Stephen Harper's fall from power has been greeted with obvious delight by the folks at The New Republic. Coupled with the coup that recently toppled Aussie climate change bad boy, Tony Abbott, a significant obstacle to the December climate summit in Paris may have been cleared.
Harper, the outgoing leader of the Conservative Party, may not have been as vocally opposed to climate action as, say, U.S. Republicans, but he’s repeatedly tried to undermine international progress in more subtle ways. He was one-half of the world’s most powerful anti-climate duo, which broke apart only last month when his partner—ex-Australia prime minister Tony Abbott—lost his job in the Liberals' party leadership elections. He withdrew Canada from the Kyoto Treaty in 2011, just as major polluters (including the U.S. and China) began to rethink their approach to fossil fuels. He and Abbott planned to complicate negotiations on limiting global greenhouse gas emissions, and Harper congratulated his peer on his progress in scuttling domestic climate initiatives. “You’ve used this international platform to encourage our counterparts in the major economies and beyond to boost economic growth, to lower taxes when possible and to eliminate harmful ones, most notably the job-killing carbon tax,” Harper told Abbott when the latter visited Canada in summer of 2014. In the last year, he's snubbed United Nations climate summits and his officials reportedly tried to weaken language from an official G7 text that pledged serious long-term cuts to greenhouse gas emissions.
...Trudeau has both the opportunity and challenge to repair Canada’s outcast status after nine years of conservative power. Trudeau will be better on the environment, but far from an environmentalist's dream PM: He supports the Keystone XL pipeline, and has not made clear how he plans to reconcile the tar sands industry’s growth and the need to cut Canada’s emissions—two priorities that are at odds with each other. Trudeau has said, "I am committed to showing up with all premiers to take on the target we need which is to prevent the two degrees of warming that scientists across the world are looking at as catastrophic," but has offered few specifics. During the election, his campaign was full of contradictions, like accusing Harper of turning “the oil sands into a scapegoat around the world for climate change and he’s put a big target on our oil sands.”
There are still a number of reasons to be encouraged that the Liberals can turn around Canada’s climate policy. Paris will be just the start of it. Within90 days of Paris, Trudeau has promised to call on the provinces' leaders to help come up with a plan for climate action, to begin to undo some of Harper’s damage. These reforms could include ending fossil fuel subsidies, putting a price on carbon, and evaluating the environmental footprintbefore signing off on pipeline proposals. And expect more details from Trudeau himself soon: His first appearance on the global stage will likely be in Paris later this year.