Canada PM, provinces set outlines of carbon pricing deal

VANCOUVER (Reuters) - Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau persuaded the country’s 10 provinces on Thursday to accept the concept of putting a price on carbon but agreed the specific details could be worked out later.

Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaks during Question Period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Canada, February 24, 2016. REUTERS/Chris Wattie

The compromise deal was unveiled at the end of a tough day’s talks with the provinces, many of which had signaled their opposition to the idea of Ottawa imposing a single price across the country.

Instead, the two sides agreed that mechanisms for pricing carbon would take into account each province’s specific circumstances. The two sides will present more detailed proposals at a meeting in October.

Trudeau’s Liberal Party won the election last October on a pledge to do much more than the previous Conservative government to curb emissions of greenhouse gases, which are climbing as firms exploit Canada’s vast crude-rich oil sands.

“There will be different approaches but pricing carbon is part of the solution that this country and all of its premiers will put forward,” Trudeau told a news conference.

The provinces, which enjoy significant jurisdiction over the environment, were wary of Ottawa’s intentions and say they should be allowed to cut carbon emissions their own way.

The federal government can unilaterally impose a tax, although Trudeau has been pushing for a pan-Canadian solution.

“There was a moment when the conversation was frank,” Trudeau said, promoting Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard to break into a broad smile.

Asked whether a province could avoid a set price for carbon

Trudeau said the matter would be among those discussed over the next six months.

Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall, speaking to reporters after the talks, said he believed his province’s existing carbon capture and storage initiative would count as a pricing mechanisms.

“It’s a price on carbon for sure,” he said, adding: “If there is a notion that comes forward that this (agreement) is some sort of license to pursue a national carbon tax, I will be in disagreement with that.”

The previous federal government had pledged to cut greenhouse gas emissions to 30 percent below 2005 levels by 2030, a target that official figures show is out of reach in the absence of radical measures.

Trudeau expressed optimism Canada could reach the goal “because we are putting forward a comprehensive and ambitious plan.” He did not give details.

The political wrangling on a carbon tax eclipsed the other major point of contention among Trudeau and provincial leaders - the construction of new crude oil pipelines.

Additional reporting by David Ljunggren; Editing by Alan Crosby and Peter Cooney