OTTAWA – Standing next to President Donald Trump, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau paid tribute Monday to Canada’s ability to negotiate environmental treaties with the U.S., such as the … 1991 Air Quality Agreement.
As for the 2015 Paris Accord to combat climate change — the one Trump’s predecessor Barack Obama lauded the prime minister for helping forge — Trudeau made no mention of that during his visit to Washington, at least not in public.
“We’ve fought in conflict zones together, negotiated environmental treaties together, including 1991’s historic Air Quality Agreement,” Trudeau said Monday as he praised Canada-U.S. co-operation.
In addition to that reference to the air quality pact, there was also a renewed commitment to enhance energy co-operation in the Great Lakes border region and on energy projects such as the Keystone XL pipeline.
But there was a noticeable downplaying of the climate change initiatives that marked Trudeau’s first year in power with a much more environmentally friendly Obama.
They included joint initiatives to put environmental protection front and centre in Arctic-related matters, a commitment Obama and Trudeau announced after their March 2016 White House meeting and reiterated again in December.
Monday’s muted climate message came as no surprise to Green party Leader Elizabeth May, who supported Trudeau’s climate change efforts in Paris.
“There is definitely coded language that suggests that climate action is not off the table,” said May, who called Trudeau’s meeting with Trump “a good start,” especially considering Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s raucous phone call with the president.
She said it “assists the whole world” if Trudeau can eventually bring Trump around to risks from climate change, the way it took Brian Mulroney several years to convince Ronald Reagan that an acid rain treaty was needed between the two countries.
Trump and Trudeau addressed the issue in a section of their joint statement on energy security and the environment.
“We share the goals of energy security, a robust and secure energy grid, and a strong and resilient energy infrastructure that contributes to energy efficiency in both countries,” it said.
It also affirmed the need for “energy innovation, particularly in the clean energy sphere” and cited “environmental co-operation” in the Great Lakes.
Interim Conservative leader Rona Ambrose said she was surprised that the Paris agreement didn’t arise in Washington “because my understanding is that climate change is Mr. Trudeau’s number 1 priority.”
“Seemingly, this issue was not discussed,” added NDP foreign affairs critic Helene Laverdiere. “I think it’s a letdown.”
Last March at the White House, Trudeau and Obama announced major reductions in methane emissions and later joined forces with Mexico on a broader North American climate and clean energy strategy.
They reaffirmed that commercial activity can only occur in the Arctic “if the highest safety and environmental standards are met, and if they are consistent with national and global climate and environmental goals” in a joint statement in the dying days of Obama’s presidency shortly before Christmas.
Michael Byers, a University of British Columbia international law professor who specializes in Arctic issues, said it is not surprising there was no talk of the Arctic on Monday, because Trump the hasn’t finished appointing the people who will review the current U.S. policy on the North.