Canadian Manufacturing

Canada on hot seat to deliver on climate change and plastics at G7

Ahead of the June 8 leaders’ summit, the feds are pushing a charter on plastic waste reduction, but there’s no guarantee the rest of the G7 will sign it


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Environment Minister Catherine McKenna said she’s optimistic Canada’s G7 partners will sign its plastics charter. PHOTO: Canada 2020/Twitter

OTTAWA—Doubt is percolating about Canada’s ability to deliver on its two biggest environment commitments at this week’s G7, with no agreement yet on a plastics waste charter and Canada’s recent pipeline purchase casting a pall over its commitment to climate change.

Environment Minister Catherine McKenna said Tuesday it is still uncertain whether Canada will get its proposed zero plastics waste plan signed at this week’s G7 leaders summit.

Speaking at the Canada 2020 conference Tuesday in Ottawa, McKenna said most of the negotiating has already taken place, but she was unable to say if all the G7 leaders will sign the charter when their two-day meeting in Quebec gets underway Friday.

“Who knows at the table what happens,” she said. “I’m optimistic.”

In January, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said he would make plastics and a zero-waste plastics charter a key deliverable as part of Canada’s G7 presidency. The wording of such a charter has been in the works for months—one goal is to set a target date for eliminating plastics from landfills, as well as commitments from each country on how to get there.


Related: Canada should aim to recycle 85 per cent of plastics by 2025, groups say


If the G7 can make such a commitment, the hope is then to get the G20 to follow suit when that summit happens in Argentina in the fall.

Earlier this week, Canada’s chemical industry and plastics makers jointly set 2030 as the goal for eliminating plastic waste by recycling or incinerating for energy, while environment groups would like to see plastics stop going into the garbage or the incinerator by 2025.

While the U.K., France and Italy all appear to be on board, the positions of Germany, Japan and the United States are less clear.

McKenna said the U.S. has been “pretty positive” on the issue of a plastics charter. But she also said that if President Donald Trump doesn’t get on board, there are many other Americans who will. She said there’s action on the file already from state governments and business leaders, including major multinationals like Pepsi, Coca-Cola and McDonald’s that are responsible for much of the world’s single-use plastic food and beverage waste.

Trump has not been clear on where he stands on marine debris. But last August, he overturned a six-year regulation allowing national parks to ban the sale of single-use plastic water bottles.

The Canadian plastics charter will also aim to help developing countries better manage their waste, considering that about 90 per cent of the plastic that ends up in the ocean is carried out to sea by 10 rivers—eight of them in Asia and two in Africa.

Trudeau is also facing increased pressure to deliver a solid climate change commitment, particularly after committing to spend $4.5 billion buying the Trans Mountain pipeline. Luca Bergamaschi, the lead Italian negotiator on climate change from last year’s gathering, said European leaders see Trans Mountain as evidence Europe will have to carry the ball on climate.

The European contingent has lost patience with Trump’s stance on tariffs and climate change, and will be taking a hard-line approach on environmental issues, Bergamaschi added.

“The Europeans are less willing to compromise in order to appease the U.S. and maintain unity at all costs,” he said.

It is setting up to be another six-against-one finish, much like last year’s G7. However, Bergamaschi noted, no other country has joined Trump’s high-profile abandonment of the Paris accord—a sign that the rest of the world remains committed and the agreement will survive without the White House.

Bergamaschi and Catherine Abreu, the executive director of Climate Action Network Canada, say international climate change organizations also want the G7 to set the stage for countries around the world to agree to raise emissions targets they say remain far too low.

Trans Mountain puts all the more pressure on Trudeau to deliver a strong climate message, Abreu said.

Indeed, Trump’s recently imposed steel and aluminum tariffs might actually make it easier for Trudeau to side with Europe, rather than pushing for a watered-down compromise, she added.


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