North American environment meetings come North for first time

North American environment meetings come North for first time
Federal Environment Minister Leona Aglukkaq addresses the meeting of the Commission for Environmental Cooperation in Yellowknife. With her, from left, are Juan Jose Guerra Abud, Dan McDougall and Gina McCarthy.Photo: Jack Danylchuk.

A generation after it was created to monitor environmental impacts of the North American free trade agreement, the Commission for Environmental Cooperation has formally recognized climate change and the relevance of traditional knowledge.

“Climate change is the greatest challenge of our time,” Gina McCarthy, administrator of the United States Environmental Protection Agency, said on the final day of the two-day gathering in Yellowknife.

The meeting drew more than 100 participants from Canada, Mexico and the U.S. to CEC’s first ever meeting in the North, and created some profile for the body that has been all but invisible for the past 20 years.

“The science is clear; we see the impacts already, in every region,” McCarthy said, as smoke from dozens of wildfires wafted over the city. “This is not about modeling experiences, it’s about examples that we can see and the costs associated with them.”

McCarthy said President Barack Obama has marked climate change as the “signature legacy issue” of his administration and wants to collaborate more with Mexico and Canada on finding answers.

The free trade partners are among the worst on the globe in their efforts to curb climate change. According to the 2014 Climate Change Performance Index, Canada ranked 58th out of 61 countries. The U.S. was 43rd and Mexico 20th.

Stephen Harper’s government champions oilsands projects and exports and, in response to Obama’s climate change initiatives earlier this year, the prime minister said he would continue to support business-friendly climate change policies.

“No country is going to take actions that are going to deliberately destroy jobs and growth in their country,” Harper said at the time.

McCarthy told delegates that “climate change is a global problem that demands a global response. Leaders have to step up. If we fail to address climate change, we will not have economic growth that people expect.”

Federal Environment Minister Leona Aglukkaq didn’t contradict McCarthy on climate change. She pilloried Greenpeace for its opposition to the Inuit seal hunt and tailored her message to fit the closing statement from the meeting.

For the next five years, CEC will focus on three new priorities: climate change mitigation and adaptation, green growth, and sustainable communities and ecosystems.

“We intend to work with local and indigenous communities across North America to enhance our understanding of the environment,” the CEC promised.

“We also recognize the importance of preserving the traditional knowledge and practices of local and indigenous communities that contribute to addressing the effects of climate change, conservation and sustainable use of natural resources and biological diversity,” the communiqué said.

Aglukkaq said the emphasis on sustainable communities will provide an opportunity to “focus our work on learning from indigenous communities, enhance the alignment of environmental regulatory standards and enforcement and compliance, and enhance information sharing, transparency and communication.

“It’s our intention that the work of the commission enhances work in our three countries and co-operative efforts that are being made elsewhere,” Aglukkaq said.

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