The short term goals of the climate pact are to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the region to 1990 levels by 2010 and to 10% below 1990 levels by 2020. The long term goal is to reduce emissions to a point that eliminates any dangerous threats to the climate, estimated to be 75-85% below current levels. Matthew Bramley, a policy analyst with the Pembina Institute, says it is significant that the New England governors chose to take action despite President George Bush's decision to withdraw US support for the Kyoto accord.
"I think it's a demonstration of leadership that shows the Bush administration up very badly. You've actually got states saying they're going to make reductions while the federal government is invoking quite bogus reasons for not doing anything," he says. "I think it also adds some momentum to the movements ongoing in Congress to introduce bills that would cap CO2 emissions."
New Hampshire governor Jeanne Shaheen, one of the signatories to the accord, says she hopes other states will follow. "This agreement sends a powerful message to the rest of the nation about the importance of working co-operatively to cut pollution."
In Canada, says Bramley, the agreement marks the first time provincial governments have come together to take action on climate change. "There's been a lot of talking, but no real co-ordinated action. So to actually see five Canadian provinces come together and at least commit to common goals is quite new. To the extent that co-operation between jurisdictions is essential to address climate change, it's a very positive step."
Still, Bramley points out, some of the provinces with the highest levels of greenhouse gas emissions, including Ontario and Alberta, are not part of the accord. "What needs to happen, and I think what the federal government in Canada wants to happen quite quickly, is to have national co-operation," he says. "Now that we have the Bonn agreement and Canada has renewed its commitment to the Kyoto Protocol, there seems to be a very strong feeling the federal government is going to go ahead with ratification next year."
David Anderson, Canada's environment minister, commended the effort, saying climate change is a problem that transcends boundaries. "The Kyoto Protocol is only the first step on a long road towards implementing an effective solution to climate change. The eastern premiers and New England governors have understood this and designed their approach accordingly."