Premiers end climate change summit with call for Ottawa to get involved

Provincial leaders from across Canada reaffirmed their commitment to fight climate change on Tuesday even as a meeting revealed major differences among them on how to achieve the objective.

Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall says plan must include push for clean coal technology

Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard, centre, speaks at the beginning of a premiers' summit on climate change Tuesday in Quebec City. (Jacques Boissinot/Canadian Press)

Provincial leaders from across Canada reaffirmed their commitment to fight climate change on Tuesday even as a meeting revealed major differences among them on how to achieve the objective.

Some premiers also lamented what they called a lack of leadership from Ottawa in co-ordinating the provinces' strategies to reduce man-made greenhouse gas emissions, the leading driver of climate change according to scientists.

Provinces including Quebec and Ontario want to cap and trade carbon emissions and have set hard targets to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Others such as Manitoba, Prince Edward Island and Alberta have less clearly defined targets to reduce carbon emission.

Wall pushes for clean coal solution

Saskatchewan says Canada's priority should not be on putting a price on carbon or setting a strict target for greenhouse gas emissions, but rather on investing in innovative projects that will help make burning coal cleaner.

Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall noted that Canada accounts for less than two per cent of the world's annual greenhouse gas emissions.

"One-third of the world's emissions come from coal," he said after his brief presentation to his fellow premiers.

"And coal is expanding. As citizens of the world, if we're not committed to finding the technological solutions to clean up coal, then we're kind of playing on the margins."

Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne told reporters shortly after Wall's comments she rejects "part of that argument."

"Yes, we are a small country in terms of our population and absolute emissions, but we are heavy emitters per capita and that actually gives us more of a responsibility to innovate and create technology that allow us to deal with the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions," she said.

Wynne said Ontario's decision to join Quebec in a cap-and-trade system will reduce the province's emissions and spur the innovation that Wall mentioned.

Wall replied that "showing leadership matters, signals matter, examples matter, but the numbers are the numbers. Less than two per cent of world emissions come from Canada."

Ottawa's approach criticized

Tuesday's meeting included all leaders except Alberta's Jim Prentice, Nova Scotia's Stephen McNeil and Prince Edward Island's Wade MacLauchlan. British Columbia's Christy Clark joined part of the discussions by telephone.

The premiers did not agree to any specific goals in their joint declaration — only to "adopt" and "promote" ways to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and "advance" new technologies.

The final declaration also represented how divided the provinces are on the issue of how to fight climate change.

A draft document included a reference to the ministers agreeing to "put a price on carbon or adopt other structuring initiatives" to help reduce greenhouse gasses.

The final declaration only stated that premiers agreed to "make a transition to a lower-carbon economy through appropriate initiatives."

Tuesday's meeting ended with renewed calls for the federal government to show greater initiative in addressing the issue.

The Conservative government, which ran on a platform in 2008 that included a cap-and-trade policy, argues that any effort to price carbon is an economy killer.

Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard said the time for action is now, especially with an upcoming get-together of environment ministers leading up to an international conference on climate change in Paris in December.

"It has to be prepared, so we call upon the federal government right now to start working with us, first technically, then with the ministers, in order to work together in establishing our targets for Paris and the way we're going to present our situation, our plans in the future," Couillard told a closing news conference.

"There's no way it can be done in isolation. One order of government cannot ask the other to do the job. It has to be done together."

Ottawa to announce target before Paris summit

A spokesman for federal Environment Minister Leona Aglukkaq says certain provinces have not yet provided Ottawa with sufficient detailed data on their emission-reducing plans.

Ted Laking said in an email Tuesday "our government, like other governments around the world, will announce its target before the Paris Summit." He said to prepare for the summit, provinces and territories were asked last year for data.

"They have not yet provided information at a level of detail that is needed." 

Couillard said he understands why Prentice, the premier of the province with the most of Canada's greenhouse gas emissions, did not attend the meeting.

"I know Jim Prentice is very serious about this issue," he said. "After the (May 5 Alberta) election, I'm sure we'll do some great work with him, or whoever is the next premier of Alberta."