Environmentalists and the Trudeau government see ongoing talks to renegotiate NAFTA as an opportunity to make the free trade deal “more progressive,” including on climate change policies.
Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland recently told lawmakers “NAFTA should be made more progressive,” which includes “integrating enhanced environmental provisions to ensure no NAFTA country weakens environmental protection to attract investment.”
President Donald Trump made NAFTA renegotiation a major part of his presidential bid. Officials from the three countries — the U.S., Canada and Mexico — party to the Clinton-era free trade deal met in Washington, D.C. this week to reform it.
While there is some common ground for all three counties, the Trudeau government will push environmental efforts “that fully supports efforts to address climate change,” Freeland told the House of Commons on Monday.
One reason that these progressive elements, particularly on environment and labour, are so important is that they are how we guarantee that the modernized NAFTA will not only be an exemplary free trade deal, it will also be a fair trade deal. Canadians broadly support free trade.
Two days later, the environmental group Resources for the Future (RFF) published a list of recommendations for environmental policy “harmonization.” Among other things, RFF recommends better coordination on environmental reviews for infrastructure projects and oil and gas regulations.
They weren’t alone. A coalition of 15 environmental groups released eight policy demands on NAFTA renegotiation. Those demands included having governments use a “climate impact test” when crafting new policies.
“With today’s NAFTA talks shrouded in secrecy and an administration stocked with corporate polluters, we have a good idea of the answer,” the Sierra Club’s Ben Beachy said in a statement released Wednesday.
RFF identified eliminating fossil fuel subsidies and harmonizing standards for oil and gas development. The group also wants all three governments to “harmonize CO2 policies where possible.”
RFF encourages cooperation on methane emissions, but admits “federal harmonization on climate policies is improbable at best in the short-term.”
So, instead, the group calls on states and local governments to use NAFTA talks as a platform for more coordination on climate policies.
“In the meantime, sub-national efforts in the United States and both federal and sub-national undertakings in both Mexico and Canada will continue North American efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions,” RFF analysts wrote.
“In particular, subnational governments have an incentive to work together to harmonize rules around methane venting, flaring and leaks, and black carbon,” reads the report.
In essence, RFF is encouraging states to continue what some have already started — to ignore Trump on climate policy. Hundreds of city officials and at least one dozen state governors pledged to honor the goals of the Paris climate accord.
Trump announced he would withdraw the U.S. from the climate accord in June, but that process is expected to take years. California Gov. Jerry Brown has become the de facto leader on this issue, signing climate agreements in China earlier this year.
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