Jonathan Wilkinson’s remarks came a day after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and U.S. President Joe Biden shared their first bilateral meeting, during which their shared goals to address climate change took centre stage.
Shortly after the meeting, the two leaders announced that a “high-level ministerial” to tackle climate change would be formed between the countries.
The ministerial will “coordinate cooperation” between the countries to “increase ambition aligned to the Paris Agreement and net-zero objectives,” according to a joint document released after the meeting.
It will also “explore opportunities to align policies and approaches to create jobs, while tackling climate change and inequality, and enhancing adaptation and resilience to climate impacts.”
On Wednesday, Jonathan Wilkinson met with U.S. special climate envoy John Kerry to begin that work.
Wilkinson told Global News it was a “working meeting” during which the pair discussed how the countries can “collaborate to accelerate progress on climate change and to enhance the level of ambition on both sides of the border, but also how we can learn from each other as well as we do different things.”
He said they established a number of “near-term” and “longer-term” priorities.
“That certainly includes things like working on vehicle emission standards for Canada and the U.S., again, looking to see how we can accelerate work to both enhance the energy efficiency of the existing types of vehicles that are being sold, but also to look at how we can accelerate the deployment of zero-emission technologies,” he said.
Wilkinson said the two countries’ auto manufacturing sectors are “completely integrated.”
“It makes way more sense for us to actually have integrated standards with respect to efficiency, with respect to how we want to deploy zero-emissions technologies, then us working at odds,” he said.
While vehicle emissions standards had been watered-down by the former Trump administration, the Canadian government committed to aligning with the highest possible standard, which had been imposed in California.
“But now I think there’s an opportunity to do this on a continental basis, yes,” Wilkinson said. “And that is kind of where we’re headed.”
According to Wilkinson, he and Kerry also discussed methane regulations, and how to deal with large emitters during Wednesday’s meeting.
“We have the same kinds of large emitters in both countries, whether those are steel or cement or oil and gas facilities,” he said. “Canada has started to do work — we had a $3-billion fund to work with those emitters in our recent climate plan — but there’s definitely more we can do.”
Lastly, Wilkinson said he and Kerry spoke about how Canada and the U.S. could “work together to help other countries raise the level of ambition,” and how they can collaborate to help facilitate the move away from coal-fired power.
Asked whether there are any parts of the Biden administration’s climate plan that could potentially have a negative impact on Canada, Wilkinson pointed to the “Buy American” policy.
Just days after taking office, Biden signed an executive order to impose stringent protectionist rules for government spending.
Wilkinson said this policy is something Canada is “going to have to work our way through,” but that it’s “not a new policy.”
“But certainly Canada is going to have to be thoughtful, and engage in a way that looks to ensure that our economic interests are taken into account by the Americans because our economic interests actually can further their economic interests,” he said.
Wilkinson used clean technology as an example, saying the ability for Canadian firms to sell and deploy their technology for use in the U.S. would be beneficial for both countries.
“So, you know, we need to make that case on an ongoing basis,” he said.
He also said Canada needs to ensure that “we’re talking about energy and the future of energy broadly.”
“And and certainly the Americans understand that,” he said. “I mean, they have the same kinds of energy issues in their country that we do in ours.”
He said America has a large oil and gas sector and faces more challenges with respect to coal-fired power than Canada.
During the 2020 presidential campaign, Biden promised to shift the country from fossil fuels and towards green energy.
Hours after he was sworn-in, he signed an executive order to revoke a presidential permit signed by his predecessor which would have seen the expansion of the cross-border Keystone XL pipeline.
The move dealt an especially hard blow to Alberta and Saskatchewan whose energy sectors were counting on the completion of the US$8-billion project.
Wilkinson said the countries need to find ways to move forward in a manner that “addresses the carbon issue, but does so in a way that is going to ensure that there’s opportunity for all regions of Canada and all regions of the United States.”
“I think (that) is something that they’re very happy to engage on,” he said.