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French president calls on Canada to work close for climate change agreement

French President Francois Hollande and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper make their way to a joint press conference on Parliament in Ottawa, Nov. 3, 2014. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

French President Francois Hollande served notice Monday he wants to see Canada taking an active role in helping the world achieve a major climate change agreement well in advance of the December 2015 Paris summit he will host.

Behind a firm show of solidarity with Prime Minister Stephen Harper, the French president — in some carefully chosen language — made clear he doesn’t want to see Canada deferring active participation on the environment until after the next federal election, set for October 2015.

During Monday’s state visit to Ottawa, Hollande outlined several upcoming international events on the road to Paris, indicating he wants to see Harper walking with him every step of the way.

They include this month’s G20 summit in Australia and next month’s international climate change meeting in Lima, Peru. He also noted a European commitment to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 40 per cent from 1990 levels by 2030.

“I would like to host a number of events all along 2015, so that we reach this conference in December with a … comprehensive and differentiated agreement which would be ready, specific, set and within a particular framework,” Hollande told a joint press conference with Harper on Parliament Hill.

He said he expected that “Canada will be fully committed during each of these steps, on the way to the Paris conference.”

Hollande said he wanted to avoid a similar fate as the 2009 Copenhagen summit, in which world leaders — despite an 11th-hour effort — failed to reach a substantive deal.

“We have to find an agreement in the coming months,” he said.

Harper didn’t shy away from the challenge, touting Canada’s sector-by-sector approach and success in reducing greenhouse gas emissions from the Alberta oilsands and banning coal-fired electricity generation. He also noted that the European Commission had backed off its plan of ranking Alberta oilsands crude in a category that would have branded it as dirty oil.

“I think we have a good story to tell,” the prime minister said.

“We recognize, as obviously does France, that there’s a lot of work to be done at the international level to get what all of us want, which is a global agreement that will create binding obligations on all major emitters.”

Canada emerged from the 2009 Copenhagen summit as a global laggard on combating climate change, earning several “fossil of the day” awards before being branded “fossil of the year” by environmental activists.

In a speech to a joint session of Parliament, Hollande said world must act to bring down greenhouse gas emissions caused by fossil fuels.

He noted Sunday’s report by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change that said climate change is almost entirely the fault of humans, and demands that greenhouse gas emissions be cut to zero this century in order to limit the impact.

The report was the work of “the highest scientific authorities” and a “lack of action will lead to a disaster,” Hollande said.

The French president said that he hoped that as Canada continues to develop its energy sector in the western provinces that it “will be fully committed in this fight against global warming.” Harper hosted Hollande in Alberta on Sunday.

Last month, Holland’s special climate envoy visited Ottawa, but was unable to get a meeting with Harper.

Nicolas Hulot said next year’s Canadian federal election would be a good time to have public a debate about the environment in Canada.

Hollande also acknowledged Canada’s grief, saying Parliament was “defiled” last month when a gunman killed Cpl. Nathan Cirillo at the National War Memorial before storming Centre Block, where he died in a hail of gunfire.

“This seat of democracy … was defiled on Oct. 22 by a terrorist-inspired attack, the ultimate goal of which was to attack the very idea of freedom, which this Parliament represents,” Hollande said.

“I salute the courage of (Sergeant-at-Arms) Kevin Vickers, who is known all across the world.”

Hollande said the ongoing air campaign in Iraq and Syria to degrade the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant won’t be enough. France and Canada are among the western countries contributing to the air bombardment.

Indeed, both leaders agreed that airstrikes alone wouldn’t be enough, and said that Kurdish Peshmerga fighters and Iraqi ground troops would have to lead the fight.

“It won’t be resolved with a few bombings,” Hollande said. “The bombings will not help us find political solutions.”

Hollande said France is also providing military support to the Free Syrian Army, and his trying to persuade Turkey to open its border to train Free Syrian Army soldiers in protected areas.

“I think everybody has recognized that not all of the objectives in terms of defeating ISIL can be accomplished just through an aerial campaign,” Harper said.

“It’s obviously the belief of all of us that to really be effective it has to be the Iraqis themselves who take that responsibility.”