The US must ally with Canada to tackle climate change

A plan to replace Buy American” with Buy North American” provisions to strengthen cross-border collaboration.

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Jayson Myers is CEO of Next Generation Manufacturing Canada, an industry-led not-for-profit organization. This contributed content represents the views of the author, not those of Canary Media.

The fight against climate change has become a focus for global action, with one key player now stepping up to the plate: President Biden and his administration. The U.S. has (finally) made climate change a national priority in its recent policy and infrastructure plans. But the administration is also sending conflicting signals.

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The world applauded as the U.S. rejoined the Paris Agreement. All eyes were on the president as he set ambitious new greenhouse gas emission targets at the Leaders Summit on Climate in March that brought together 40 world leaders to discuss efforts to tackle the climate crisis. The administration has also spelled out its plans in its infrastructure bill before Congress, proposing billions of dollars to be invested in programs to decarbonize energy production, accelerate the transition to electric vehicles and expand the stock of energy-efficient buildings.

But the president’s executive order doubling down on Buy American restrictions in federal procurement and infrastructure spending is a step in the wrong direction. A do-it-yourself approach to tackling climate change is more likely to slow down the modernization of U.S. infrastructure, increase costs for government and business, limit access to the clean technologies and products that the world has to offer, and trigger similar restrictions in other countries that will make it even harder for U.S. manufacturers and tech providers to export into global markets.

If the president is serious about making rapid progress in fighting climate change, he should be seeking to partner more closely with America’s biggest trading partners — especially Canada.

Prioritizing the war against climate change

The world is at war against climate change. As close allies, the U.S. and Canada need a joint strategy to achieve emission reductions. The two countries are closely interwoven in terms of energy, manufacturing and technology values chains, and the Trudeau government’s commitments to reduce Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions 45 percent below 2005 levels over the next 10 years are in line with U.S. objectives.

Instead of implementing trade restrictions, we need a new climate-focused procurement sharing agreement. For models of that kind of cooperation, look to the defense industry.

When it comes to security, U.S. defense arrangements are more extensive and more integrated with Canada than with any other country. We have mutual defense commitments under NATO and cooperate on continental defense within the joint command framework of the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD). Agreements are also in place to manage defense procurement and to share defense-related research and development between our two countries.

The primary goal of these arrangements is for the U.S. and Canada to work in partnership to enhance security and economic competitiveness, accelerating opportunities for people, goods and services between our two countries. This approach should also be mobilized in our efforts to combat climate change.

Here’s where the countries’ shared resources come into play

A U.S.-Canada procurement agreement for climate change would simply acknowledge how important each country is for the other as primary customers and suppliers of energy, resources, manufactured goods and clean technologies that will be necessary to achieve our emission-reduction objectives.

Canada offers a secure supply of the resources the U.S. will need to meet its emission targets. Canada’s clean supply of electricity is attracting major investments from manufacturers producing zero-emission technologies. Less than 18% of Canada’s electricity is generated from fossil fuels, in contrast to 60% in the U.S. Our integrated electricity supply will provide greater flexibility and heightened energy security as the U.S. pivots to renewable sources of power and demand for electricity increases in both countries.

Canada is also a supplier of many of the critical minerals needed in the production of batteries and electronics. This is an important reminder that the products required to build our modern electrified infrastructure are based on supply chains that depend on mining and refining of resources, as well as the manufacturing of parts and components sourced north of the 49th parallel.

Canada’s oil and gas industries, in addition to other resource-processing industries such as steel and aluminum, are also among the most carbon-efficient in the world. The technological and engineering solutions they have adopted to reduce emission intensity provide a ready market for manufacturers and technology providers alike on both sides of the border.

A joint roadmap toward a carbon-neutral future

Joint action by Canada and the U.S. will not just be a more effective approach to combating climate change. It will also offer more opportunities for domestic manufacturers to grow their business and provide well-paying jobs.

A Buy North American” policy adopted by both countries would help level the playing field for investment, minimize disruption to supply chains, lower manufacturing and infrastructure costs, and spur innovation by accelerating the development, scale-up and adoption of carbon-reduction technologies in industries that are already highly integrated across our border.

Neither the U.S. nor Canada can afford to see trade restrictions or more bureaucracy at the border stand in the way of their efforts to tackle climate change. It will be hard enough to make progress toward a carbon-neutral future while also maintaining economic prosperity and creating well-paying jobs.

We need to go way beyond setting targets. Our governments need to get serious about making strategic investments that will deliver the biggest bang for the buck in encouraging new and innovative ways to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The only way to get there is by joint action that mobilizes the resources of both countries to fight a common threat that knows no borders.

(Lead photo: Adrien Delforge)

Jayson Myers is the CEO of Next Generation Manufacturing Canada, an industry-led not-for-profit organization that leads Canada’s Advanced Manufacturing Supercluster.