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Politics Next prime minister will face pressure to shift Canada’s climate policy

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Canada's prime minister will face postelection pressure to increase Canada's commitment to combat global warming, given the heavy agenda of global leaders' meetings prior to the Paris climate conference in December.

As Canadians vote on Monday, negotiators will gather in Bonn for a final session prior to Paris. In a call Wednesday, environmental experts said a new text from the Paris summit co-chairs would serve as a "solid foundation" for a positive outcome in December if approved in Bonn, though a higher level of ambition is needed to keep global temperatures from rising more than two degrees Celsius.

The participation of a more engaged and committed Canada would fuel momentum to conclude a groundbreaking agreement, said Alden Meyer, policy director with the U.S.-based Union of Concerned Scientists.

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"Obviously, Canada has been a laggard in the process under the Harper government for the last several years," Mr. Meyer said during a conference call Wednesday. "If a new Canadian prime minister said they were going to revise their national contribution and step up to the plate on financing and take some other actions, that would have some impact beyond the substance, just in terms of shifting the geopolitical winds. And I think that would be very welcome."

There will be several opportunities for Ottawa to signal to the world a major shift in the country's climate policy. Leaders will be gathering in mid-November at the Group of 20 summit in Turkey where – in addition to security issues involving Syria and refugees – climate change will be on the agenda. Commonwealth heads of government will meet at the end of November in Malta, while French President François Hollande has invited leaders to open the Paris summit on Nov. 30.

Recent polling suggests Liberals have pulled ahead of the Conservatives by several percentage points and the New Democrats have fallen behind. If the polls are right, Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau would form at least a minority government, though pollsters have been wildly off the mark in the recent past.

The Conservative government – which has been vilified by the international environmental community – submitted Canada's "national contribution" to the United Nations climate secretariat in May and pledged the country will reduce emissions by 30 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030. Under the Tories, Canada would take a status quo stand in Paris.

Mr. Trudeau has pledged to take a more aggressive position on climate change both at home and on the world stage. But in the short time span between the election and the Paris conference, it's not clear how much he'll be able to deliver. He promises to convene a first ministers' conference after Paris to reach a national consensus on emission targets and policies such as carbon pricing.

The Liberals say they will wait for provincial input to establish a new target. Several provinces – including Alberta, Ontario, Quebec and British Columbia – plan to release new climate strategies prior to the Paris summit. Mr. Trudeau has not said whether he would establish a minimum national carbon price or emissions standards that would force provinces to do more than their own plans commit.

But some environmental leaders say Mr. Trudeau needs to meet with provincial premiers before the Paris summit to give Canada credibility. A new government should commit to establishing a 2025 target – with a final figure to be determined later – and to agree in Paris to a quick review period so countries can increase their ambition over the short term, Louise Comeau, executive director of Climate Action Network Canada, said Wednesday.

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"These commitments would signal the return of Canada as a positive force in the climate negotiations," Ms. Comeau said.

Federal Conservatives reject the "laggard" label. "We are the first government in Canadian history to achieve a net-reduction in greenhouse-gas emissions, and we have set a fair and ambitious target for Canada that is in line with other major industrialized countries to achieve further emissions reductions leading up to 2030," said Ted Laking, spokesman for Environment Minister Leona Aglukkaq.

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