Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is set to endorse a joint approach to combatting Arctic climate change as part of a broad continental environmental strategy when he meets President Barack Obama at the White House later this week.
The two leaders are expected to announce measures to protect sensitive marine areas, bring solar and wind power to remote communities dependent on diesel fuel and lay out a process for mapping of shipping lanes and commercial fishing, according to Canadian officials.
"The Arctic is important to us and I know it is important to Canada," U.S. Ambassador Bruce Heyman told The Globe and Mail when asked about Arctic bilateral co-operation. "Climate change is of priority to the President and I just know these are serious and important issues, but I don't want to get ahead of what may be announced or not announced on a bilateral basis."
Arctic ice has been melting at an alarming rate, resulting in disappearing glaciers, rising sea levels and eroding coastlines that are endangering indigenous villages. The environmental damage has been compounded by "black carbon," the soot produced from diesel-burning electrical generators.
"Coming from Nunavut, we're experiencing first-hand the effects of climate change already and it's going to affect us in the Arctic places fast, as it does here in Southern Canada," Fisheries Minister Hunter Tootoo said in an interview.
Mr. Tootoo, an Inuk from Rankin Inlet, will join Mr. Trudeau and other Canadian ministers at the White House on Thursday, and at the state dinner the President is hosting later that night in the Prime Minister's honour.
"I can't really say what specifically we're going to be talking about down there, other than what I said already about addressing climate change and looking at the impacts that it's having not only on us in our part of the Arctic, but also in Alaska, as well," Mr. Tootoo said.
Environmental groups are supportive of joint action on marine protection and renewable energy for Arctic communities but had hoped the two leaders would also announce a moratorium on drilling in Arctic waters. Officials say that is unlikely to happen.
"Drilling is all risk and no reward. And now it is a perfect opportunity to take it off the table," said Franz Matzner of the Washington-based Natural Resources Defense Council, which has been pushing for a drilling ban.
In a livestream Q and A with the Huffington Post, Mr. Trudeau was optimistic about a wide range of bilateral measures he hopes to achieve in Washington, particularly on the environment.
"There is a nice alignment between a Canadian Prime Minister who wants to get all sorts of things done right off the bat and an American President who is thinking about the legacy he is going to leave in his last year in office," Mr. Trudeau said. "The issues that are important to him and to me are climate change. …We're talking about border issues, as well. Making sure there is a smooth flow of goods and people across our shared border that isn't putting our security at risk."
However, Conservative Foreign Affairs critic Tony Clement said Canadians shouldn't be fooled by any "high-falutin declaration of strategy" on the environment.
"The problem is President Obama cannot deliver on that strategy. He's eight months away from retirement," he said. "He cannot get things through Congress. They will not co-operate with him, nor can he do things through executive action. The Supreme Court is very clear on that."
Mr. Trudeau was asked in the Huffington Post interview to give his opinion of Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump's statements on immigration, Mexicans, Muslims and waterboarding of terror suspects.
"I am not going to pick a fight with Donald Trump right now," he said, but compared him to former Toronto mayor Rob Ford. He suggested both men tapped into a frustration some voters feel about being disenfranchised from the political process.
With a report from Laura Stone