Washington: The first official visit of Canada’s new Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to Washington this week could be an important opportunity for two like-minded leaders to highlight their efforts to curb climate change and strengthen Arctic policy. Both Obama and Trudeau need to prove that they are serious about the promises made during the December Paris meeting, and a joint cooperation agreement is expected to be signed during the summit.
After years of tense relations with Prime Minister Justin Trudeaus predecessor, the conservative Stephen Harper, president Obama can this week welcome a more like-minded Canadian politician to the White House. Trudeau, whose Liberal Party won the election in Canada in October, has signaled major changes in policy and a desire to improve relations with the Canada’s powerful neighbor. Obama and Trudeau have similar and progressive visions, not least on climate change. This, and particularly the impact on the Arctic, is expected to be a major topic of discussion. The visit will include the signing of a bilateral agreement.
- President Obama and Prime Minister Trudeau have similar values and are similarly minded. I am hopeful that this meeting will have a significant focus on the climate issue, especially with regards to the Arctic, and that it will show a commitment to shared action. I am hoping it will provide an impetus for Canada to improve our current the climate goals and synchronize our targets with those of the United States, especially since ours are weaker than the US targets, says Elizabeth May, leader of Canada’s Green Party.
May, who has cooperated closely with Trudeau, was a member of the Canadian delegation to the Paris summit. She looks to the Washington meeting to bring to the forefront environmental challenges and the need for action, not least in the Arctic.
- We saw that Canada during its chairmanship of the Arctic Council pulled the Council away from a climate change focus. I believe that this will change under Prime Minister Trudeau, says May.
Neither country has released details of the upcoming bilateral agreement. It has been reported that the agreement will deal with tighter fuel and auto emissions standards as well as measures to foster innovation an areas such as electric cars and self-driving vehicles.
- New era
Cathleen Kelly, Senior Fellow at Washington’s Center for American Progress, last week published a report , offering recommendations for the upcoming summit. CAP, a progressive think tank founded by Hillary Clinton’s campaign manager John Podesta, is close to the Obama administration and an influential voice in US politics.
- The meeting this week will signal a new era in the US-Canada climate change cooperation, says Kelly, and points out that the US-Canada agreement may be a next step towards an agreement that also includes Mexico.
- There is a US-Canada-Mexico summit planned for this summer, and the agreement with Canada may be the start of an ambitious continental climate change agenda, according to Kelly.
Kelly identifies four areas ripe for action: Cutting methane pollution from oil and gas development, curbing black carbon pollution in the Arctic, promoting renewable energy generation and trade, and improving global understanding of Arctic warming risks.
Running out of time
- President Obama is about to run out of time to secure a lasting climate change legacy. Prime Minister Trudeau’s policy vision breaks firmly from his predecessor’s climate science skepticism and lax climate policies. Trudeau acknowledges the dangers of unchecked climate change and has pledged to inform his policymaking with science. This opens new doors for US-Canadian collaboration to combat climate change, says Kelly, and adds that both countries need to strengthen their commitments in order to reach the goals agreed in Paris.
Prime Minister Trudeau is under pressure to introduce a comprehensive Arctic policy. In his election campaign, he dismissed his predecessor’s Arctic policy as “Big sled, no dogs” and tweeted a pledge to show the country “another plan” for the North. The high profile Washington visit could be an opportunity to highlight the new government’s vision for a more active and environmentally focused policy in the Arctic.
The last official state visit from Canada to the United States took place in 1997, when then Prime Minister Jean Chretien visited president Bill Clinton. Pierre Trudeau, Justin Trudeaus father, paid official state visits to Washington in 1972 and 1977.