Canada's Trudeau Pledges New Climate Focus Ahead of Paris Summit

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s move to raise the profile of climate change within his new cabinet signals a clear change in direction on carbon emissions from the policies of his predecessor.

Trudeau named Catherine McKenna on Wednesday as minister of environment and climate change, a portfolio the previous government didn’t have, and created a new special cabinet committee on “environment, climate change and energy” aimed at balancing natural resource development and ecological impact.

Former Environment Minister Stephane Dion was also appointed both as foreign affairs minister, ahead of the Paris climate summit later this month, and to chair the climate committee. The choice of Dion, who lost the 2008 election as Liberal leader while pledging a “green shift” to cut emissions, suggests Trudeau views climate and the environment as a major aspect of international relations.

Energy East

The moves are, so far, in contrast to the approach of Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who rejected any widespread carbon reduction program by saying it would amount to a new tax that would hurt growth. Trudeau has said improved environmental performance is critical for the approval of projects such as TransCanada Corp.’s proposed Energy East pipeline, though how he intends to proceed remains unclear.

“Canadians expect their government to be responsible around climate change and addressing the impacts of the environment we’re facing around the world right now,” Trudeau told reporters in Ottawa after he and his cabinet were sworn in. “Canada is going to be a strong and positive actor on the world stage, including in Paris.”

Trudeau’s platform promised to work with provinces to “take action on climate change, put a price on carbon, and reduce carbon pollution,” though by how much isn’t yet known. The provinces have taken different approaches to reducing emissions, whether by a carbon tax or a cap-and-trade system, and Trudeau proposes to allow different provincial systems under a single, federal goal.

Paris Delegation

Trudeau, who plans to personally lead a delegation to the Paris summit, declined to say Wednesday how he plans on getting provinces to agree to a single target.

“The fact is we have an amazing team of strong cabinet members who will lean in with the kind of engagement both with the provinces and municipalities and countries around the world to demonstrate Canada is doing its part to address climate change impacts,” he said.

The climate pledge was noted by the premier of Alberta, the heart of Canada’s oil sector and the province that emits the most carbon. “We look forward to working with the new federal cabinet ministers to grow and diversify the economy. We’re also looking forward to working with the new federal government on climate change,” Alberta Premier Rachel Notley said in a statement.

The environment and climate change committee is one of 10 created by Trudeau. Dion leads it, while International Trade Minister Chrystia Freeland is its vice-chair. The other eight ministers include McKenna; Natural Resources Minister James Carr; Innovation, Science and Economic Development Minister Navdeep Bains; and Fisheries and Oceans Minister Hunter Tootoo, who represents the riding of Nunavut, one of Canada’s three northern territories.

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