North American leaders pledge 50% clean energy by 2025

President Barack Obama joined Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto and Canadian President Justin Trudeau in Ottawa for the North American Leaders' summit. (Credit: Presidencia de la República Mexicana/Flickr)

U.S. President Barack Obama, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto met for a historic summit in Ottawa, Canada, this week and announced a landmark agreement to produce 50 percent of their countries’ power from clean energy sources by 2025.

To achieve that goal, the leaders agreed to work to harmonize energy regulations, increase energy efficiency, phase out inefficient fossil fuel subsidies and reduce emissions of methane, a greenhouse gas.

“For too long, we’ve heard that confronting climate change means destroying our economies,” Obama said in a speech to Canada’s Parliament after the summit concluded. “This is the only planet we’ve got and this may be the last shot we’ve got to save it. And America and Canada are going to have to lead the way.”

The energy goals are a jump from the current collective clean power levels of about 37 percent, the Guardian reported and would require the most work from the United States, which produces about 75 percent of the countries’ power.

Today, about a third of U.S. power comes from clean energy sources. Obama has made the reduction of climate-changing carbon emissions a priority as the end of his presidency approaches.

Canada is the leader of the trio in terms of clean energy, producing 81 percent of its electricity from hydroelectric, solar, wind and nuclear power generation, according to the Guardian. Mexico produces less than 20 percent of its power from clean energy, though Mexican officials have already pledged to reach 35 percent by 2024.

The energy agreement comes the same week as a report, published by the International Energy Agency, which said air pollution is now the fourth largest threat to human health – behind high blood pressure, dietary risks and smoking – contributing to around 6.5 million deaths annually. And unless changes are made to the way the world uses and produces energy, premature deaths from air pollution will continue to rise.

But according to the report, just a 7 percent increase in global energy investment ($4.7 trillion) could cut the mortality rate in half by 2040.

“This is completely peanuts. With a 7 percent increase you can save over 3 million lives,” IEA Executive Director Fatih Birol told reporters in London.

Asia will account for almost 90 percent of the rise in deaths, according to the report, with harmful greenhouse gas emissions set to rise in India, southeast Asia and Africa as energy demand growth outpaces efforts to improve air quality. And while Asia accounted for 80 percent of the estimated 4.3 million deaths caused by household air pollution in 2012, North America accounted for 0.3 percent.

Still, the findings are a call for governments and policymakers worldwide to start making tangible efforts to switch to clean energy sources. According to Trudeau, North America’s steps toward adopting more clean energy practices set a global example that will help spark similar changes in the coming years.

“It’s not just a matter of doing our fair share. It’s a matter of showing leadership in the world,” Trudeau said at the Ottawa summit. “When it comes to climate change and clean energy we have to do more than our share. We have to show that the future of the environment and the economy involves taking responsible decisions for the environment and green energy.”

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Lisa Nikolau

Lisa Nikolau is a Madrid-based reporter for Humanosphere, covering gender equality, indigenous rights and poverty in Latin America and worldwide. Find her on Twitter at @lisanikolau, email lisa.nikolau@humanosphere.org or see her latest work at www.lisanikolau.com