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Canada Is Ready to Be a Leader Again on Climate Change

Canada’s new government seeks to undo years of damage in the international climate arena.

When Justin Trudeau was elected Canada’s new prime minister, he put environmental policies at the forefront of his agenda. And his administration will get their first big chance to demonstrate that renewed commitment to combating climate change during the COP21 summit in Paris next month.

Earlier this month a report circulated that claimed Trudeau’s government was simply planning to bring the old proposals and policies to Paris set forth by former Prime Minister Stephen Harper, whose government has been a big booster of the nation’s tar sands industry. Of course, that report circulated before Trudeau had actually sworn in his new cabinet, which a day later, very publicly outlined its intentions to bring a new sense of leadership to the Paris talks.

“Canadians expect their government to be responsible around climate change and addressing the impacts of the environment we’re facing around the world right now,” Trudeau said after the swearing in ceremony. “Canada is going to be a strong and positive actor on the world stage, including in Paris.”

For starters, Trudeau added “climate change” to the title for his new environment minister.

Then, immediately after taking over the newly rebranded position, Catherine McKenna, Minister of Environment, Energy and Climate Change, met with representatives from several countries that will be attending COP21 to outline what specific proposal she can bring to and support at the talks. But first and foremost, she wanted to make it clear that the Trudeau administration is backing away from earlier claims made by Harper that new regulations and proposals to combat climate change would hurt Canada’s economy.

“Canada agrees the science is indisputable, and we recognize the need for urgent/greater action that is grounded in robust science,” McKenna wrote on Twitter. “Our main goal is to make sure that all human beings can fulfill a healthy, safe sustainable life.”

Even with the publicly renewed commitment, some observers expect Canada’s role at COP21 to be mostly symbolic. For example, the Toronto Star writes that Trudeau’s role at the talks will be to “take the side of the angels,” while other nations give his new government time to get settled into their roles. Beyond that, the Star says Canada’s government will then likely turn its attention to working with provinces, many of whom has already outlined their own plans to deal with climate change. Trudeau has promised to sit down with local leaders and come up with a new emissions plan within 90 days of the Paris talks.

“It's really important, but you can't do all of this at once. And we have to be realistic,” McKenna said in an interview with the CBC. But she also made it clear that setting a new national tone is equally important.

“If Canada actually shows it's serious that it's back, that we understand that the science behind climate change is real, that we need to be taking action, that we need to be looking at what measures we can take to reduce emissions, I think that will send an extraordinarily strong signal.”

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