clear that climate change is a threat to our collective security and the security of our nations,” Johnson said.

“Whether you like it or not, it is a matter of when, not if, your country and your people will have to deal with the security impacts of climate change.”

Around the world, weather-related disasters are now displacing 16 million people a year and fuelling migration, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Tuesday [File: Willy Kurniawan/Reuters]

Through the UN climate negotiations and other groupings, countries have taken some steps to address the growing risks, including creating new insurance pools for poor countries threatened by extreme weather.

Under the Paris Agreement on climate change, wealthier countries also committed to raise $100bn a year starting in 2020 to help poorer countries grow cleanly and adapt to more extreme weather and rising seas – a goal yet to be met.

The Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS) has pushed hard for 30 years for a formal means to address unavoidable “loss and damage” from climate change, including the potential loss of entire islands to higher seas.

A “Warsaw Mechanism” to deal with climate loss and damage was created under UN talks – but little help is on offer besides support for insurance policies.

So far, representatives of small island states said, international action was lagging, with Browne calling efforts “fragmented and quite frankly inadequate”.

Aubrey Webson, the AOSIS chairman and Antigua and Barbuda’s ambassador to the United Nations, said getting the UN Security Council to back swifter action on climate risks could pave the way for breakthroughs at COP26.

“What we might need to see is the Security Council using its muscle to push the COP forward,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in a telephone interview.

Source: Reuters