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Talk at the top masks movement underneath: Canadian Provinces take the lead on Climate Change

While Obama’s visit to Canada rightly made headlines across North America; as the first state visit and one that was open in its discussion of Climate Change measures (even if they Climate Change talks had to take a backseat to the economy. 2009 however, also saw the slow awakening of another key initiative to Combat climate change on the North American continent.

The Western Climate Initiative  (WCI) has its roots as far back in February 2006, when the Governors of Arizona, California, New Mexico, Oregon and Washington had a meeting with a view to coordinating regional efforts to reduce GHG emissions, and to share and develop public policy to combat Climate Change.  By the end of 2007 British Columbia,  joined to make it an International venture and by 2009 Manitoba, Ontario and Quebec had joined to make it 4 of Canada’s 10 provinces in total(Saskatchewan is an observer), combined these states represent just under 80% of Canada’s population.

So what does the WCI offer? The WCI’s progress has been gradual, from their beginning in 2006, they are currently in the process of developing policy ultimately geared towards a regional cap and trade system to be fully implemented by 2015. This cap and trade system would account for 90% of WCI partners’ GHG emissions although a large amount of the finer detail has yet to be decided with meetings currently ongoing. Such an initiative is a remarkable indicator of support for action against Climate Change among Canadian and US provinces and bodes well for building a North American wide system for reducing GHG emissions.

In an interview given last June, Janice Adair Chair of the Western Climate Initiative outlined the thinking behind the initiative. Among the salient details was the lack of progress in Federal policy on both sides of the border. With Prime Minister Harper reluctant to hamper economic growth by implementing aggressive climate policies, and former President Bush reluctant to even to enter into any formal treaty, certain states decided to create sub-national initiatives. The RGGI (Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative) for the Northeast of the US, is one example along with the Covenant for Cities, both indicate a willingness by sub-national leaders to circumvent national leadership to tackle Climate Change.

This shouldn’t be surprising, for many of these states see themselves as getting ahead of the game, Janice Adair was candid acknowledging the ultimate likelihood of a national cap and trade, which was mentioned at the recent summit between Prime Minister Harper and President Obama. The likelihood, by developing policy in advance states will be in a stronger position to shape the national debate, as well as putting provincial businesses in a stronger position to capitalise on a green technology business.

To some extent, it’s difficult to see think that the WCI initiative won’t be superseded in the near future, Harper has made clear he would consider a North American cap and trade and Obama has been a vocal proponent, with some suggestions from Senate leader Harry Reid that a Climate Bill could happen this summer. Nevertheless WCI, has three useful functions; firstly it is preparing Canadians for the reality of Climate legislation, building capital for future policy. Second, WCI partners will be in a strong position to exert pressure on the national Government and thirdly they will be able take leadership on any Climate Change legislation which may occur in 2009. All of which bodes well for 2009 to be a turning point for North American Climate Change policy.

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