Canada's federal, provincial and territorial environment ministers used their first ministerial-level meeting in a decade to "take stock" of the challenge of reducing carbon emissions and bringing the country one step closer to a national strategy to combat climate change.

The closed-door meeting in Ottawa's Old City Hall was chaired by federal Environment Minister Catherine McKenna. After the meeting, McKenna said more needs to be done to close the gap between where the country is today and where it needs to be in terms of emissions. 

"We see this as an opportunity," she said. "We all agree that in the 21st century Canada's prosperity must be built on the principle that the economy and the environment go hand in hand."

Describing the meeting as an opportunity to lay the groundwork for a first ministers meeting in March, McKenna said a number of issues were discussed, including carbon pricing. 

"We had crucial discussions on important issues and areas including economic opportunities, means of reducing emissions, carbon pricing and adapting to the effects of climate change," she said. 

McKenna said the previous Conservative government had been absent from the climate change table for a decade and in the interim the provinces had "done a lot" on the file, but it was time for the federal government to catch up.

Environment Meeting

McKenna and Quebec Environment Minister David Heurtel speak during a press conference following their meetings Friday in Ottawa. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

Speaking in French, Quebec Environment Minister David Heurtel said he was delighted to see McKenna and Natural Resources Minister James Carr had introduced conditions for pipeline approvals earlier in the week that were similar to the ones Quebec introduced in 2014.

Speaking later on CBC News Network's Power & Politics, Heurtel questioned whether TransCanada, the company seeking to build the Energy East pipeline from Alberta to New Brunswick, was going to be able to meet those conditions. 

"TransCanada has to prove, beyond any doubt, that these conditions that we have are respected," he said. "And right now, as it stands, we haven't seen proof [to] that effect."

"The environmental impacts are shown to be very dangerous," he added. "The security questions aren't answered fully. First Nations aren't involved. If those concerns aren't addressed properly, I don't see how that is in the interest, not only of Quebecers, but of Canadians."

Can the environment ministers arrive at emissions targets?9:52

Optimistic meeting

Going into the meetings, the mood was upbeat, with Ontario Environment Minister Glen Murray describing it as the most "enthusiastic meeting" he has been a part of in his 20 years in politics.

"I've never seen such an enthusiastic group of people," Murray said. "There was just a cathartic release. We were talking about problems together. We could use the word climate change. The previous government pulled the word climate change out of every discussion."

Heurtel said that all the ministers agree that they have no choice but to meet the challenge presented by climate change. "In Quebec, we've given ourselves very ambitious targets," he said. "Other provinces and territories have given themselves the tools to do it. Now it's time to see how we can together work collaboratively to meet those targets."

Revised 2015 Emissions Trends

Revised projections released Friday by Environment and Climate Change Canada show how greenhouse gas emissions are expected to grow based on current government actions, depending on economic growth. The projections show a potential gap of up to 351 megatonnes from Canada's target level by 2030. (Environment and Climate Change Canada)

Green economy

The Canadian Climate Action Network, a coalition of environmental groups, says the federal and provincial ministers could create a million new jobs with an aggressive green agenda — powered by almost $81 billion in government spending over the next five years. And even that staggering outlay doesn't address the wide regional differences presented by different economies within Canada.

"Significant challenges lie ahead for Canada as it works to meet its GHG emission targets and those challenges parallel the ones faced by the international community," Boothe and co-author Felix Boudreault say in the conclusion to their report.

"Finding ways to equitably share the burden of GHG emission reductions and practical mechanisms to allow regional and national economies to transition to a low-carbon world will test the ingenuity and will of political leaders at home and abroad."

Before the meeting, the federal environment minister said there were economic opportunities to be found through investment in green technology. 

"A Bloomberg report just came out [that] said there's a need for a $12.1-trillion investment in renewable, clean tech. I think Canadian companies want to be part of that solution," McKenna said.

Catherine McKenna on forging a national climate plan8:03


  • This story has been edited from a previous version that misattributed to New Brunswick's Brian Kenny comments made by Ontario's Glen Murray.
    Jan 29, 2016 4:48 PM ET
With files from The Canadian Press