'We'll work together' on greenhouse gas strategy: Prentice

The federal government will talk with the provinces and territories as it crafts a new plan to regulate greenhouse gas emissions, federal Environment Minister Jim Prentice said in Whitehorse on Tuesday.

The federal government will talk with the provinces and territories as it crafts a new plan to regulate greenhouse gas emissions, federal Environment Minister Jim Prentice said Tuesday.

Meeting in Whitehorse with his provincial and territorial counterparts, Prentice said there is time to reach a plan before United Nations-led talks scheduled for Copenhagen in December.

"We have had, I think, a valuable discussion recognizing these are complex issues, and a consensus is not always possible," Prentice told reporters on Tuesday.

"But we have agreed that as we go forward in this pivotal year, we'll work together, we'll co-operate. There will be [an] extensive process of discussion and consultation as we work towards the Copenhagen process."

Caps to be discussed with U.S.

Prentice has been floating the idea of a joint Canada-U.S. cap-and-trade system in recent weeks. The idea is expected to come up in a meeting between Prime Minister Stephen Harper and U.S. President Barack Obama on Thursday.

Obama, however, has suggested he favours hard caps that would lower overall greenhouse gas emissions. Harper's government has long supported so-called intensity-based caps, which would allow for increased emissions from a factory or plant if production there goes up.

Conservation groups had hoped Tuesday's meeting — which involved environment ministers from every province and territory except British Columbia — would lead to a firm commitment to reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

"Canada is about to go off to the Copenhagen conference at the end of the year to do a post-Kyoto treaty to try and get greenhouse gas emissions under control, and Canada has not been a leader on this issue," said Lewis Rifkind of the Yukon Conservation Society.

"We hope now that with a greater emphasis from the provinces and territories to turn to the Canadian government and say, 'Look, you have to take a leadership role in this.' "

Prentice has acknowledged Canada could come under pressure to adopt hard caps, which are also favoured by environmental groups. But he has said there's no reason the two approaches couldn't be designed to work together.

'We will be heard,' Yukon minister says

Prentice promised to consult the provinces and territories about any new agreements discussed with the U.S. or as a result of the Copenhagen talks.

"That commitment was, in fact, garnered from the government of Canada that we will be consulted in a meaningful way, that we will be heard, and that that dialogue will commence immediately," Yukon Environment Minister Elaine Taylor said.

The environment ministers did agree Tuesday on new countrywide regulations for managing municipal wastewater effluent.

For the first time, there will be national standards applied to about 3,500 water treatment plants across Canada — an announcement that is extremely important to the Northwest Territories, its environment minister said.

"We have 33 communities scattered across 1.7 million square kilometres, and the majority of which don't have any permanent road access, but they're all on waterways or large bodies of water," Michael Miltenberger told reporters.

"The concern about water is probably one of the most single pressing issues in the Northwest Territories, like many jurisdictions, so we're going to be committed to doing that."

The ministers also agreed to begin talks on creating national action plans to reduce product packaging and other waste that ends up in landfills.

With files from the Canadian Press