November 23, 2015 / 10:45 PM / 4 years ago

Canada PM Trudeau faces split at national climate change summit

OTTAWA (Reuters) - Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Monday met the country’s provinces to hammer out a national climate change strategy, but two major players signaled they had reservations about the idea.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau gestures as he speaks during a news conference after attending the 21-member Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Summit in Manila November 19, 2015. REUTERS/Erik De Castro

Trudeau’s Liberals won an election last month promising a radical change on the environment from the previous Conservative administration, which was widely criticized for not doing enough to combat global warming.

The half-day Ottawa summit brought together Trudeau and the premiers of the 10 provinces to work out a common position ahead of a United Nations environmental summit in Paris next week.

Trudeau says Canada must curb its emissions of greenhouse gases to be taken seriously.

But Brad Wall, premier of the energy-producing province of Saskatchewan, said any agreement had to find a balance between the environment and protecting employment. Low crude prices have triggered major job losses among energy industry workers.

“What additional impact will that have on the energy sector, which is already suffering massive layoffs in our country?” he told reporters before the summit.

Alberta, home to most of Canada’s oil sands, said on Sunday in a ground-breaking move that it would implement an economy-wide tax on carbon emissions in 2017.

“It was an historic moment, a strong positive step in the right direction,” Trudeau said in opening remarks.

Trudeau and the provinces hope the summit and Alberta’s move will help dispel some of the international suspicion about Canada and climate change.

Although the Conservatives had pledged to cut greenhouse gas emissions to 30 percent below 2005 levels by 2030, government figures show rising emissions mean the goal is out of reach.

Trudeau will not be going to Paris with a new target, but has committed to coming up with a goal with the provinces within 90 days of returning from the talks.

Some provinces have started tackling the issue themselves with carbon taxes or carbon pricing programs and do not like the idea of Ottawa imposing a national goal.

“If we attempt to make it uniform from sea to sea to sea, it will fail, obviously,” said Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard.

Two government scientists told the summit that Canada’s rate of warming was about twice the global rate.

This means hotter summers with more forest fires, melting permafrost and a smaller Arctic ice cover that will force polar bears onto land as they search for food, they said.

Additional reporting by Randall Palmer in Ottawa; Editing by Alan Crosby

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