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There's a New Pledge from North and South American Leaders to Fight Climate Change

Former US vice president Al Gore and former Mexican president Felipe Calderon joined leaders in Toronto this week for the Climate Summit of the Americas. It produced the first-ever Pan-American action statement on climate change.

by Rachel Browne
Jul 9 2015, 9:00pm

Photo by Newzulu, via The Canadian Press

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Representatives from across North and South America gathered in Toronto this week for the Climate Summit of the Americas, where the government of Ontario and 21 other jurisdictions signed the first-ever Pan-American action statement on climate change.

Signatories to the statement — including Vermont, Oregon, and San Paolo — agreed to band together to make sure global temperature levels don't go up more than two degrees celsius, report publicly on their efforts to reduce emissions, and support carbon pricing.

"With strength and collaboration across the Americas, across provinces, states, and cities, we're providing critical climate change solutions," Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne, who organized the two-day summit, told reporters today, adding that the statement sets the stage for the UN climate conference in Paris later this year.

Speakers included former US vice-president Al Gore, former president of Mexico Felipe Calderón, and California Governor Jerry Brown. CEOs from Royal Dutch Shell and the US Chamber of Commerce were also in attendance.

On Thursday, Al Gore started the final day of the summit with an optimistic speech about the future of the clean energy sector. "The thrilling news is the cost of renewable sources of energy is plummeting much faster than anyone expected they would," he told the crowd.

Urgent action on climate change is needed immediately, Gore continued, citing the surge of climate refugees around the world, raging wildfires in Saskatchewan and Washington, and the drought in California. "It is striking, isn't it, that every night on television news is like a nature hike through the Book of Revelation," he said.

Calderón, who chairs the Global Commission on the Economy and Climate, addressed the summit in the afternoon, saying 2014 was the first time in 40 years that worldwide GDP grew by 3% while emissions stayed the same.

"We can have better economic growth and a better climate. We can tackle climate change and we can create jobs," he said. "This is how we avoid disaster in the coming years."

This week, Calderón's commission released a new report on ways governments can boost economic growth by supporting a low-carbon economy. The report says its 10 recommendations could "deliver up to 96 percent of the emissions reductions required by 2030."

Earlier this week, Ontario's environment commission told the province it needs to take further action if it plans to meet its greenhouse gas emission reduction targets by 2020.

"My feeling is that we're seeing the beginning of the end of the fossil fuel era," Quebec's premier, Philippe Couillard, said on Wednesday. "It's going to happen because people have innovated and invented new technologies that will take us elsewhere. The Stone Age didn't end because of a lack of stones."

Representatives from Canada's federal government, including the environment minister, were notably absent from the event. A spokesperson for the minister told Global News the federal government is the first in Canadian history to reduce greenhouse gas emissions "without implementing carbon taxes or carbon-pricing schemes."

Follow Rachel Browne on Twitter: @rp_browne