U.S. to lead continent to 50% renewable energy

Jul 05, 2016, 2:47 PM EDT
Peña Nieto, Trudeau, Obama. (Source: Presidencia de la República Mexicana/flickr)
Peña Nieto, Trudeau, Obama. (Source: Presidencia de la República Mexicana/flickr)

Last Wednesday, U.S. President Barack Obama, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, and Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto announced a North American Climate, Clean Energy, and Environment Partnership Action Plan at the North American Leaders Summit. The trilateral plan calls for the North American continent to generate at least 50% of its power from clean energy sources by the year 2025.

This plan calls for more power generation supplemented by nuclear and renewable energy sources, a decrease of carbon emissions via carbon capture technology, and an overall reduction of electricity demand through energy efficiency efforts. In addition, the plan supports the review of the current electrical grid and the development of more cross border transmission carriers.

By all accounts, this is a lofty goal for the continent to pursue. According to the Energy Information Administration (EIA), the U.S produced roughly 33% of all its electricity from renewables and nuclear power in 2015. The Administration also reports that Mexico only generated 4% and 15% of its power in 2014 with nuclear and renewable sources, respectively, thus totaling 19% of the country’s generation capacity. Lastly, the Canadian Ministry of Natural Resources estimates that renewables account for 18.9% and nuclear for roughly 16% (in 2014) of all electricity produced in the country. The brunt of the transition will have to be carried by the United States. The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) reports that the U.S. has an electricity market nearly 8 times greater than Canada and 18 times that of Mexico.

The North American Action Plan comes less than a year after the COP21 agreement in Paris where nearly 200 countries agreed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. As a signatory and the world’s second largest greenhouse gas emitter, the United States pledged to reduce its carbon footprint between 26%-28% below 2005 levels. The Obama Administration had already made strides toward this goal when it announced the Clean Power Plan last August, which specifically targets the reduction of carbon intensive power plants in each state. Though the constitutionality of the Environmental Protection Agency’s plan is currently being weighed inside the judicial branch, the U.S. is already moving away from coal. Earlier this year, Peabody Energy and Arch Coal, the nation’s two largest coal producers both filed for Chapter 11 Bankruptcy.

The three leaders look to set the tone for addressing climate change in the global community. Though most of the plan’s energy and GHG targets are redundant to COP21, the North American Plan highlights the requirement for international collaboration when planning for the energy needs of the future. Encouraged sharing of successful financing methods, policies, and technologies across borders is a clear acknowledgment that all three nations view themselves as responsible members of the global community. In a U.S. election year where threads of isolationism have controlled the political debate, perhaps international treaties on climate change can be utilized as America’s (electric) vehicle in keeping its title as leader of the free world.