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Emissions Swaps

North American leaders envision regional trading system for greenhouse gases

by Cheryl Hogue
August 17, 2009 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 87, Issue 33

Credit: Alfredo Guerrero/Xinhua/Newscom
Harper (from left), Calderón, and Obama met in Mexico to discuss many topics including climate change.
Credit: Alfredo Guerrero/Xinhua/Newscom
Harper (from left), Calderón, and Obama met in Mexico to discuss many topics including climate change.

President Barack Obama and the leaders of Mexico and Canada have begun laying the groundwork for a North American system for trading greenhouse gas emissions.

As part of their North American Leader’s Summit last week, Obama, Mexican President Felipe Calderón, and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper agreed to “facilitate future cooperation” on a regional system for emission trading.

Such a regional trading system would be predicated on completion of a new international climate-change treaty. With a North American trading system in place, the U.S. could buy allowances from Mexico or Canada to meet its emissions reduction obligations under the climate accord, which negotiators are now crafting and hope to finish in December.

At their regional summit held in Guadalajara, Mexico, Obama, Harper, and Calderón agreed that the goal of the new climate treaty should be cutting global emissions of greenhouse gases in half by 2050. They also said the international agreement should call for industrialized countries, such as the U.S. and Canada, to curb their emissions by at least 80% by 2050. These cuts would be based on 1990 levels “or more recent years,” the leaders said in a declaration on climate change and clean energy.

The three leaders agreed the U.S., Canada, and Mexico would develop comparable methods for measuring and verifying cuts in emissions. Plus, Obama, Calderón, and Harper said their nations would cooperate on ways to adapt to unavoidable climate change.

They also pledged cooperation to reduce the venting and flaring of natural gas and to align the three countries’ energy-efficiency standards.

In addition, the three North American leaders took aim at a class of potent greenhouse gases called hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs). These synthetic compounds are used as refrigerants in place of chemicals that deplete the stratospheric ozone layer.

They endorsed the international reduction of HFC emissions through an existing treaty, the Montreal Protocol on Substances That Deplete the Ozone Layer, rather than including HFCs in a new climate-change pact.



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