Electric Auto Pact is Logical Next Step for Three Amigos
Author — Merran Smith
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The leaders of the United States, Mexico and Canada are expected to walk away from their meetings this week with new continental commitments to tackle climate change and boost clean energy generation.

It’s a logical and smart move: all three have made climate action a priority at home and abroad, and in light of the international climate agreement reached in Paris last year, it makes sense to work together on this crucial issue.

But the teamwork doesn’t need to stop there. The three countries are also globally significant auto manufacturers; in fact we have the world’s most integrated automotive supply chains.

In all three North American countries, the transportation sector is the second-largest source of greenhouse gas pollution. Electric cars are a key part of the solution for that sector’s emissions.

So why not weave those two strands together? The time is right to craft a bold new agreement: a North American Electric Auto Pact.

Here’s why clean cars plus clean power is a win for all three amigos.

Electric cars are poised for very significant growth (admittedly from a fairly low baseline: they represent less than one percent of global light duty vehicle sales today). That’s because the batteries that power them are becoming cheaper all the time, and more and more automakers are producing attractive electric vehicles, generating jobs and growth in the process.

Earlier this month, for example, Chrysler confirmed that its plug-in Pacifica—the first electric minivan—will be built in Windsor, Ontario, a commitment that is estimated to produce 1,200 local jobs.

In all three North American countries, the transportation sector is the second-largest source of greenhouse gas pollution. Electric cars are a key part of the solution for that sector’s emissions.

Indeed, analysis of deep cuts to carbon pollution in Canada suggests that by 2050, virtually the entire personal transportation sector will be powered by electricity. And the more clean power we generate, the greater the environmental benefits of driving electric vehicles.

97 per cent of electric vehicles sold in Canada last year were in the three provinces that offered rebates for such purchases.

That’s why the commitment to achieve 50 per cent clean power across the continent by 2025 is a big deal. Across North America—and around the world as well—one of the most important ingredients for successful climate action is clean electricity. We simply won’t be able to avoid dangerous climate change, as all our countries have pledged to do, unless we switch over time to using clean power for activities like driving our cars and heating our homes.

That’s where Canada has a huge head start: we have one of the cleanest grids in the world today, with nearly two-thirds of our power generated from renewable energy sources. Taken together with nuclear power, which is currently 17 per cent of Canada’s supply mix, our electricity system is over 80 per cent greenhouse gas emission-free.

But clean energy is big business for our North American partners too: the U.S. was the world’s second-largest clean energy investor, after China, with over $56 billion USD invested last year. And sunny Mexico saw its clean energy spending more than double in 2015.

A big part of President Obama’s climate legacy will be the U.S. Clean Power Plan, which will cut pollution from U.S. coal plants—and, importantly, allows imports of new Canadian clean power to help states meet their targets. Meanwhile, Mexico is engaged in a far-reaching energy sector reform.

So all three leaders are taking essential steps to clean up their power supply and grow their clean energy potential. Marry that to a growing commitment to electric cars, and you’re on your way to continent-wide success in cutting emissions.

An electric auto pact could start with a trilateral commitment to invest in charging infrastructure for electric cars across the continent, so that drivers can have confidence they’ll find the power they need wherever their route takes them.

The three governments should also commit to a growing percentage of electric vehicles in their own fleets, and support states and provinces that make similar commitments—as U.S. states and British Columbia have already done via the Pacific Coast Collaborative.

Where necessary, the three countries can coordinate on standards and regulations.

We also know that incentives work: 97 per cent of electric vehicles sold in Canada last year were in the three provinces that offered rebates for such purchases. Today, the U.S. federal government offers incentives of up to $7,500 USD for electric cars—an incentive that Ottawa has yet to match.

The original auto pact helped build a strong and smart vehicle manufacturing sector in Canada, one that takes advantage of the massive market next door. Shifting focus to electric vehicles and infrastructure is the logical next step.

It is time Canada, the U.S. and Mexico teamed up to roll a trilateral electric vehicle pact off the assembly line, and help ensure a cleaner and more prosperous future for all our citizens.


Written by Merran Smith, Executive Director at Clean Energy Canada, a program of Simon Fraser University’s Centre for Dialogue, and Sergio Marchi is President and CEO of the Canadian Electricity Association.

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