Posse of Premiers to Join Trudeau at Paris Climate Summit

One month from now, arguably the most significant climate negotiations the world has ever seen will begin in Paris — and Prime Minister-designate Justin Trudeau plans on being there with a gaggle of premiers in tow, a show of Canadian representation unimaginable in previous years.

The COP21 UN-led climate summit is organized around one seemingly impossible outcome: a binding international climate agreement to limit global warming to 2 degrees Celsius.

B.C. Premier Christy Clark said she has been planning on attending the negotiations for several months. “I’ve already booked my ticket,” she said in a statement e-mailed to DeSmog Canada, adding she’s “delighted” Justin Trudeau will be in attendance.

“I’m delighted…we’ll have a real full contingent. I think almost all premiers are already planning to attend.”

Manitoba NDP Premier Greg Selinger confirmed he will attend the negotiations as well.

“Yes, I think you’re going to see a pretty good turn out this year,” he told DeSmog Canada.

Selinger added: “I just chatted with [Justin Trudeau] and I think it’s positive that Canada is going together. I think it’s good for the country and sends a positive message.” 

Alberta Premier Rachel Notley’s office also confirmed her attendance, as did the offices of Prince Edward Island Premier Wade MacLauchlan, Nunavut Premier Peter Taptuna and Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard.

Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil will send Environment Minister Andrew Younger in his stead.

“It's encouraging that the premiers seem to be interested in attending COP,” Torrance Coste, who will be attending the conference as a member of the Canadian Youth Delegation, said.

Coste added that he’s hopeful that attendance will “translate into serious commitments around carbon emissions reductions and climate action in every province.”

Trudeau Taking a Cautious Approach to Provinces and Climate

In addition to attending the climate talks, Trudeau has promised to convene the provinces within 90 days of the conference to “work together on a framework to combat climate change.”

“There is no one-size-fits-all solution,” Trudeau stated on the campaign trail.

The Liberal party has been criticized for failing to commit to specific greenhouse gas reduction targets — although the party platform does agree with the world’s top scientists and policy makers that temperatures must be kept from rising more than 2 degrees Celsius.

In the week before the election, Trudeau told the CBC he would not commit to specific emissions targets.

“Everybody has thrown out numbers and different targets, and what they’re going to do and what is going to happen,” Trudeau said.

“What we need is not ambitious political targets. What we need is an ambitious plan to reduce our emissions in the country.”

Canada’s current climate commitment, formed under the Conservative government, is to reduce emissions by 30 per cent by 2050 from 2005 levels, a target the Liberals along with climate analysts have criticized as weak and inadequate.

Critics also pointed out that Canada’s total lack of climate legislation means the country is unlikely to meet that target, even though it is much weaker than commitments made by other industrial nations.

Trudeau has promised to work with the provinces on case-by-case basis to address location-specific sources of emissions and appropriate solutions.

A New Post-Harper Era

The approach goes against the grain of the Conservative government under Stephen Harper, which was accused of taking credit at the federal level for emissions reductions achieved by the provinces.

Some provinces even expressed frustration that the federal government claimed to be consulting with the provinces in advance of last year’s climate summit in Peru when those consultations hadn’t actually taken place.

The Harper government also warned the provinces that Trudeau would impose provincial carbon taxes if they agreed to work with the Liberals. But with strong public approval of B.C.’s carbon tax and Ontario jumping on the carbon pricing bandwagon with Quebec, it’s clear that ship has already sailed.

Coste said Trudeau’s approach represents a major departure from the Harper government, “whose hostile approach on climate change was to do essentially nothing at all.”

He added he does have some concern, however, that a lack of consensus between the provinces might act as an impediment to Canada’s meaningful participation on the international stage.

“Will the premiers of, say, B.C., Saskatchewan, Ontario and Nova Scotia all be willing to commit to the same level of climate action? And if they did, would it be the serious commitments that climate scientists around the world are calling for? A big concern is that the new Prime Minister would use a lack of consensus among the premiers as an excuse to not sign a legally binding agreement in Paris.”

"Trudeau has an opportunity in Paris to remake Canada's reputation as an international leader," Tzeporah Berman, B.C. environmentalist and adjunct professor in the faculty of Environmental Studies at York University, told DeSmog Canada.

But to do so will require strong federal leadership, Berman said. "The essential question is whether [the new federal government] will step up to this challenge or leave the Provinces to do all the heavy lifting."

Berman said although it is clear Justin Trudeau will be a very different Prime Minister than Stephen Harper, more than strong provincial policies are needed to reset the stage.

"Our new federal government must set a level of ambition and a floor for the carbon price that ensures we have a coherent National climate plan that Canadians can be proud of in Paris and beyond."

Premiers Optimistic About Working with Ottawa on Climate

The provinces, for their part, seem excited at the prospect of fresh blood in Ottawa.

Premier Clark indicated she supports Trudeau’s province-by-province approach.

“I think that the federal government is really wise to take the course of allowing provinces to lead when it comes to addressing climate change,” Clark said. “Each of us has such different approaches.”

“I think what the federal government is wisest to do, and I think this is what Prime Minister Trudeau was talking about, is making sure the provinces are as coordinated as we can be, make sure that every province is doing everything that they can to lead, but not to start to fiddle with real success that we've seen in some places.”

“Climate change can be a source of innovation,” Premier Selinger told DeSmog Canada. “I think we’re all going to have to work together and I think we’ll see a variety of approaches across Canada.”

Selinger added he is looking forward to seeing a national climate target and more collaboration between provinces in achieving it.

“It’s not going to be perfect, but it’s going to be good to get started.”

Image: Justin Trudeau

Carol Linnitt is a journalist, editor, illustrator and co-founder of The Narwhal. Carol has been reporting on energy and environmental…

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