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opinion

It might sound out-of-step with his political persona, but Jason Kenney wants a discussion about climate-change policy to be front-and-centre at next week’s meeting of Canada’s premiers in Toronto.

Mr. Kenney will join host Doug Ford and the other premiers for the Council of the Federation meeting on Monday. It’s a gathering being convened in part to talk about national unity in the wake of a federal election in which the Liberal party was shut out of Alberta and Saskatchewan – where a downward spiral in oil and gas industry investment has hit the provincial economies and morale hard.

The Alberta Premier has a long list of agenda items, but one will be asking his provincial and territorial colleagues to pointedly embrace a specific provision of the international accord to bring down greenhouse gas emissions – the 2015 Paris agreement.

Article 6 of the climate deal opens the door to voluntary agreements where emissions-reduction measures in one country can be credited to another.

There is, of course, a strong Alberta angle to Article 6. Mr. Kenney’s argument is that the export of Canadian natural gas to Asian countries will displace widely used, dirtier coal-fired power. This will have the effect of reducing global emissions. And Canada could and should get credit for this against its own Paris emissions-reduction targets, under Article 6.

The idea isn’t new but the Alberta Premier’s strong push is. Mr. Kenney acknowledges Canada needs to reduce its domestic emissions, but also says natural gas exports should be at the forefront of Canada’s climate change strategy. He’s also calling for the implementation of an urgent plan to get natural gas to Canada’s coasts for exports. It’s no surprise from a province that produces 70 per cent of the country’s natural gas.

There are significant hurdles to the concept. Environmentalists argue that Canada should be focused on real reductions in domestic emissions instead of trying to claim credit in other countries. And the details of Article 6 have yet to be hashed out.

On the same day premiers meet in Toronto, global leaders will begin difficult talks on figuring out the details of the Paris agreement in Madrid at the United Nations climate change conference. Researcher Jason Dion of Canada’s Ecofiscal Commission says it’s doubtful other countries will see eye-to-eye with Canada’s view of how Article 6 should be shaped. Even if they did, he asks why another country would give up its own emission-reduction credits.

But there is also broad support for this idea both federally and provincially, and across party lines.

Catherine McKenna, in her former role as environment minister, was a key part of the international talks that led to the creation of the provision. Recent public comments from the federal cabinet appear to put Ottawa and Edmonton in agreement on Article 6. Mr. Kenney’s office says he broached the topic with Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland as they met in recent days and she was receptive.

Article 6 was also mentioned in the federal Conservatives’ environmental platform. Mr. Kenney’s office says it has enthusiastic support from British Columbia and Quebec – provinces not often in Alberta’s court when it comes to environmental policy – and the idea isn’t opposed by other provinces.

It’s not hard to see why. Quebec could, for instance, someday benefit under Article 6 for hydroelectricity exports. B.C., Alberta, Nova Scotia, and New Brunswick all stand to profit from liquefied natural gas export projects, or the likely corresponding lift in Canadian gas prices.

Executives from both Shell Canada Ltd. and Petronas Energy Canada Ltd. – the two leading co-owners in B.C.'s LNG Canada export terminal – are calling for Canada to use Article 6, along with the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers.

Other countries might agree to give up some of their credits as a part of a dollars and cents negotiation on an export deal, whether it involves natural gas or another Canadian export.

Canada’s take on Article 6 acknowledges that the country, and specifically emissions-intense Alberta, can neither shirk its responsibility to address climate change, nor ignore what’s happening in the rest of the world. Canada is responsible for just 1.6 per cent of global GHG emissions, but has high per-capita emissions and a heavy industrial base. Use of Article 6 is predicated on a domestic price for carbon, and there would also have to be safeguards to ensure emission reductions aren’t double-counted.

But it also matters that China is slowing its investment in renewable energy, is still the world’s biggest builder of coal plants and produces more than a quarter of the world’s GHG emissions.

As Canada looks to meet its international commitments to slow climate change, the country’s oil-and-gas province is going to have to be a part of the plan – one way or another. The natural gas export push has pitfalls and critics. But looking to trade as a path forward could be one of the rare meeting points for Ottawa, Edmonton and provinces across the country.