Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and the provincial premiers emerged from their meeting in Vancouver to say they are working toward a national climate change plan that includes an agreement in principle for a carbon-pricing mechanism — although they did not offer specifics on how it would work.

"The agreement as spelled out in the declaration, that the transition to a low-carbon economy will happen by a broad suite of measures that will include pricing carbon, that is something that we have all committed to," said Trudeau

Trudeau said a price on carbon is an essential tool in the effort to fight climate change and the leaders would continue to work together to meet that end, taking into consideration the varying challenges of the different provinces and territories.

First Ministers Meeting 20160303

Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne, centre, and Manitoba Premier Greg Selinger, right, listen to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau during the during the first ministers meeting in Vancouver. (Jonathan Hayward/Canadian Press)

"The working group that we have put together will dig into the mechanisms that will be most effective, and most appropriate, for each jurisdiction, recognizing that there are areas that face greater challenges," he added.

Trudeau was meeting with his provincial and territorial counterparts in Vancouver at the first ministers meeting on climate change and the environment.

Sources told CBC News earlier Thursday that Trudeau was digging in his heels on the need for a national price on carbon, something the premiers were said to be balking at. The government had signalled going into the talks that it wouldn't allow carbon price talks to drag on indefinitely.

A federal source confirmed there was movement later in the day, saying they were in a bad spot, but the tone shifted when, as one source put it, the federal government finally agreed to put "water in its wine."

Wall says pursuing national carbon tax is not his understanding2:09

Provinces 'stepped up'

After the meetings Trudeau said that for the past 10 years there was no federal leadership on the climate change file and in that vacuum the provinces "stepped up" and took a leadership role. He said 80 per cent of Canadians now live under some sort of carbon pricing and the "federal government will not undo what the provinces have done, we will add to it."

Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall, who is the most outspoken critic of a nationally imposed price on carbon, welcomed the agreement today, noting that something has to be done on the climate change file and his home province was "a high per capita emitter," within the federation. 

"It's no small feat to come to the consensus that we did. Recognizing that fact ... that we don't want a national carbon levy," said Wall. "It's one of the tools, it's not the only tool." 

B.C. Premier Christy Clark told Rosemary Barton on CBC News Network's Power & Politics that if political leaders in Canada wanted to earn public support for environmental policy they need to know that fighting climate change is not going to make them poorer. 

"I guess the pundits and the opposition will argue about the substance of what we did," said Clark. "I think that what we achieved was very significant. But the fact that we were there with the prime minister for the first time in a decade, I would say that this makes this day, this declaration in Vancouver, an historic one."

Premiers and PM discuss carbon pricing7:15

Trudeau said the discussions with Canada's premiers were "tremendously productive." He said they have agreed to break off into working groups to study four main areas of the climate change file: clean technology, innovation and jobs, carbon pricing and mitigation.

The working groups will report back in October and the findings of those reports will be used to create a "Canadian framework for clean growth and climate change." 

The text of the Vancouver Declaration on Clean Growth and Climate Change, which outlines the consensus reached at the Vancouver meeting, indicates that when an agreement is reached on carbon pricing it will be "adapted to each province's specific circumstances and in particular the realities of Canada's indigenous peoples and Arctic and sub-Arctic regions. 

In the meantime the federal government would take action on a number of areas including:

  • Supporting climate change mitigation and adaptation through investments in green infrastructure, public transit infrastructure and energy efficiency.
  • Working with the provinces and territories on leveraging federal investments in the Low Carbon Economy Fund to bring incremental emission reductions.
  • Advancing the electrification of vehicle transportation.
  • The development of regional plans for clean electricity transmission to reduce emissions.
  • Efforts to eliminate the dependence on diesel in indigenous, remote and northern communities with renewable, clean energy.
  • Double investments in clean energy, research and development over five years.

Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard said he was pleased with the meeting, and that it was significant the federal government decided to come to the table as one of the actors seeking to join the fight against climate change

"The fact that the federal government, and Trudeau, said … that this budget will contain very significant investments, particularly in green technology, and building efficiencies — that's going to be a significant factor," said Couillard.

The premier also welcomed specific measures on the electrification of transport and the decision to transition away from diesel fuel in northern communities.

First ministers agree to work on mechanisms to price carbon9:32

With files from Susan Lunn and David Cochrane