Monday, November 30, 2009

Stephen Harper, Climate Change and Copenhagen

Stephen Harper is right. Rhetoric is one thing, action is another.

As the Commonwealth wrapped up its meetings this week-end, Harper reiterated Canada’s commitment to emissions reduction of 20% on 2006 levels by 2020 – a position close to that taken by Obama in the hope that he can persuade the US Congress to support him. Canada is also seeking emission cuts of between 60-70% on 2006 levels by 2050.

Harpers key point, however, was not about targets but about clear and concrete action plans to make emissions reduction happen. Noting that the Chretien liberals had made major commitments to emissions reduction and then done nothing to make translate these targets into action, Harper gave emphasis for a need for technology development to make possible the dramatic reduction of CO2 emissions envisaged. A focus on targets without looking in a systematic and thorough way at the action plan to achieve them is, in Harper’s terms, “folly”.

India is likely to say something similar in this last week before the Copenhagen summit begins on December 9th. Following Obama’s lead, India is likely to link emissions targets to growth and use a different metric to state its emission reduction targets. Some Indian media is reporting that Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh will offer cuts of between 20 to 25 percent, but this is unconfirmed by indian officials. China recently announced that premier Wen Jiabao will go to Copenhagen summit and that they will reduce emissions per unit of gross domestic product in 2020 by 40 to 45 percent from 2005 levels.

But the rhetoric continues and is becoming more shrill as Copenhagen approaches. George Monbiot, the respected journalist and environmental campaigner who writes for The Guardian, has focused attention on the oil sands. In a column in The Globe and Mail (November 30th) he sees the extraction the oil sands mining as one of the most damaging activities on the planet and is calling for a halt to production. Seeing Canada as an agreement “wrecker” in the talks leading up to Copenhagen, he ties Canada’s weak record on emissions reduction and climate change negotiations to the commitment to oil sands development. Without a clear strategy for green oil, he suggests, the oil sands will torpedo any climate change strategy for Canada.

Copenhagen will be a major event. Some fifteen thousand delegates will be attending and over twenty thousand environmental activists and campaigners will also be there. Over sixty five of the world’s leaders, including Stephen Harper, Barrack Obama and Gordon Brown, will be in attendance.

Momentum is growing for the summit to produce more than a political agreement – firm emission targets and an agreed technology transfer policy and a social adjustment fund for developing countries will provide the focus for the negotiations. While many counties may make commitments, many will also need to ratify these commitments with their own legislatures. This may prove difficult, especially for Obama. Resistance is growing to climate change policies as the economic costs, especially in terms of energy pricing, becomes clear.

In this last week before the summit, we can expect more dire news about the state of the planet and the impact climate change will have. But the science behind this news is increasingly being questioned, following the hacking of emails at the Climate Research Unit at the University of East Anglia. Many see these as exposing a conspiracy to manipulate science so as to pursue a change agenda, focusing on a new global government and a redistribution of wealth. Others defend the scientists involved, suggesting that the emails and documents involved in Climategate tell a very different story. The fall out, however, may impact the ability of world leaders, especially in the US, Australia and Britain, to “sell” any treaty agreement.

It will be an interesting week. Harper emerges from the Commonwealth meeting as a voice of reason. No wonder he is derided.

1 comment:

Nalliah said...

Commonwealth was a prominent opponent of the apartheid regime in South Africa. In the 1960s, Canadian Prime Minister John Diefenbaker and Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru led a joint effort that read South Africa out of the Commonwealth. In the 1980s, Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney rebuffed efforts by UK Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and US President Ronald Reagan to dilute sanctions until South Africa really began to reform and democratize in a genuine and determined way.  Commonwealth suspended Nigeria for 3 years after the 1995 hanging of the activist Ken Saro-Wiwa. Zimbabwe was suspended from Commonwealth in 2002. 
The Commonwealth allows for member countries to be suspended for Human Rights abuses, but ignores the impact of greenhouse gas emissions on some of the poorest countries in the world. The definition of serious violations should embrace much more than it does now.
But present Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper's foreign and domestic policy has fulfilled the hopes of US conservatives. In 2007 Canadin Prime Minister Stephen Harper along with Australian Prime Minister John Howard has successfully blocked more than 50 Commonwealth countries that were seeking a climate change resolution that would force industrialized countries to adopt a binding commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Canada’s lack of action on climate change is contributing to droughts, floods and sea level rises in small island states and vulnerable commonwealth countries such as Maldives, Bangladesh, and Mozambique. Canada’s emissions have risen by more than 25% between 1990 and 2007. Canada is at the bottom of the G8 league table for action to tackle climate change. Canadians consumes far more than their fair share of petroleum and owe a debt to developing countries of the Commonwealth for the impact of their emissions on the climate. Canada is getting away with climate crimes that are destroying homes and livelihoods of the people live in developing countries of the Commonwealth. Present Canadian government continues to support for the extraction of oil from Alberts tar sands, a process which is 3 times as damaging to the climate than extracting conventional oil. Extracting millions of barrels of dirty oil from Alberta tar sands and abandoning the Kyoto treaty is not the behaviour of a responsible commonwealth country and Canada should be suspended from Commonwealth immediately. Canada’s complete failure to cut its emissions is making the global situation worse. If the Commonwealth countries are serious about holding their members to account, then they should suspend Canada immediately since it is threatening the lives of millions of people in developing Commonwealth countries. Unless Canada is willing to stop blocking international climate negotiations through its continued support for the Alberta tar sands, Canada should withdraw its membership with Commonwealth. The Commonwealth should hold Canadian government to a higher standard. 
- Nalliah Thayabharan