Canada's premiers to meet in Ottawa to discuss pipelines and climate change

Canada's premiers and territorial leaders need to grapple with the issue of climate change.

And they're not doing so well so far.

Alberta premier Jim Prentice describes the Keystone XL pipeline - which would emit 22 million tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions a year - as 'environmentally defensible'. Saskatchewan premier Brad Wall says he would be 'disappointed' if US president Obama were to veto the pipeline. British Columbia premier Christy Clark is championing the development of liquefied natural gas export terminals in her province, even though just five LNG terminals would release 13 million tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions and the fracking and transport of the gas would generate another 15 million tonnes of GHG emissions. And while Energy East would release 32 million tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions a year, Ontario premier Kathleen Wynne says her province will examine the pipeline only on the basis of its 'downstream' emissions, such as bulldozer exhaust fumes resulting from its construction in her province, and that she wants to help Alberta get more of its oil to market. For his part, New Brunswick premier Brian Gallant has publicly backed the idea of twinning Energy East from Alberta to his province with a fracked gas pipeline that could feed an LNG export terminal in Saint John. And the premier of the Northwest Territories has been promoting the 100,000 barrel per day Arctic Gateway pipeline from the tar sands to the Arctic Ocean that could begin with oil shipments by rail and barge transport this summer.

The premiers and territorial leaders will have a series of meetings this year to develop a Canadian energy strategy before the summer.

First up is a January 30 meeting in Ottawa. The Toronto Star reports that Premier Wynne wants to discuss the falling price of oil and "the work the provinces are doing to complete the Canadian Energy Strategy and the commitment to addressing climate change."

Next up, there will be a federal-provincial-territorial meeting in late February convened by federal environment minister Leona Aglukkaq to discuss new post-2020 carbon emission goals. The direction given by the premiers to their environment ministers for this meeting will be critical given the United Nations has asked all countries to submit their targets by the end of the March so that information can be compiled for the pivotal UN climate talks in Paris in December.

They will then be meeting again in April in Quebec. That's because Quebec premier Philippe Couillard, has invited his provincial and territorial counterparts to attend a summit on climate change to 'pave our way to the Paris conference of 2015 with concrete commitments'.

And then they will be meeting again July 14-18 in Newfoundland and Labrador to finalize a provincial-territorial energy and climate change strategy.

Council of Canadians chairperson Maude Barlow says, "We are demanding a Canadian energy strategy which features meaningful regulatory limits on greenhouse gas emissions, a just transition to conservation, energy efficiency and the rapid expansion of public and community-owned renewable energy. Intimately linked to these efforts is our call to oppose the 'free trade' agenda of NAFTA, CETA and the WTO given they undermine the ability of all levels of governments to regulate the sale or extraction of fossil fuels and promote renewable energy."

Energy and climate justice campaigner Andrea Harden-Donahue adds, "We are very wary and would oppose a strategy that allows business as usual — namely, the pursuit of an energy superpower status through increased exports based on unfettered ongoing fossil-fuel exploitation. The social and environmental costs of this are all too clear."

The premiers and territorial leaders last tried to develop an energy strategy in 2012. The strategy behind this for then-premier Alison Redford was to facilitate and increase the production and export of tar sands bitumen. But it hit numerous obstacles: Then-premier Dalton McGuinty highlighted the impact the tar sands had on undermining Ontario's manufacturing sector. The PQ government at that time in Quebec opposed a national plan because energy is an area of 'provincial competence'. They also opposed Newfoundland's plans for more hydroelectric dams. And BC premier Christy Clark had made royalty demands at that point that were seen as obstacle to the construction of the Northern Gateway pipeline.

It remains to be seen if Canada's premiers and territorial leaders can put aside their parochial differences and their carbon-based agendas and focus on the greatest challenge of our day - pulling the planet back from the brink of a climate catastrophe. For his part, Stephen Harper seems disinterested. The prime minister was invited this weekend by Ontario premier Wynne to participate in the January 30th meeting in the nation's capital and he has already indicated that he will not be attending.