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.