As Trump eyes reprieve for gas guzzlers, Canada looks to China

As the White House took a step toward undoing tough pollution standards on gas guzzling vehicles, Canada’s environment minister said that the Trudeau government was increasingly looking to partner with China on climate change action and clean economy opportunities.

Speaking in Washington on Wednesday, Catherine McKenna said China has been “very active in terms of climate negotiations, playing a positive role,” and said that Canada will work with China on international climate change negotiations.

“Climate change is a big challenge and it’s not going to be solved by Canada. That is for sure. We are going to do our part … but we need to be working with all partners,” McKenna said in a talk on climate change at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a public policy research organization.

Canada can also help the country to put together solutions to air, water and soil pollution – an issue that McKenna said was a hot topic of discussion when she travelled to China as part of a Canadian government delegation in December 2016.

“China needs it. China is taking climate action because they see an opportunity to play a leadership role, but they are also taking climate action because people can’t breathe,” McKenna said, noting the country’s severe air pollution – which recently led a group of Chinese lawyers to launch a lawsuit against the government on behalf of citizens choking on the country’s often-toxic air.

McKenna said she was “still hopeful” that the U.S. will remain in the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change. Reports on Wednesday suggested that U.S. President Donald Trump has been talking about the Paris agreement with some U.S. oil companies, some of which – including Exxon Mobil – have supported the deal. Signs that Trump is asking for their input could mean that the president is wavering on his election promise to pull the U.S. out of the agreement.

But Trump also announced on Wednesday that the government would review of emission standards for automobiles. This could result in a repeal of rules that have forced American-made vehicles to become increasingly efficient.

Greenpeace climate campaigner Keith Stewart described the move as “smugly selling out Americans’ future to boost gas sales.” The Heartland Institute, an oil-industry-funded think tank, greeted the announcement enthusiastically. “So much winning, I think I’ll take my truck for a spin to celebrate,” Heartland Institute energy policy research fellow Bette Grande said in a statement.

Trump’s move comes after an analysis by Bloomberg predicted a dramatic rise in electric vehicles that could soon transform markets and cause the next oil crisis.

Trump, who said during the campaign that climate change is a myth invented by China, also announced last week that he planned to slash the budget of the Environmental Protection Agency and eliminate climate change programs. Scott Pruitt, his pick to lead the EPA, is a vocal climate change denier.

McKenna said she had a “good conversation” with Pruitt after he was nominated, and that they found common ground in their shared interests in “clean air, clean water, the Great Lakes, clean energy innovation.”

She said Canada would still look for opportunities to cooperate with the U.S.: “I will make the economic case for clean energy innovation, because I think that … no matter what your perspective is on climate, there is an economic opportunity.”

But as the world waits to see how an American retreat on climate change action could affect the global fight, McKenna said Canada will work with anyone who is serious about climate action.

McKenna also noted that China will launch the world’s largest cap-and-trade carbon market this year.

Any domestic moves in China have the potential for a huge global effect: research from the New Climate Institute commissioned by the Climate Action Network ahead of the 2015 Paris talks suggests that the country’s national climate plan will save 75 people per million in China from dying of pollution-related illnesses every year.

McKenna also said on Wednesday that Canada is hoping to encourage private sector investment in renewable energy and clean tech, and to make an economic argument for reducing emissions or energy use.

“Because the challenge is so big, but also because the rewards are potentially so big, you’re going to see the private sector playing a bigger role,” she said. Despite Canada’s commitment in Paris in 2015 to spend $2.65 billion to fight climate change, McKenna said that the private sector will have step up: “The reality is we need trillions of dollars, so of course the private sector has to be a part of this,” she said.

Key to that will be smart, long-term planning on climate policy, she said. “It’s not one election cycle. (Businesses) are investing for the future, so they need to know what the plan is so they can make smart decisions.”

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