OTTAWA, Ont. - Environment Minister Jim Prentice says he's feeling international pressure to put climate change high on the agenda at the G20 and G8 summits this summer.
And while he's not exactly a champion of the idea quite yet, he's not saying No either.
Canada is dedicated to turning last month's Copenhagen climate accord into an internationally binding treaty well before the end of the year, Prentice said in an interview.
"It's an agreement that reflects Canada's principles, so we very much want to see it converted into an international treaty over the course of 2010," he said. "Anything we can do to advance that is important."
But whether the G8 and G20 summits Canada is hosting at the end of June will serve to push along the process depends on how talks in the next few months go, he added.
"We'll be part of the drafting process to work it up to an international treaty. How far we will be by the time of the G20 meeting remains to be determined."
The Copenhagen Accord is a three-page statement of principle that urges countries to limit global warming, make commitments to cut emissions, and promises financing to help developing countries deal with climate change.
The accord is not binding, nor is it detailed. It falls far short of the hopes of the European Union and of environmentalists. Even the United Nations chief on climate change expressed disappointment this week.
But for the Harper government, the accord is a "turning point" in how the world approaches climate change, and is worth pushing into practice as soon as possible before any momentum is lost, Prentice said.
Prentice recognizes that the EU has been advocating for Canada to highlight climate change at the summits, to move the Copenhagen accord ahead. And he's aware that the G20 summit will group the world's biggest emitters, as well as key drivers of the Copenhagen accord: the United States, China, India, Brazil and South Africa.
But he noted that the accord will need support far beyond the G20 in order to become binding. And he wants to see significant progress on negotiating details well before the June summits, even though the discussions are complicated.
Much will depend on a marathon negotiating session set for Bonn at the beginning of June, he said.
The first step toward making Copenhagen binding is for countries to outline their emission-reduction targets for the UN by the end of January, said Prentice, and then pony up contributions for the US$30-billion fund agreed to in Copenhagen for developing countries.
Canada has done neither, but plans to do both soon, he said.
Both the G8 and the G20 have dabbled in climate-change politics in the past. The G8 summit in L'Aquila, Italy, last summer saw leaders agree to the bare bones that eventually formed the Copenhagen Accord.
And while institutionalized G20 summits have only just begun, the leaders' meetings so far have all focused on the need to figure out how to finance climate-change efforts in developing countries. They've had no success, however. They want to find about US$100 billion between now and 2020, but can't agree on where the money should come from or how to structure the funding.
Still, the summits hand Canada a wonderful opportunity to reclaim some leadership on environmental issues, said Clare Demerse of the Pembina Institute, an environmental energy think-tank.
"When you have the world coming to your own backyard, you don't want to be criticized for not doing enough. They don't want to be seen as a laggard rather than a leader," she said.
"So I hope this provides a huge amount of pressure on the government to step up its level of ambition."
Ottawa likely sees a few key drawbacks in highlighting climate change, said John Kirton who heads the G20 Research Group at the University of Toronto.
Ottawa has wrestled with the climate-change issue, and would prefer to avoid it for fear of taking domestic heat while the world watches, he said.
And since the G20 and the G8 can't actually sign off on a climate treaty, it would be hard for Prime Minister Stephen Harper to showcase anything concrete, Kirton said. Aid to poor countries and help for Haiti, on the other hand, are easier announcements to make.
"It would be much tougher for him to produce a big visible thing on climate change."