With the complete absence of federal leadership on climate change, it is refreshing and encouraging to see some Canadian provinces stepping into the void. Several provinces are here at the U.N. climate negotiations in Lima to share their experiences and strike alliances with other sub-national governments.

This week I attended an event where environment ministers from British Columbia, Ontario, and Quebec plus representatives from California and other U.S. states discussed their past successes and future plans in limiting carbon pollution. (Alberta’s environment minister, also in Lima, was not on the panel, possibly because soaring emissions from the tar sands are not being addressed.)

B.C. Environment Minister Mary Polak discussed how her government passed the carbon tax despite strong opposition from many corners, and how the tax is now accepted, even embraced, by British Columbians. Quebec Environment Minister David Heurtel talked about his province being on track to meet its 2020 climate commitments and the partnership forged with California to cap carbon emissions through the Western Climate Initiative. Both Mr. Heurtel and the representative from California not so subtly suggested that there was room in the agreement for Ontario and B.C. to join. When it was Ontario Environment Minister Glen Murray’s turn at the mike, he didn’t even have to boast about Ontario shutting down its coal-fired power plants. Several other speakers had already given kudos for the initiative, one that has led to the greatest reduction in carbon pollution in North America.

There have also been new albeit modest announcements here in Lima. The three Canadian provinces joined California to commit to setting post-2020commitments next year (each has a 2020 target already). And yesterday, Ontario announced it would host a pan-American climate summit next July in order to strengthen the coalition of provinces and states and commit to collective action on climate change.

Clearly, a lot can be done at the sub-national level. A report released yesterday by the David Suzuki Foundation shows that, if all Canadian provinces had merely implemented the strongest climate change initiatives already existing in other provinces, Canada would be on track to meeting its 2020 carbon commitments. With an obstructionist American Congress holding back President Obama’s ambitions, and a completely irresponsible Canadian government, provinces and states need to step forward regardless of what’s happening in Washington D.C. or Ottawa.

Of course, not everything is perfect within Canadian provinces. Alberta and Saskatchewan have very high and growing levels of carbon pollution. British Columbia still plans to build liquefied natural gas terminals to export natural gas to the world, despite the high carbon emissions those terminals will create. And Ontario and Quebec have failed to recognize that the proposed Energy East pipeline will increase Canada’s emissions dramatically, potentially cancelling their efforts to cut back carbon pollution. Last week, they failed to show leadership in the face of pressure from the Alberta and Saskatchewan premiers, making confused statements about not including upstream carbon pollution in their assessments of the proposed Energy East pipeline. These and other failings must be rectified.

Regardless, it is easy to see that action on climate change is building at the provincial level. Next spring Quebec is organizing a meeting between all provinces to develop a national energy plan that includes climate change considerations.

Our federal government must step up, take responsibility, and act now, rather than doing next to nothing on climate change while taking credit for provincial actions. It is nonetheless heartening to see some major provinces stepping in to fill the leadership void.