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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau arrives at the Commonwealths Heads of Government meeting, Nov.27, 2015 in Valletta, Malta. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau arrives at the Commonwealths Heads of Government meeting, Nov.27, 2015 in Valletta, Malta. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

Canadians back bold climate-change action, poll finds Add to ...

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau heads to global climate talks in Paris with a new pledge of billions for the cause and a call for a strong international agreement, promising to follow up with a domestic plan with the provinces – and a new poll suggests that is probably in line with what Canadians want.

At the Commonwealth summit in Malta on Thursday, Mr. Trudeau grabbed a little attention by announcing that Canada will put $2.65-billion over five years into climate-change funds for developing countries – a doubling of previous funding. He announced it behind closed doors to fellow leaders with some flourish, according to aides: “I’m here today not just to say Canada’s back but to show it,” they quoted him as saying.

On Saturday, Mr. Trudeau heads to Paris, promising a new level of Canadian ambition in fighting climate change – which he has said will be followed by a deal with provincial premiers, five of whom are joining him in Paris, on the nitty-gritty measures to cut greenhouse-gas emissions.

It’s a dramatic shift, and intended to be. But a new poll suggests it’s not likely to be deeply controversial: Large majorities of Canadians believe climate change is a threat to the country’s economic future.

The Nanos Research Group poll of 1,000 Canadians – conducted for The Globe and Mail and CTV News – found that 73 per cent agree or somewhat agree that “climate change presents a significant threat to our economic future,” while only 16 per cent disagree or somewhat disagree. The telephone survey, conducted between Nov. 21 and 24, carries a margin of error of 3.1 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.

The poll finds a clear view among Canadians: 72 per cent think the science of climate change is irrefutable, 79 per cent believe Canada’s international reputation has been hurt by its previous efforts, and 63 per cent indicate they would pay more for certain products so Canada could meet its climate commitments.

That suggests Mr. Trudeau has a lot of support to promise action in Paris – where 150 leaders are gathering this weekend as the talks open officially on Monday.

In some ways, his commitments will not ratchet up ambition. The new Prime Minister has not changed the emissions-reduction target submitted by former prime minister Stephen Harper’s government, a cut of 30 per cent from the 2005 level by 2030. He has insisted he won’t set targets until he’s reached a plan with premiers.

And so far, the policies already put forward by provinces will not reduce emissions enough to reach the existing targets – suggesting that further actions, which could have a real effect on ordinary Canadians’ pocketbooks, and their lives, will follow.

But Mr. Trudeau and his ministers have stepped up diplomacy on the deal, urging countries to commit to a universal agreement – and now have promised money, a key element for many developing countries at the talks.

Wealthier nations promised at the 2009 climate summit in Copenhagen to increase funding for developing countries to tackle climate change to $100-billion by 2020.

The $2.65-billion over five years that Canada promised on Friday is double the $1.2-billion over five years the former Conservative government laid out after Copenhagen, though it is far less than some, such as Britain, which pledged $11.5-billion over five years.

Canada’s annual contribution will reach $800-million in 2020, to be used for projects in developing countries, notably in Africa and Pacific islands, said Foreign Affairs Minister Stéphane Dion. Climate activists insist Canada’s fair share of the $100-billion supposed to come from developed countries should be $4-billion per year by 2020, not $800-million, but Mr. Dion noted that is a total to come from both government sources and the private sector; he argued the public money would attract private “partners” but did not specify how.

The Canadian financial commitment brought a mention from France’s President François Hollande after he spoke to Commonwealth leaders to urge them to commit to a deal.

He told reporters he is hopeful for an agreement because of the progress made, but fears just a few countries will block it if they feel “there are not enough guarantees or they believe some of the obligations will slow down their development.”

Mr. Hollande, who travelled from a Paris memorial for victims of the Nov. 13 attacks in the morning to the Commonwealth summit in the afternoon, said he felt it was important not to miss the occasion, despite the seriousness of the events his country suffered.

“Man is man’s worst enemy. We see it with terrorism. But we can also say the same when it comes to climate,” he told reporters. “It is man who is degrading the planet. It is man who destroys nature. So it is man who once again must rise to the standard demanded by his dignity, and future generations.”

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