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3 Reasons the Historic U.S.-Canada Commitment to Curbing Methane Emissions Is Big

Climate

Yesterday during the first official visit by a Canadian Prime Minister to the U.S. in 19 years, the two countries made a historic and precedent-setting announcement to curb methane emissions. In addition to pledging cooperation on implementing their emissions reduction commitments under the Paris agreement, advancing clean energy and preserving the Arctic, the two North American countries both committed to cutting methane emissions from their oil and gas sectors by 40-45 percent below 2012 levels by 2025 and to explore additional avenues for reducing methane emissions.

Photo credit: White House

While at first glance this announcement may seem to have a particularly niche focus, it is critically important to helping solve the climate crisis in three key ways:

1. The Announcement Demonstrates Continued Momentum for Internationally Agreed-Upon Climate Action

Last December, a year of bilateral announcements and national emissions reduction commitments culminated in the Paris agreement, where the entire global community made a historic agreement to limit greenhouse gas emissions. It was an exhilarating moment—but now countries around the world must turn their attention to the hard work of implementing their plans and increasing the ambition of their commitments over time.

This agreement between the U.S. and Canada is exactly the kind of inspiring, additive action we need to continue the momentum from Paris. The more joint announcements, the more ambition can be increased, the more countries expand their actions to include global warming emissions beyond carbon dioxide, the greater our chances become of winning the climate fight.

2. The New Plan Expands Upon Existing U.S. Enivornmental Protection Agency (EPA) Safeguards on Methane

Although carbon dioxide is the global warming pollutant with which most people are familiar, methane is nevertheless a highly potent greenhouse gas that, according to Environmental Defense Fund is responsible for about a quarter of today's global warming. The U.S. and Canada are among the top five largest emitters of oil and gas-sector methane in the world. And in the U.S. alone, oil and gas operations leak enough methane to power millions of homes.

The U.S. EPA was already in the process of developing new rules to limit methane emissions from new oil and gas operations. The U.S. and Canada's announcement sets into motion a process for the EPA to not only look at new facilities, but to take action on existing sources of methane as well.

3. Canada's National Government is Echoing the Will of Its People and Provinces

There is a reason we held a Climate Reality Leadership Corps training in Toronto last year: Canada is a crucial player in the climate fight. In recent years, the country seemed to be on the wrong track at the national level, backing away from any leadership role on climate change. But courageous regional leaders like Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne and local activists like our Canadian Climate Reality Leaders continued calling for stronger climate action as Alberta, traditionally a fossil fuel stronghold, elected a government that unveiled a plan for both an economy-wide carbon tax and a cap on pollution from oil sands last November. Today, under Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, the national government has chartered a new course on climate action that better reflects the will of its people and regional leaders.

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The last time San Francisco did not record a drop of rain in February was in 1864 as the Civil War raged.

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On Thursday, the U.S. Drought Monitor said nearly 60 percent of the state was abnormally dry, up from 46 percent just last week, according to The Mercury News in San Jose.

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"Given what we've seen so far this year and the forecast for the next few weeks, I do think it's pretty likely we'll end up in some degree of drought by this summer," said Swain, as The Mercury News reported.

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Right now, the snowpack is at 53 percent of its normal volume after two warm and dry months to start the year. It is a remarkable decline, considering that the snowpack started 2020 at 90 percent of its historical average, as The Guardian reported.

"Those numbers are going to continue to go down," said Swain. "I would guess that the 1 March number is going to be less than 50 percent."

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Climate Prediction Center forecast that the drier-than-average conditions may last through April.

NOAA said Northern California will continue deeper into drought through the end of April, citing that the "persistent high pressure over the North Pacific Ocean is expected to continue, diverting storm systems to the north and south and away from California and parts of the Southwest," as The Weather Channel reported.

As the climate crisis escalates and the world continues to heat up, California should expect to see water drawn out of its ecosystem, making the state warmer and drier. Increased heat will lead to further loss of snow, both as less falls and as more of it melts quickly, according to The Guardian.

"We aren't going to necessarily see less rain, it's just that that rain goes less far. That's a future where the flood risk extends, with bigger wetter storms in a warming world," said Swain, as The Guardian reported.

The Guardian noted that while California's reservoirs are currently near capacity, the more immediate impact of the warm, dry winter will be how it raises the fire danger as trees and grasslands dry out.

"The plants and the forests don't benefit from the water storage reservoirs," said Swain, as The Mercury News reported. "If conditions remain very dry heading into summer, the landscape and vegetation is definitely going to feel it this year. From a wildfire perspective, the dry years do tend to be the bad fire years, especially in Northern California."