The absence of governance: climate change in Canada and the United States.

AuthorRabe, Barry G.

There has been remarkably little formal collaboration between Canada and the United States on the issue of climate change policy, despite a wide range of mechanisms for cross-border engagement on common environmental concerns and a vast body of literature that underscores the threat that climate change poses to both nations. Bodies such as the International Joint Commission (IJC) and the North American Commission for Environmental Cooperation (CEC), as well as non-governmental organizations, have published studies outlining the risks of climate change in both Canada and the United States (IJC 2003; CEC 2002, 2008; National Wildlife Federation 2007). These reports examine not only the prospect of elevated temperature but also the proliferation of extreme weather events, public health risks due to changing patterns for disease transmission via insects, declining surface water levels, elevated sea levels, and shifts in agricultural productivity. Such reports are consistent with those generated for each nation or various regions therein. They provide a common framing for an environmental challenge that is daunting in its potential impact, with cascading effects that could influence virtually every other area of environmental governance, from fisheries habitat to availability of drinking water. These types of documents also confirm the sizable contributions that Canada and the United States make to the global release of carbon each year. These nations' per capita rates of emissions are very similar and both rank among the very highest in the world. Together, they continue to generate more than one-quarter of global emissions per year, with the United States ranking second among individual nations only to China and Canada ranking seventh in annual emissions in recent years. The United States and Canada obviously cannot solve the problem of climate change through unilateral actions. But they clearly need to play significant roles in any serious effort to reduce global emissions and thereby alleviate potential impacts. Nonetheless, climate change policy development was slow within both nations, much less on a collaborative basis. However, there were signs in early 2009 of possible cultivation of a cross-border partnership on climate and clean energy that might also take full continental form through the inclusion of Mexico.

Ironically, climate change is not a new environmental challenge, though its saliency in both Canada and the United States has increased markedly in recent years. In 1988, Prime Minister Brian Mulroney heralded the era of global climate governance with a high-profile opening address at the International Conference on the Changing Atmosphere hosted in Toronto. This produced a recommendation that global greenhouse gas emissions were to be reduced 20 percent by 2005, which was supported by both Canadian and American governments. A few years later, both nations had ratified the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (FCCC), calling for national emissions stabilization at 1990 levels by 2000. The 1997 negotiation of a binding international agreement, the Kyoto Protocol, followed. In this instance, Canada and the United States took remarkably similar positions to the bargaining table and left Kyoto with nearly identical emission reduction commitments that were to be realized by the end of the current decade.

All of this activity between the late 1980s and late 1990s suggested that climate change would essentially be framed as a challenge of international governance, requiring some formal cooperation among nations through various venues of international diplomacy. During much of this period, both Canada and the United States acknowledged that climate change was indeed a serious threat. They demonstrated considerable consistency in their research on problem severity and general receptivity toward engagement in these negotiations. Both increasingly acknowledged that early experiments in soft environmental law, such as non-binding commitment under the FCCC, produced few if any intended results. These experiments were expected to yield to some form of hard environmental law established through a treaty that featured formal reduction targets and compliance mechanisms.

More than two decades after the Toronto conference and more than a decade after Kyoto, international climate governance remains in tatters. Most parties that ratified the Kyoto Protocol, including Canada, are nowhere close to their emission reduction targets. Indeed, Canada was pledged to reduce its emissions by six percent from 1990 levels but its actual emissions soared 25 percent between 1990 and 2006. It is commonly recognized that Canada will not begin to approach its Kyoto commitment, barring cataclysmic collapse of its economy and attendant emissions decline or a highly-suspect mass purchase of offset credits from abroad. Ironically, the United States spurned Kyoto ratification but actually has a rate of emissions growth below that of Canada, 17 percent above 1990 levels by 2006. At least part of this differential, however, can be attributed to increased American import of Canadian energy and manufactured goods, whereby resulting emissions are registered in Canada. Collectively, these two cases demonstrate that the absence of climate governance has produced disturbing performance results, despite initial hopes that purely voluntary strategies and technological development would prove sufficient to reverse past trends of emissions growth.

At the same time, even the most steadfast international supporters of Kyoto, such as the European Union, have struggled to meet various national targets in many cases and have faced significant challenges in implementing a continental emissions trading system, the EU Emissions Trading Scheme (Ellerman et al. 2008). Other major ratifying nations, such as Australia, Japan, and New Zealand, have also struggled to develop policies and reduce emissions growth. Of course, emerging economies such as China and India were never bound by Kyoto and have seen extraordinary rates of greenhouse gas emissions growth in recent years. We are left with very few models for effective climate governance if indeed the goal is stabilization and reduction of emissions.

Hope springs eternal for further international diplomacy and a seamless international agreement. Indeed, the new American federal engagement on climate change in the Obama era has renewed interest in this possibility. The December 2009 Copenhagen climate meetings represent an early test case. But the growing reality of climate policy in North America and elsewhere has thus far been a patchwork quilt of state, provincial, local, and regional policies and emission reduction commitments, often leading to formal collaboration between various jurisdictions. Some scholars have begun to suggest that the next generation of climate policy will involve a mixture of sub-national, national, and multi-national agreements, developed through unique networks or partnerships (Selin and VanDeveer 2009). Such arrangements are most likely in cases where energy and related resources are shared and natural boundaries emerge for defining collaboration, whether shaped by a regional electricity grid that transcends jurisdictional boundaries or through formal compacts between governments with a history of collaboration. This allows considerable opportunity to take advantage of economies of scale and establish governance rules among institutions with some prior working relationship and trust. Such a bottom-up approach suggests possible precedents from the development of trade and monetary policy, with a gradual move toward cross-national, continental, and, in some instances, international collaboration, but allowing for some degree of regional, national, and even sub-national variation. It clearly reflects a different model from much international environmental policy and climate change deliberations to date, with presumed movement toward expanded international authority over sovereign nations and development of new institutions such as a World Environment Organization (Speth and Haas 2006).

This would seemingly create tremendous opportunity for collaboration between Canada and the United States. But the increasing engagement of individual states, provinces, cities, regions, and, in the United States, even the federal government, continues to have an ad hoc quality. There remains no governance entity currently in operation that has a formal charge to promote cross-border collaboration on greenhouse gas reductions, and all of the potential economies of scale and collaborative opportunities across policy arenas that this might entail. Instead, collective climate governance bringing together Canadian and American entities has thus far been largely non-existent.

This article is intended to further explore this lack of governance and also consider possible alternatives. It begins with a more detailed overview of ongoing climate policy development within both nations, placing particular emphasis on unexpectedly high levels of American state and regional policy engagement. This section will also consider early experimentation with creation of a Western regional zone for carbon emissions trading that links seven states and four provinces in a formal agreement. It then reviews a series of possible collaborative governance options, but examines some of the enduring stumbling blocks to such coordinated action. The paper concludes with references to other models around the globe, whereby neighboring nations have decided to work together on this issue, with particular attention to the cases of Australia and New Zealand as well as the European Union. Indeed, we will ask why it has proven so hard for Canada and the United States to find common ground on climate change, given the somewhat different record between other neighboring jurisdictions. We will explore whether greater...

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