Good, and not-so-good, from Vancouver First Ministers’ meeting

What’s good about the results of the First Ministers’ meeting in Vancouver this week? There was agreement.

What’s not so good? There is much more work to be done.

The Good

The First Ministers came together to flesh out details on a plan to accomplish Canada’s climate change commitments made in Paris. There were a number of key areas of agreement that are immediately actionable and could begin to have measurable impact in the short-term. These include:

  • Supporting climate change mitigation and adaptation through investments in green infrastructure, public transit infrastructure and energy efficient social infrastructure;
  • Investing in GHG emission reductions by working together on how best to lever federal investments in the Low Carbon Economy Fund to realize incremental reductions;
  • Fulfilling Canada’s commitment to Mission Innovation, made in Paris in December 2015, by doubling government investment in clean energy research and development over the next five years, and spurring private sector investment in clean technology;
  • Advancing the electrification of vehicle transportation, in collaboration with provinces and territories;
  • Fostering dialogue and development of regional plans for clean electricity transmission; and
  • Investing in clean energy solutions to help get Indigenous, remote and northern communities off diesel.

The First Ministers agreed to continue working together to develop options for further action in four key areas: clean technology, innovation and jobs; carbon pricing mechanisms; specific mitigation opportunities; and adaptation and climate resilience. These Working Groups will be led by federal, provincial and territorial co-leaders and will be composed of members from federal, provincial and territorial governments.

The Not-So-Good

The outcome of this meeting fell short of the original desires of the federal government to have a plan 90 days following the Paris climate change talks. However, the federal government was successful at keeping the provinces aligned on areas of agreement and focused on next steps to achieve desired future outcomes. The heavy lifting will start here. There were a number of provinces that stood up to the federal government’s original proposal of a national price on carbon, but still recognized the importance of moving forward together.

Whatever the final national policy on environment and climate change will be, one of the key implementation factors that will need to be considered will be equivalency. This means that if provinces have taken actions that can be proven to have a similar outcome as the national plan, then the provincial action will take precedent. Indeed, a number of provinces have already taken action over and above the federal government’s original proposal, including: Ontario and Nova Scotia phasing out coal electricity; British Columbia and Alberta putting a price on carbon; and Quebec and Ontario implementing a cap-and-trade program. Any next steps must take these actions into account.

Moving Forward

It isn’t the Prime Minister’s job to strong arm the provinces into something they don’t want – but the group together needs to realize that a compromise will need to be made and tough decisions will have to be taken in order to reach the goal of a low carbon economy. For resource-producing provinces that don’t have the infrastructure to get their products to market, action on the environment will only help their cause. They will need to go through this exercise to do that. At the same time, those that want a low carbon economy need to understand and respect the realities of our current economy and the path the country needs to take as a whole to achieve it.