Canada will try to persuade the United States to remain in multilateral forums on climate change and other issues despite threats from president-elect Donald Trump to tear up climate and trade agreements, Foreign Minister Stéphane Dion says.
Mr. Dion said in an interview from Ethiopia during his week-long visit to three African countries that he is already hearing appeals from international leaders to use Ottawa's strong links to Washington to try to keep the United States in global institutions.
"I have been told by many leaders here in Africa, the leaders and politicians that I've met, that they count on Canada under these circumstances to make sure that the United States will be a good player in the multilateral institutions for the challenges of the world," Mr. Dion told The Globe and Mail.
"So we will try to be a positive influence on the United States," he said. "It is the role of Canada in the world."
Climate is a particularly crucial issue in Africa, where many countries are suffering from severe drought and violent conflicts stoked by the changing climate. The result could be a growing number of "chaotic situations," Mr. Dion said.
Mr. Trump, who emerged as the shocking winner of the U.S. presidential election this week, is a climate-change denier who has vowed to "cancel" the landmark Paris climate agreement and withdraw all U.S. funding from the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.
President Barack Obama has already signed the Paris accord, but Mr. Trump could simply ignore its targets on emission reductions. He has described global warming as a "hoax" perpetrated by China to hurt American industry. His election victory is a "catastrophe" for the climate issue, environmental activists say.
Asked whether Canada can persuade Mr. Trump to stay in the Paris climate accord and other international agreements, Mr. Dion said: "We will do our best on that. We are very willing to do so. We want to play a role that will be positive and constructive."
More than nine million jobs in the United States are dependent on trade with Canada, he said. "We are stronger together. There are so many links between Canada and the United States. We'll make our points very clearly to the new U.S. administration, to the new U.S. president."
Whatever the Trump administration decides to do on global issues, Canada won't feel any obligation to be influenced by it, Mr. Dion said. "If the United States has a policy, it's not necessary that Canada will have the same policy, whether it's climate change or anything else. Canada is a sovereign country."
On his visit to Nigeria, Kenya and Ethiopia this week, Mr. Dion is hearing widespread reports of how the changing climate is fuelling violence, drought and hunger.
In Nigeria, for example, climate change has accelerated the shrinking of Lake Chad, destroying its fishing industry and pushing many people into the ranks of the Boko Haram radical militia. It has also led to greater conflicts between herdsmen and farmers, triggering clashes in which thousands of people have been killed.
"Because of climate change and the poor environment and the lack of water, the pastoralists and farmers are fighting, and people are killed," Mr. Dion said.
"When you have 90 per cent of Lake Chad that has disappeared, you can imagine the consequences for the ecosystem and its ability to sustain populations that are growing so fast."
He also cited the drought in Ethiopia, where the population has grown more rapidly than the country's ability to feed it.
"We shouldn't be surprised if there are tremendous challenges we need to face, and Canada must be there to see how we can help the continent to avoid the chaotic situations that are really a threat now."