Justin Trudeau focused on climate change as he leaves for Europe

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will be focused on the environment and climate change, as well as Canada's connection to the Commonwealth, as he embarks today on his second round of international travel.

Canada's prime minister to meet with the Queen, Commonwealth leaders ahead of Paris summit

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau walks with his daughter Ella-Grace to his plane Tuesday evening, as he departs for a week-long trip to London, Malta and Paris. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau embarks today on his second round of international travel, taking with him a busy schedule focused on the environment and climate change, as well as Canada's connection to the Commonwealth.

Trudeau will visit Queen Elizabeth on Wednesday before attending the Commonwealth heads of government meeting in Valetta, Malta, that starts Friday and goes to Sunday. He'll then head to the United Nations climate change conference in Paris for its Nov. 30 start.

The Liberal government's key task will be to develop Canada's role as a diplomatic advocate for action on climate change, according to a senior official in the Prime Minister's Office who spoke to CBC News on background.

Trudeau has the collective support of premiers and territorial leaders, who met on Monday to co-ordinate their approach to the UN climate conference.

"In Paris, a united Canada will demonstrate we are serious about climate change," Trudeau told reporters at the closing media conference, flanked by the other leaders.

Some observers agree.

"What we got yesterday was a real sense of a willingness to support a strong package in Paris," said Louise Comeau, executive director of Climate Action Network Canada, a coalition of labour, environment and church groups.

Trudeau can head to the summit knowing he can speak for the country and won't face provincial sniping when he gets back, Comeau said in an interview Tuesday.

"For almost 25 years, having all of the discord that we had at the provincial and federal level on climate change has kept us from making progress," she said. "This is enormously important."

Building relationships

The Paris summit provides an opportunity to set a new style and tone on the world stage for Canada's approach to climate change. It also gives Trudeau a chance to establish relationships with other foreign leaders that will be critical in the years ahead.

Louise Comeau, executive director of Climate Action Network Canada, says Trudeau can head to the climate talks knowing he can speak for the country and won't face provincial sniping when he gets back. (CBC)

He will arrive in Paris on the first day of the UN climate talks along with more than 100 other world leaders, who traditionally only arrive for the last few days.

This year, host country France invited leaders to the entire conference to give extra momentum to the delicate negotiations of a new climate agreement to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions.

They're trying to avoid the mess that occurred in Copenhagen in 2009, where talks broke down and world leaders had to scramble in the final moments to avoid a complete failure.

Canada won't be arriving with any new targets to cut emissions. That won't happen until after the Paris talks, when premiers and territorial leaders meet to negotiate a new national approach to climate change.

Instead, Canada will signal its plan to do more and do it soon. There's a feeling in the PMO that other countries will be satisfied with that for now, according to the senior official who spoke to CBC News.

However, environmental groups hope Trudeau will announce new federal money to help contribute to the international plan to raise $100 billion for climate action by 2020, and possibly contribute to new climate funds to help developing countries further reduce their emissions.

"We want Canada to be part of that movement to help countries adapt to the impacts of climate and we want Canada to help those that can't adapt," Comeau said.

Commonwealth leaders

Before heading to Paris, the prime minister will first get a chance to hear from leaders of other Commonwealth countries about how they are affected by climate change. 

It's a key topic at the Commonwealth heads of government meeting in Malta. Trudeau will be there along with more than 50 leaders from around the world, including small island states in the Pacific that are already seeing sea levels rise. 

This year, the Commonwealth will consider a "swap debt for climate action" plan. Under such a regime, small countries would have their debts reduced in direct relation to their action on climate change. Everything from preserving fish stocks and forests to limiting carbon emissions could count towards a debt reduction.

If the Commonwealth governments endorse the plan, the idea will be introduced at the Paris climate summit.

Trudeau said he intends to play a leadership role in Malta.

"We will be able to push some of the countries that have been less than enthusiastic about an ambitious resolution coming from Paris and actually be an active proponent and player on that stage," he said.

Audience with Queen

It's an intense week for the new prime minister, which starts Wednesday with an audience with the Queen in London.

All Canadian prime ministers meet with the Queen as part of their jobs, and Trudeau already met her as a young child when his father, Pierre Trudeau, was prime minister. 

Queen Elizabeth has agreed to meet Prime Minister Justin Trudeau at Buckingham Palace in London on Wednesday. (Canadian Press)

The Monarchist League of Canada is encouraged the audience is happening so soon.

"It could very well signal a relationship that he feels is very important to have, so he has made the point that he wants to meet the Queen very early in his mandate," said Robert Finch, the league's dominion chair.

Finch said the meeting likely won't consist of tea and light banter. 

"The Queen has an incredible amount of knowledge when it comes to Canadian politics. If anybody will be on their toes, it will be the PM; she will have her homework done," he said.


Margo McDiarmid is a freelance photographer and journalist based in Warsaw, Poland. She worked for CBC for more than 30 years.


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