Within the framework of the free trade agreement between Canada, Mexico, and the United States and the Environmental Cooperation Agreement, the environment ministers of Canada, Mexico and the United States convened for the 29th Council Session of the Commission for Environmental Cooperation (CEC) on July 14 and 15, 2022 in Mérida, Yucatán. The Council addressed many of the most pressing environmental challenges facing North America’s communities, particularly vulnerable communities and Indigenous Peoples.

This year’s CEC Council Session builds on the November 2021 North American Leaders Summit, in which Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, President Andres Manual López Obrador, and President Joe Biden highlighted the role of the CEC in developing a North American Climate Adaptation Workplan.

The North American leaders committed to building on the progress of the CEC’s successful grant programs. Through 25 grants valued at more than US$3 million, the CEC is supporting climate resilience and COVID-19 recovery at the community level. With the Environmental Justice and Climate Resilience (EJ4Climate) and the North American Partnership for Environmental Community Action (NAPECA) grant programs, they are taking action for a healthier environment and building back a prosperous and equitable economy for all.

They also stated their support for action to preserve the knowledge and practices of Indigenous Peoples and local communities as part of our trilateral model and regional approach to environmental collaboration.

The minister’s joint statement is clear on the shared vision for this year:

“Our shared vision to lead the way in promoting complementary regional environmental and trade policies rests on our unwavering commitment to sustainable development and environmental justice and equity. Through the CEC, we will continue to drive an ambitious agenda that promotes awareness and participation in environmental governance and stewardship, mobilizes collective action, and facilitates the inclusion of a diverse network of stakeholders and partners.”

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Community-led environmental education for sustainable development

This year’s theme for the 2022 Council Session, “Community-led Environmental Education for Sustainable Development,” focused on activities from across North America that support an understanding and awareness of key environmental concerns, from the perspective of communities directly impacted and working to develop and share best practices for adapting to a changing climate. The significance of this theme is timely, as it promotes the development of local and context-specific strategies as well as an international cooperative approach for managing and responding to environmental and socio-economic risks across the whole of society.

This year’s Council Session addressed several topics supporting the development of community-led projects and initiatives. The exchange with the Joint Public Advisory Committee, the Traditional Ecological Knowledge Expert Group (TEKEG) and the CEC Secretariat, led to a constructive discussion of immediate priorities and pressing needs, including opportunities ranging from specific, innovative and nature-based solutions, to the improved use of traditional and local knowledge, including the incorporation of Indigenous perspectives.

As part of the Council Session, two open public forum provided an opportunity for questions, comments, and suggestions from the public on the CEC’s trilateral work. This year’s session included both in-person and virtual attendance, with broad representation of diverse groups of interested individuals and stakeholders from across North America.

Highlights of the Council Session:

  • The announcement of an additional US$2 million to launch a new cycle of the EJ4Climate grant program that will focus on projects supporting environmental education to build resilience to climate change. The EJ4Climate grant program supports underserved and vulnerable communities, and Indigenous communities, in Canada, Mexico, and the United States to prepare for climate-related impacts;
  • The announcement of a C$750,000 initiative to undertake work to support enhanced uptake of circular economy approaches with sustainable production and consumption patterns in North America;
  • The announcement of a large-scale and multi-year initiative totalling C$1 million to strengthen community resilience to climate change;
  • The contribution of C$300,000 to support a JPAC-led initiative that will raise awareness in the three countries to advance sustainable forestry and responsible consumption of wood products.
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“Strong environmental cooperation among our three countries has never been more important. The impacts of climate change, from flooding to coastal erosion, dangerous heatwaves and wildfires pose a real threat to our health, safety and economic security,” said Steven Guilbeault, Minister of Environment and Climate Change. “I am pleased to see that all parties are committed to ensuring that international environmental cooperation remains a top priority. I thank the other members in the CEC Council for supporting community-led solutions and working to advance sustainable development as we face these environmental challenges together.”

“The Government of Mexico has put forth concrete measures to realize environmental and social justice for all Mexicans, and we are convinced that the trilateral work propelled by the CEC will add to efforts to ensure the welfare of the sectors that are the poorest and most vulnerable to climate change in North America,” said María Luisa Albores González, Mexico’s Secretary of Environment and Natural Resources.

“Advancing environmental justice and equity is vital for addressing the climate crisis both at home and abroad, and I am proud that the CEC is centering community engagement as part of our environmental agenda. The way to create long-term, sustainable solutions for our shared environmental challenges is from the ground up. I am committed to working hand in hand with communities, young people who are demonstrating incredible innovation, and our North American partners, to build a healthier, more equitable future for all people,” said United States EPA Administrator Michael S. Regan.

Moving forward

Building on the strengths and longstanding tradition of facilitating cooperation and promoting public participation, the ministers will focus on the following:

  • Strengthening the resolve to modernize and enhance the effectiveness of regional efforts, by promoting awareness of issues of common concern as well as solutions for a more sustainable future, by sharing knowledge in support of evidence-based decision-making, and by contributing to building capacity in communities across North America.
  • Affirming the urgent need to tackle the devastating effects that climate change poses on the well-being of CEC communities. They emphasize the unequivocal threat of this crisis, ranging from extreme weather events, such as floods, wildfires, and drought, to the implications for our food systems, for our continent’s biodiversity, and for vulnerable and underserved communities, which all have lasting environmental, economic, and societal impacts.
  • Underlining the importance of promoting collective action, including in relation to innovation and green growth, to ensure clean air, land, and water for present and future generations, and to protect  ecosystems and the rich flora and fauna found in the shared environment.
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“The path to a healthier environment and meaningful progress toward sustainable development in our region depends on our collective determination to succeed, as well as on the persistence to find and promote solutions that protect the environment, support the sustainable use and conservation of our natural resources, and maximize the socio-economic benefits from empowering our communities,” state the ministers.

Next year’s CEC Council Session will be held in British Columbia.

Featured image: The trilateral CEC kicks off with the various counterparts, including the Michael Regan of the U.S., Mary Luisa of Mexico and Steven Guilbeault of Canada. Credit: CEC.

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