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U.S., Canada Announce Shared Goals For Fighting Climate Change

President Obama and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau walk from the Oval Office to a joint press conference in the Rose Garden of the White House on Thursday.

Canada and the U.S. have announced a cooperative plan to tackle climate change by cutting methane emissions from the oil and gas industry, investing in clean energy research and reducing future hydrofluorocarbon use.

At a joint press conference in the White House Rose Garden, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and President Obama praised the strong ties between Canada and the U.S. They also announced plans to further facilitate trade between the two countries and expressed a shared commitment to protect the environment.

"As the first U.S. president to visit the Arctic, I saw how both of our nations are threatened by rising seas, melting permafrost, disappearing glaciers and sea ice," Obama said.

"The president and I share a common goal: We want a clean-growth economy that continues to provide good jobs and great opportunities for all of our citizens," Trudeau said. "And I'm confident that by working together, we'll get there sooner than we think."

Trudeau's visit to the White House is the first by a sitting Canadian prime minister in nearly two decades. And the collaborative approach to regulating the oil and gas industry comes after years of tension between the Obama and Canadian leaders over the White House's opposition to the Keystone XL pipeline.

Trudeau, who assumed his post in November, is just starting his time as the leader of Canada; Obama, for his part, is in his final year in office. But Obama told reporters he's confident that their agreement will survive the next administration.

The two leaders have committed to reduce methane emissions from the oil and gas sector by 40 to 45 percent, relative to 2012 levels, by 2025, and to join a World Bank campaign to reduce routine flaring at gas and oil operations.

Their joint statement on climate change efforts included a number of other shared commitments, including:

  • Ratifying the Paris Agreement as soon as possible
  • Implementing aligned emission standards for tractor-trailers and buses (in addition to existing standards for cars and light trucks)
  • Phasing down use of hydrofluorocarbons, an alternative to CFCs that don't damage the ozone layer but do contribute to climate change.
  • Making it easier for renewable energy to be integrated into existing power grids in the two nations
  • Phasing out fossil fuel subsidies
  • Improving the efficiency of appliances and equipment

The Keystone XL pipeline — which strained ties between the U.S. and Canada over the past few years, and dominated discussions of energy between the two nations — was not mentioned.

The two leaders also expressed a desire to collaborate to protect the Arctic beyond reducing the impact of climate change. They set a goal of protecting 17 percent of Arctic land and 10 percent of marine areas, and said they were committed to involving indigenous leaders, as well as traditional knowledge, in decisions related to the Arctic.

The shared commitment to fighting climate change, in particular, was received as a significant shift in both nations' positions.

Last year, NPR's Christopher Joyce wrote that when it came to international cooperation on climate change, "the U.S. government has been like the big-ticket movie star who has been offered the lead role, but won't commit."

And Canada? In The New Republic last fall, Rebecca Leber called Canada under former Prime Minister Stephen Harper a "climate villain."

With Thursday's joint statement, Obama and Trudeau indicated they now want their countries to step to the forefront of the global conversation on climate change.

"We know that our international partners expect — and indeed need — leadership from us on this issue," Trudeau said.

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