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paris climate talks

Justin Trudeau pledged to help developing nations at the World Climate Change Conference 2015 in Paris on Monday.ALAIN JOCARD/AFP / Getty Images

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is vowing to make Canada a world leader in fighting climate change – and is preparing to use an anticipated global agreement in Paris to help spur action at home.

At the COP21 talks aimed at striking a new climate deal, Mr. Trudeau delivered a full-on assertion of a new Canadian will, not merely to improve the country's emissions record, but to move Canada toward a low-carbon economy. And he pledged to help developing countries make their own transition, with funding and with technology.

"Canada will take on a new leadership role internationally," he said in his address to the leader's event launching the negotiations, where 150 national leaders gathered on Monday. It was a moment the Prime Minister clearly savoured – he was interrupted by applause when he said: "We're here to help."

It's clear, too, that Mr. Trudeau intends to use the Paris negotiations, and the agreement he anticipates, as political impetus for the complex and likely contentious talks with provinces to develop a national climate-change plan – creating a framework to implement the deal, he said, "in the months to come."

But Mr. Trudeau would not commit to a deadline. At a summit where leaders stressed urgency, the Prime Minister avoided questions about when the new national climate plan he promises to negotiate with premiers will be completed.

His statements about Canada's intentions to act on climate change are bold – where Stephen Harper declared Canada an energy superpower, Mr. Trudeau is touting Canada as a total climate-change convert. In interviews with French news organizations in Paris, he said that Alberta's new climate-change policies will put limits on development of the oil sands – though at home, he has stressed that the oil sector will do better with stronger climate policies.

"You will be happy to know that Alberta, the government of Alberta has just put in place an extremely ambitious plan to limit the exploitation of those sands … to put a price on carbon in an ambitious way, which will show that we understand in Canada, and everyone in Canada, that you don't develop your economy without paying attention to the environment at the same time," he said in an interview with France Inter radio.

And at a news conference on Monday afternoon, Mr. Trudeau even suggested that now, with the country tackling greenhouse-gas emissions, ordinary Canadians should act to change their own behaviour.

"People want to do more. But they want to know that what they are doing fits into a bigger picture," he said. "Yes, every single one of us can, and should be, much more conscious of the ways we can act to reduce our carbon footprint, to have a greater impact on protecting the environment going forward."

In the days leading up to the Paris talks, Mr. Trudeau has unveiled pillars of his approach. On Friday, for example, he pledged $2.65-billion to aid developing countries in adopting emissions-reductions measures. But so far, his climate-change initiatives have leaned on spending and not the tradeoffs that will be required to create a national plan with substantially deeper emissions cuts.

Even Mr. Trudeau's level of ambition is not clear. His Environment Minister, Catherine McKenna, has indicated that the government wants to set unspecified deeper targets for cutting greenhouse-gas emissions, but Mr. Trudeau has not firmly said he will.

Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall, one of five provincial leaders attending the talks, said those targets could be a "concern." He said his province has to do more to lower emissions, but warned that Western Canada's energy sector has already shed jobs – and he wants to ensure new climate policies cause "no net new harm."

Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne, who insists there is no choice but to act now to reduce emissions or the costs will be higher later, conceded the tradeoffs won't be easy.

Still, Ms. Wynne was more direct about what she hopes will come out of Paris: political momentum.

"My hope is that when I go home, I'll be able to put our initiatives in the context of this broader, urgent project. I want the public, I want our businesses, I want our population in Ontario to feel that," she said.

Her province has shut coal-fired plants and is entering a cap-and-trade system, but she has signalled the next step includes action to cut emissions from autos and buildings – the kind of policies that affect individuals and consumers.

Mr. Trudeau's plan, however, means pulling provinces together to agree to plans that will go further – since current and proposed measures such as carbon taxes in B.C. and Alberta and cap-and-trade systems in Quebec and Ontario will not be enough to meet even the existing targets set by Mr. Harper, of cutting emissions by 30 per cent from 2005 levels by 2030.

He has said he will meet premiers within 90 days to negotiate that plan – but at Monday's news conference he repeatedly dodged questions about when it will be completed.

Mr. Trudeau noted he has outlined "elements" of a plan, including a pledge to spend $20-billion on green infrastructure over five years, and to create a $2-billion "low-carbon economy trust" to fund projects that reduce carbon emissions.

In Paris, he joined a U.S-led, 20-country initiative in pledging to double funding for clean technology – he had promised during the election campaign to spend $300-million a year on such initiatives. And in his speech Monday, he said the policies to come include carbon pricing, which he has promised on a national scale, as well as "support for energy efficiency, clean electricity and transport, and sustainable buildings and infrastructure."