March 8, 2016 4:09 pm
Updated: March 8, 2016 4:12 pm

Deal to curb methane on deck when Trudeau meets Obama in Washington

AP Photo/Susan Walsh file
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OTTAWA – Prime Minister Justin Trudeau appears poised to reap the benefits of some climate groundwork laid by the previous Conservative government when he travels to Washington on a state visit this week.

Bilateral agreements on reducing methane and black carbon are among those in the works when Trudeau meets with President Barack Obama, the White House special envoy on climate suggested Tuesday.

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The Americans have taken over the chair of the Arctic Council – a post held by Canada for the last two years – and say they will continue to press for reductions in “short-lived” pollutants including methane, hydrofluorocarbons, and black carbon that can pack far more climate warming punch than carbon dioxide.

READ MORE: Trade, climate, Arctic on the agenda as Trudeau visits Obama

Black carbon, created by burning dirty fossil fuels such as diesel, was identified as a climate priority in the Arctic under the previous Conservative watch due to the soot’s warming properties on snow cover.

“There are a number of areas of potential co-operation,” White House envoy Todd Stern told a briefing in Washington.

“One would involve a commitment to reduce methane emissions 40 to 45 per cent below 2012 levels by 2025 in the oil and gas sector.”

Stern said there’s also a move afoot this year to amend the 1987 Montreal Protocol, which dealt with ozone-depleting substances, to “phase down” hydrofluorocarbons, or HFCs, by as much as 90 gigatonnes of CO2 equivalent by 2050.

READ MORE: Washington D.C. prepped for Justin Trudeau’s arrival

Climate measures to be announced this week could include “enhanced bilateral co-operation” in the oil and gas sector on heavy duty vehicles and power infrastructure, said Stern. The two countries are also discussing plans by the Montreal-based International Civil Aviation Organization to bring in market-based measures designed to hold global civil aviation emissions “neutral” starting in 2020.

Environment Minister Catherine McKenna offered no details following a cabinet meeting in Ottawa but flagged climate as a topic for Washington visit announcements. She is one of at least four cabinet members among Trudeau’s delegation.

“We need to be looking at how we can be working with our partners in the United States and Mexico and looking at where we can align from a regulatory perspective,” said McKenna.

“I’m very, very excited, you know, to see what will come out of our discussions.”

Stern lavished praise on Canada’s new Liberal government, saying the climate relationship between the two North American neighbours ramped up “dramatically quickly” since last October’s federal election and that Canada “made a very positive splash” at the Paris climate conference.

READ MORE: White House says Obama developing ‘special relationship’ with Trudeau

But the Liberals are also building on Conservative initiatives.

Tony Clement, the Conservative foreign affairs critic, said measures on methane and black carbon were “in the pipeline” already. He also said Trudeau is dealing with an Obama presidency that’s in its last months.

“I just would say to the prime minister, don’t try to build this up to be something that it isn’t because, ultimately, in terms of substance, this is going to be a relatively substance-free visit.”

WATCH: Jacques Bourbeau looks at what’s in store for the state visit.

Scott Vaughan, president of the International Institute for Sustainable Development, said in an interview there is a “huge amount of pre-existing work” between Canada and the United States on reducing methane and working towards clean energy.

The new level of Canada-U.S. co-operation could accelerate existing planning, said Vaughan, who is also Canada’s former environment commissioner.

In addition to bilateral talks, he said, Canada and the U.S. also have been part of an international coalition working with the oil and gas sector to reduce methane emissions.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency released the target of a 45-per-cent methane reduction in 2014, said Vaughan.

“If Canada were to adopt the U.S.’s EPA regulations, it could be game-changing, leading to a 25 per cent reduction in the oil and gas sector’s emissions.”

The measures would build on last week’s first ministers meeting in Vancouver, where Trudeau and the premiers agreed to pursue a pan-Canadian climate plan with dozens of elements, including reducing northern communities’ reliance on diesel generation and pushing for a more environmentally sustainable oil and gas sector to promote global market access.

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