Trudeau’s own goal on climate sends activists back to the drawing board

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is greeted by U.S. President Donald Trump prior to holdiing talks at the White House in Washington

Photo credit: Reuters / Carlos Barria.

By Anders Lorenzen

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has taken a real political gamble that could threaten his legitimacy on climate. By pledging to work together with US president Donald Trump, who rejects the science on climate change, the Prime Minister seeks to move forward the plans to construct the hugely controversial Keystone XL pipeline. This could put at risk much of the support he enjoys from environmentalists and climate change activists alike.

This week the Canadian Prime Minister met with his US counterpart, in their first meeting since Mr Trump obtained the keys to the White House, with trade being one of the key issues on the discussion agenda.

Since taking over from the conservative Stephen Harper, who at times flirted with climate change denialism, Mr Trudeau has since offered a different agenda, a solutions based approach to tackling climate change. In light of his well-publicised stance, environmental groups had, prior to his meeting with Trump, urged Mr Trudeau to talk climate change with the US President to stress the importance of this issue. However, it seems in the first instance that Mr Trudeau has ducked the issue entirely and has been charmed by Mr Trump’s offer to re-open the Keystone XL pipeline process, placing weight in short term economics over environmental concerns.

Mr Trudeau enjoyed an excellent correspondence with former US president Barack Obama, and it was often joked that the two had almost developed a ‘bromance’. Less than a month before Obama left the White House, the two signed an ambitious joint deal that protected large areas of the Arctic from fossil fuel activities. However, the pair did differ on the controversial Keystone XL pipeline, with Mr Trudeau left disappointed with Obama’s final rejection of the project after years of ardent opposition led by green groups, environmentalists and some businesses.

Yet this controversial project now appears to be back on track and was puffed in a joint statement from the two world leaders who stated: “as the process continues for the Keystone XL pipeline, we remain committed to moving forward on energy infrastructure projects that will create jobs while respecting the environment.”

Supporters of Trudeau would undoubtedly redirect critics to his mention of clean energy in the statement: “we share the goals of energy security, a robust and secure energy grid, and a strong and resilient energy infrastructure that contributes to energy efficiency in both countries. We collaborate closely on energy innovation, particularly in the clean energy sphere.” This marks the first official line from the Trump administration that supports clean energy development, and undoubtedly took a lot of negotiation to include.

There is no doubt, token mentions of clean energy or not, that green groups and environmentalists will be dismayed by the reignition of the Keystone debate, resentfully readying themselves to fight a project they thought they had beaten. Green groups will now be mobilising, working out how they will fight this project. It is widely believed that when Keystone XL was first proposed, the opposition movement grew to be the largest US environmental movement ever. One can wonder if Mr Trudeau is aware that he has re-opened a can of worms, essentially staking sole claim to a backlash and resent that could have been predominantly confined to the Harper government. But activists will be busy fighting the equally controversial Dakota Access Pipeline which has also been re-opened by the Trump administration. On top of this, they will also aim to heap the pressure upon Trudeau to reaffirm his climate agenda and demand that he condemns Trump. Sara Shor, 350.org US Keep It In The Ground Campaign Manager stated: “thousands of people took to the streets last month when Trump signed executive actions on Keystone XL and Dakota Access, and that resistance will only grow. Every new pipeline comes at a cost our future can’t afford, and we’ll keep doing all we can to stop them.”

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