ECC Platform Library


NAFTA Renegotiation: An Opportunity for Climate Diplomacy

28 August, 2017
Tina Marie Marchand, Andrea Paniagua Borrego and Claire Healy, E3G

Top officials from Canada, Mexico and the US are now renegotiating the 23-year old North America Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). On the campaign trail, candidate Trump consistently called NAFTA “the worst trade deal ever,” and, in one of his first official acts as president, he signed an executive order to renegotiate the agreement. The first round  has just ended, so we are about to get an important clue about the direction of travel of climate diplomacy and policy in Canada, Mexico and the US.

“North America has the capacity, resources and the moral imperative to show strong leadership…on the Paris Agreement. We recognise that our highly integrated economies and energy systems afford a tremendous opportunity to harness growth in our continuing transition to a clean energy economy.”

These fine words from the North American Climate, Clean Energy, and Environment Partnership initiative, signed by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, President Barack Obama, and President Enrique Peña Nieto on June 29th, 2016, in Ottawa, Canada, were cheering indeed. Better still, the words came with a long list of eminently deliverable commitments.

Fast-forward a year and we find that the words remain just words. Donald Trump’s election as President of the United States has fundamentally changed the geopolitics of the region, on climate and energy, as well as on many other economic issues. Top officials from Canada, Mexico and the US are now renegotiating the 23-year old North America Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). On the campaign trail, candidate Trump consistently called NAFTA “the worst trade deal ever,” and, in one of his first official acts as president, he signed an executive order to renegotiate the agreement.

With elections looming in Mexico and midterms in the US, most expect a quick turnaround, but trade talks have been known to drag on much longer than anticipated. The first round - in which parties had to submit their proposals – has just ended, so we are about to get an important clue about the direction of travel of climate diplomacy and policy in Canada, Mexico and the US.


Canada is the only party that has officially made a reference to climate change in the context of the renegotiation. Canadian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Chrystia Freeland, let it be known on Monday, August 14th that Canada expects to reach a more progressive NAFTA agreement, and one that not only includes enhanced safeguards for workers, women and indigenous groups, but also maintains environmental integrity and addresses climate change.

Many will remember that Canada was the only country to withdraw from the Kyoto Accord, opposing binding agreements on GHG emissions reductions in the absence of US and Chinese commitments on climate. However, more recently under the more enlightened leadership of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Canada ratified the Paris Agreement; launched the first national framework on climate change (Pan-Canadian Climate Change Framework); and committed to phasing out coal-fired electricity by 2030. Canada’s commitment on climate continues to permeate through broader diplomatic processes, as seen in the case of NAFTA, and it presents an opportunity for climate diplomacy at the economic and regional level. Still, with such a high dependence on regional trade, particularly with the US (52% of Canada’s imports come from the US and 77% of exports destined for the US) – not to mention one of the largest bilateral investment stocks (totalling CA$836 billion in 2015), how hard Canada will push for strong language on climate and clean energy is a moot point.


Mexico has had a love-hate relationship with NAFTA. On one-side, the economic boost and the industrialisation it brought to parts of the country are undeniable, on the other side, there is still the issue of inequality in its society.

So far, Mexico’s statements regarding any negotiation objective that considers climate change, have been general and vague. They have spoken only of their wish “…to move towards a regional trade that is inclusive and responsible…to strengthen cooperation and dialogue among NAFTA countries, in issues of trade, environment and better border infrastructure”.

For a country that has been ambitious in its reductions of carbon emissions, that has some of the largest solar and wind reserves in the world, and that is a global and regional leader on climate change, you can only hope that it won’t be blinded and overwhelmed negotiating around its recently opened oil and gas sector which has been paying-off with new discoveries. Ominously, one of Mexico's stated objectives is  “…to take advantage of the potential of the changes made in the energy industry of Mexico and the region”. It is up to stakeholders to continually remind officials during the consultations ahead that the opportunities to profit from clean energies abound and that the future of Mexico's energy industry is not tied to exploitation of hydrocarbons. Canada has been slightly bolder in its intentions to address climate change. Perhaps it will take the lead, bring in Mexico and give this topic the relevance it deserves. If we want growth and a sustainable economic partnership, climate change is as important as car manufacturing was 23 years ago.


It was Candidate Trump’s strident talk about NAFTA that led to this occasion and it is unlikely, to say the least, that the US will be inserting any language around climate change or clean energy. NAFTA and the Paris Accord are connected in that during the campaign they were both held-up as symbols of everything wrong with international collaboration that Trump’s “America First” agenda would fix. Unlike the Paris Agreement, President Trump toned down his criticism of NAFTA and agreed to renegotiate rather than “cancel” it. The administration’s stated goals, released by the US Trade Representative, were more moderate than expected and included adding a chapter on the digital economy and incorporating and strengthening labour and environment standards currently in NAFTA side agreements. The administration has made deficit reduction a specific objective for the negotiations and the litmus test of their success.

Chapter 6 of the original agreement pertains directly to energy and there is potentially some good that could come from these talks: they could lead to further energy system integration through cross-border infrastructure and enhanced cooperation on R&D – deliverables included in the Ottawa announcement last year. Energy Secretary Perry is reported to have said the text relating to energy is likely to get more of a “massage” as opposed to a full revamp. But as with all things Trump, how aggressively the administration will promote his “America First” agenda and “Energy Dominance” policy is hard to predict. With little legislative successes and many of his other campaign commitments flailing, will the US push hard for a big win on NAFTA? How hard will Canada and Mexico push back?

Big Picture

Over the last 23 years of the treaty, the world has been reshaped, and climate change is now an economic reality, changing the way business operates.

It was, understandably, not included in the initial negotiations, but it needs to be seriously addressed during this renegotiation, especially if the stated aim is to "upgrade" the agreement and "establish 21st century standards".

It seems the best we can hope for within the narrow confines of the trade talks as currently configured is more robust language on environment standards, along with – hopefully - a meaningful enforcement mechanism. The more intriguing developments will be the impact these trade talks will have on climate and clean energy policy being debated in other forums. For example, how hard will Canada and Mexico push Trump on his withdrawal from the Paris Agreement when a regional Growth Domestic Product of 20 trillion US dollars and millions of jobs are on the negotiating block? This will require close attention in the weeks and months ahead.


[This article originally appeared on and is the first in a blog series covering the NAFTA renegotiations.] 

ArticleClimate Diplomacy

Climate Diplomacy

North America


Adaptation & Resilience

All countries will need to adapt to some of the environmental, social and economic impacts of climate change that are already unavoidable. Food security, livelihoods, water resource availability and public health are some affected areas. People living in poverty are more vulnerable, having a lower capacity to adapt. Thus, it is essential to promote resilience building. The adaptation and resilience aspects need to be mainstreamed into planning by policy makers and the private sector as well as integrated into development strategies.

Biodiversity & Livelihoods

Nature protection is most sustainable if it essentially contributes to the long-term stability of human needs. Today many regions around the world are confronted with increasing destruction of the natural foundations of life. The consequences of wide-ranging resource destruction are no longer regionally limited, but rather represent a global threat. Those affected are mainly rural populations, who find the sources of their income and the foundations of their way of life swept away. The depletion and destruction of natural resources goes hand in hand with decreasing agricultural yields and increasing poverty, which in turn forces the affected populations to deplete the remaining resources.

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Capacity Building

On the one hand, conflicts are caused by structural factors, such as economic and social inequality or environmental destruction. On the other hand, conflicts are fuelled by a lack of democratic structures, deficient mechanisms of non-violent conflict settlement, inadequate rule of law, the destruction of social and cultural identity and the disregard of human rights. Against this backdrop, development policies have been dedicated to a broad concept of security, which comprises political, economic, ecological and social stability. As a consequence, development cooperation agencies and actors have developed a broad spectrum of approaches for conflict prevention and transformation as well as for sustainable use of natural resources.

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Civil Society

Civil society is the first victim of environmental pollution, under-development and conflicts. Economically disadvantaged and politically marginalized population groups are particularly affected by violent conflicts as well as increasing resource degradation. Simultaneously, civil society is a fundamental pillar for implementing sustainable development. It contributes in many ways to strengthening conflict prevention and plays a significant role in the peaceful and democratic development of states. It must be supported to strengthen civil rights, adherence to human rights in general and democratic participation.

Climate Change

Climate change resulting from the emission of greenhouse gases represents one of the vital challenges for international environmental policy. Flooding, droughts, shifting of climate zones and increasingly frequent and intense extreme weather events will have serious economic and social consequences for entire regions. The climate problem is also directly linked to the question of future energy generation.

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Climate Diplomacy

To address the challenges posed by climate change, a new profile of climate diplomacy is evolving. This utilises a full range of policies, including development cooperation, conflict prevention efforts, and humanitarian assistance, in addition to more traditional measures of climate change adaptation and mitigation. Moving from a risk analysis of climate-related threats to well-timed preventive action requires a greater commitment to integrating climate change concerns into development, foreign, and security policies. Examples include strengthening diplomatic networks, building new alliances with partners, and raising awareness – not only of potentially negative climate change impacts, but also of opportunities to embark on a sustainable transformation of our societies.

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Climate action entails an array of economic, social, political and environmental co-benefits. It provides an opportunity for economic growth and new jobs. Many investments can take into account climate considerations without becoming more costly. Further important co-benefits include: improved energy security, less local air and water pollution, health benefits as well as ecosystem and biodiversity protection.

Conflict Transformation

In order to overcome the structural causes of violent conflicts and thus bring about an improvement in the framework conditions for peaceful and fair development, it is essential to have long term and broadly planned peace development and peace advancement. Various governmental and non-governmental, national and international actors and groups are involved in these processes.

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Climate change and development are inextricably linked. Climate change endangers the development agenda and has the potential to reverse development goals. Furthermore, successful mitigation of climate change heavily depends on development choices around the world. Therefore, development strategies need to be climate-compatible to provide long-term success, and there are viable policy options that support this compatibility. Many mitigation and adaptation activities can present development opportunities to developing countries and avoid the lock-in to environmentally damaging technologies.

Early Warning & Risk Analysis

The reasons for the development and escalation of conflicts and the incidence of risks are multifaceted and complex. Simultaneously, the assessment of the specific causes in the form of risk and conflict analyses can contribute to a better understanding of these processes and make it possible to provide warning of negative developments, or ideally help prevent them. In the context of natural resource use, risks and conflicts have gained increasing attention in the past years. The debate on possible future water wars is merely one example.

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Environment & Migration

The economic, social and environmental consequences of climate change aggravate the breakdown of eco-system-dependent livelihoods and are likely to become dominant drivers of long-term migration. Natural disasters already cause massive shorter-term displacement and the number of temporarily displaced people is likely to further increase with climate change. For vulnerable populations in vulnerable regions, such as the Sahel zone or the Ganges delta, migration often becomes the sole survival strategy. In order to address climate-related displacement and migration successfully, knowledge of effective adaptation and an improved understanding of how environmental change affects human mobility is essential. 

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Climate finance, from all sources, plays a key role in supporting and enabling adaptation and mitigation action as well as climate and energy innovation. The Paris Agreement ensured that the Green Climate Fund and the Global Environment Facility are at the core of climate finance architecture as entities entrusted with the operation of the Financial Mechanism of the UNFCCC. Increasing climate finance from all relevant public and private sources is crucial. Furthermore, much needs to be done to redirect finance flows to sustainable paths, e.g. reducing fossil fuel subsidies, introducing maritime and air transportation taxes. The conditions for green investment in developing countries should also be improved.


Forests are disappearing at an alarming rate. Competition for forest resources triggers, exacerbates, or finances numerous crises and conflicts in tropical developing countries. Illegal logging and timber trade foster instability and sometimes violent conflict by strengthening illegal and armed groups, increasing corruption and exacerbating use and claim conflicts among local communities, the state and the business sector. Forests are a vital resource to poor people but they can also become areas of conflict. Sustainable management of forest resources is therefore key to preventing violent conflict over and within forests.

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Gender plays an important role as a category of conflict for many reasons. The interlinkages between gender, environment and conflicts are complex and much research is still needed. Existing insights suggest that conflicts may worsen gender inequalities that existed before the outbreak of violence. The unequal distribution of land property rights in many parts of the world serves as an example. Moreover, women (and children) are among those most affected by both violent conflict and natural disasters. At the same time, women carry much of the burden of trying to implement rehabilitation measures after crisis events.

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Land & Food

Increasing water scarcity, desertification and crop failures due to extreme weather events are becoming more and more of a threat to global food production. While the world’s population continues to grow rapidly, food production is unable to keep pace. Due to the global food crisis in 2008, the number of hungry people reached the symbolic one billion threshold for the first time – corresponding to about 16 percent of world population. Food insecurity may be a consequence or cause of conflicts. Violent conflicts often lead to the destruction of agricultural infrastructure and means of production, as well as to the displacement of local communities.

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Minerals & Mining

In the past, the discovery and tapping of valuable or strategic resources like valuable minerals, oil and natural gas, particularly in developing and emerging countries, has often led to large scale environmental contamination and negative development. The "resource curse" of some countries shows that the wealth from resource yields is frequently unfairly distributed; instead of serving development it advanced the formation of corrupt elites and in some cases even led to conflicts and civil wars. Measures in various sectors and at all levels are important in order to use the potential of these natural resources in a manner that is sustainable and prevents conflicts.

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Private Sector

The spread of violent conflict not only affects people but also companies located in such regions. Destruction of investments and infrastructure, collapse of markets and trade partnerships, flight and expulsion of employees are phenomena of conflicts and environment-induced crises that directly affect companies in unstable regions. Almost all branches of the economy thus have a clear interest in a stable and peaceful environment for their activities. Conversely, the business sector plays an important role in the interaction of economic growth, social development and a healthy environment, all of which can advance peace and sustainable development. 

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Environmental issues have a significant security dimension. Access to, and overuse of, natural resources often play a key role in civil wars or other forms of internal domestic conflict. This is compounded by climate change and environmental degradation. Climate change is now widely recognised as a non-traditional, risk-multiplying threat that will have increasing security impacts. Key risks with possible implications for human and national security include water scarcity, food crises, natural disasters, and displacement. More preventive diplomacy and advocacy is needed to address the strategic implications of climate and environmental change.

Sustainable Transformation

Sustainable Transformation allows societies to profit from a growing, environmentally sustainable and socially inclusive economy – especially in emerging and developing countries. This requires a higher up-front investment, but the benefits of a sustainable transformation in the medium and long term are significant. For instance, energy cost savings and reducing the impact of price volatility offer major incentives for deploying renewable energies and promoting energy efficiency. Such benefits exist in all key sectors of the economy.

Technology & Innovation

Innovations and technologies are already readily available and affordable but their global diffusion and uptake remains a challenge. Innovation and technology are crucial to achieving ambitious climate change mitigation and adaptation targets. However, research and development often do not receive appropriate public support. Developing countries can leapfrog high-carbon industrialisation phases by adopting, deploying and improving existing innovations and technologies. For this, it is essential to minimise financial, administrative and political barriers.


The availability of freshwater resources in sufficient quantity and quality is essential for the preservation of human health and sound ecosystems. The use of water resources is also vital, however, for economic development: whether for agriculture, industrial production or for electricity generation. The world's freshwater resources are distributed very unevenly in terms of geography and seasons. In addition, water shortage is becoming more prevalent in several regions due to population growth, economic development, urbanisation and increasing environmental pollution. Thus, water resources can hold potential for conflicts between parties who have different interests and needs.

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The environment in Asia is already under tremendous pressure as a result of the unsustainable use of land, forests, water and even air in many regions. Climate change will only exacerbate these challenges. Rising sea levels will likely endanger densely populated areas, changes in the monsoon patterns can strongly impact agriculture, melting glaciers will increase long-term water scarcity, and extreme weather events such as heavy rainfall and cyclones can pose further hazards.

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Central America & Caribbean

Natural disasters and water scarcity are key challenges for most of Central America and the Caribbean. These challenges will become even more pronounced as the climate changes. Weak resource and disaster risk management and land disputes pose additional security challenges for large parts of the region. Several countries of Central America and the Caribbean have limited adaptive capacities as they face political instability caused by high social inequality, crime, corruption, and intra-state conflicts.

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As one of the most developed and most densely populated regions in the world, Europe makes heavy use of its resources, resulting in difficult trade-offs and negative consequences for the environment and ecosystems. Land is used for settlements, agriculture and dense infrastructure, creating problems of soil degradation. Water resources are stressed due to unsustainable agricultural practices. Despite nature protection policies, Europe continues to lose biodiversity at an alarming pace. Some of these trends are exacerbated by climate change, which is expected, for instance, to lead to shifts in water availability.

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Global Issues

Resource scarcities, environmental pollution and climate change are not limited by national borders, but often have a transboundary or even global impact. These issues interact with political stability, governance structures and economic performance, and can trigger or worsen disputes and violent conflicts. Exacerbating some of these trends, climate change is likely to lead to the degradation of freshwater resources, declines in food production, increases in storm and flood disasters and environmentally induced migration. All these developments pose potential for conflict.

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Middle East & North Africa

The geopolitical position of the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), its fossil fuel resources, high population growth and the political changes spurred by the Arab Spring all make the region one of the most dynamic in the world. Nevertheless, it is also one of the most arid and environmentally stressed. Dwindling water resources, limited arable and grazing land, high pollution from household and industrial waste, remnants of conflicts and increasing desertification are key environmental challenges.

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North America

Climate change has various impacts on the three North American countries of Canada, Mexico and the US. Canada and the US have well-developed adaptive capacities and foster the strengthening of capacities in other regions as well. With high per capita emissions, these two countries also bear a greater responsibility for a changing climate. Mexico has a sound national strategy for climate change adaptation, yet fewer capacities than Canada and the US. The poorer and rural populations of Mexico are especially vulnerable to climate change, due to an increased sensitivity and a lower adaptive capacity.

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Oceania & Pacific

In Oceania, population growth and economic development trends put a strain on oceanic and island ecosystems. Freshwater scarcity, overexploitation of fisheries, loss of land biodiversity, forests and trees, invasive species, soil degradation, increasing levels of settlement, poor management of solid and hazardous waste and disproportionate use of coastal areas are some of the problems. Climate change exacerbates most of these trends, while also raising questions about the future sovereignty of some island states.

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South America

South America has diverse and unique ecosystems and is very rich in biodiversity. Weak natural resource management, land disputes and extreme weather events bring about significant challenges for the region. While South America accounts for relatively few CO2 emissions, the changing climate will alter its ecosystems and greater climate variability will lead to more hurricanes, landslides, and droughts.

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Sub-Saharan Africa

In many African states, environmental security issues rank high on the political agenda. Throughout the continent, countries suffer from water scarcity, food insecurity and energy poverty. These chronic and worsening resource scarcities have severe livelihood implications and are exacerbated by political conflicts over access to and control over these resources. Climate change may seriously threaten political and economic stability in Africa. It may also put a severe strain on the capacities of states and societies to co-ordinate activities, to communicate and to organize.

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