Since 1972 North America's climate has warmed considerably, reflecting
a global trend. About half of the average rise in North America's surface
temperature during the past century - more than 0.6 °C - occurred since
the late 1970s (see graph). North America emits more greenhouse gas than
any other region, accounting for around 5 per cent of the world's population
but nearly 26 per cent of global anthropogenic emissions of CO2
in 1998 (Marland, Boden and Andres 2001). North America has one of the
world's most energy-consuming economies. The transportation sector is
the largest source of CO2 emissions, accounting for 30.1 per
cent of Canada's emissions in 1995 (EC 1998a) while in 1993 cars and light
trucks were responsible for more than 20 per cent of US CO2
emissions (Glick undated). In 1997, the US transport sector accounted
for around 5 per cent of global anthropogenic CO2 emitted and
more than one-third of total world transportation energy use (NRC 1997,
O'Meara Sheehan 2001).
| Average temperatures in the United States
Average annual temperatures in the United States
have increased more than 0.6°C since the late 1970s
Source: DOC, NOAA and NCDC 2000
Two sharp price shocks in the oil market in the
1970s helped to increase awareness that oil is not a renewable resource.
Energy-saving standards for vehicle bodies, engines and fuel efficiency
in new passenger cars were introduced in the 1970s and strengthened in
the 1980s (OECD 1996, CEQ 1997). However, a combination of factors conspired
to drive energy use up during the 1980s. Progress in total and per capita
energy efficiency slowed and CO2 emissions continued to rise
(CEQ 1997, EC 1997, OECD 1998).
Renewed efforts subsequent to the UNFCCC commitments also failed to curb
CO2 emissions in the 1990s. In 1998, emissions were 14 and
11 per cent above 1990 levels in Canada and the United States respectively
(US EPA 2000a, SRP 2000). Renewable energy production from hydropower,
wind, solar, biomass and geothermal sources is increasing but still contributes
only a small fraction of energy needs, supplying about 7 per cent of US
domestic energy demand in 2000 (US EIA 2001).
In the transport sector, progress made in car fuel efficiency and emission
controls has been partially offset by increases in the number of automobiles,
in distances travelled, and a trend since 1984 toward lightduty trucks
and sport-utility vehicles (CEQ 1997, EC 1998a). For example, between
1990 and 1995 there was a 15 per cent increase in automobile travel in
Canada, a decrease in urban transit usage and a 6 per cent increase in
total fossil fuel use (EC 1998b). In 1994, nearly 60 per cent of US households
owned two or more cars and 19 per cent owned three or more (De Souza 1999).
Cheap parking and other hidden subsidies, such as funds for highway development
and low fuel prices, have encouraged car dependency (Miller and Moffat
1993, EC 1998a).
Under the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, Canada agreed to reduce greenhouse gas
emissions to 6 per cent and the United States to 7 per cent below 1990
levels between 2008 and 2012. However, in early 2001, the United States
announced that implementing the Kyoto treaty would be too harmful to the
economy and that it would pursue other ways of addressing climate change
(US EIA 2001). At the July 2001 UNFCCC conference in Bonn a compromise
was struck allowing carbonabsorbing forests to be used against emissions
with the result that Canada may obtain more than 20 per cent of its target
with such credits (MacKinnon 2001).