On Friday, representatives from the United States, Canada, and Mexico signed a memorandum of understanding on climate change and energy collaboration which could mark the beginning of the first North American accord on climate change.
The trilateral agreement was signed by U.S. Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz, Canada's Natural Resources Minister Jim Carr, and Mexico's Secretary of Energy, Pedro Joaquín Coldwell. It commits the signatories to sharing data on energy supply and distribution, developing new clean energy initiatives and technologies, as well as improving energy efficiency across the continent.
"This memorandum takes the important strides we've made in recent years towards a continental approach to energy and expands our relationship in support of an even more ambitious clean-energy environmental agreement," said Carr.
Coextensive with the signing of this agreement, the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) partners announced the completion of a web-based platform which maps out all of the North American energy infrastructure.
"As of today all of our North American energy data and energy maps are gathered on one platform for the first time," said Carr. "This is significant because it allows us to think about continental energy integration in a new light."
The signing of this memorandum comes on the heels of the COP21 conference on climate change held in Paris in December, which produced a climate change agreement which was heralded as a diplomatic success, yet one lacking any teeth.
Closer to home, the benchmark West Texas Intermediate crude oil prices hit a six-year low in 2015 and the price of natural gas continues to plummet. Considering that $119 billion in energy products were traded across the continent in 2015 (Canada alone ships over 2.5 million barrels of crude oil a day to the US and provides 98 percent of its natural gas imports), the falling price of oil provides a significant economic incentive for the NAFTA partners to begin hashing out means of promoting the development of clean energy.
"Our challenge … is to use this very low spot in the commodity cycle to make transformational change; to find that sweet spot between resource development and environmental stewardship," said Carr.
Many of the individual signatories have already begun working towards a low carbon future individually. Canada's new liberal government under Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has been very vocal about the need to focus on the clean energy sector to bolster Canada's economy and reduce carbon emissions. Obama has been pushing a clean power plan for years, and the US continues to see significant growth in its clean energy capacity despite last week's supreme court ruling blocking Obama's efforts to cut carbon emissions from power plants. And then there's Mexico, which has significant renewable energy resources and aims to generate 35 percent of its energy needs from renewable sources by 2024.
Although each signatory has experienced some degree of individual success in shifting toward a national clean energy regime, they hoped that the memorandum will allow for greater steps in this direction by coordinating their efforts.
"North America is truly on the same page on all of these issues," said Carr. "I think that it's a happy alignment."