Canada rhymes with Rona?

by Virginie

Yesterday morning, I arrived at the conference center slightly disheartened: little or no progress has been made on the issue I have been closely following, namely post-2012 or the Beyond Kyoto “bubble”. Nonetheless, we had a big day ahead with opportunities to listen to Kofi Annan, Sir Nicholas Stern (lead UK economist and author of the Stern report) and the ministerial statements.

Ministers. Oh Ministers. Oh Canada. Oh oh…the Canadian Environment Minister. Mrs. Rona Ambrose.

It has been fascinating to immerse myself in the Canadian/Kyoto politics. It would have been hard to do otherwise, considering that Canada is somewhat at the center of these negotiations. Unfortunately, this is due to Ambrose’s unacceptable distortion of reality and display of behavior un-conducive to the Kyoto process upon the international scene.

When lead economist Nicholas Stern reiterates, as he did here yesterday, that climate-change-induced damages will be severe, that mitigation is consistent with economic growth and that mitigation costs will be modest only if we move quickly, one reluctantly imagines the Harper government (Canada’s recently elected minority and conservative government), or any government in fact, not getting the picture.

How unpleasantly surprised one can be. The Harper government is turning Canada into a laughable ostrich—if you have a dark sense of humor, that is.

Worse than refusing to recognize the urgency of the problem has been the deliberately misleading nature of certain elements incorporated in Ambrose’s high-level plenary statement on behalf of Canada. Indeed, Mrs. Ambrose mentioned that Canada will reduce its greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions 65% by 2050. However, she failed to mention that the cited figure is in relation to a 2003 baseline, and not the commonly used/standard 1990 baseline—according to ECO there is a 27% difference between the two reference points. Earlier last week, Canada won a Fossil of the Day for presenting the exact same figure during an AWG meeting. Embarrassingly, Canada won another fossil today—for similar reasons.

Mrs. Ambrose was also severely criticized for mentioning that “certain people” were trying to use Kyoto to divide Canada—another Fossil of the Day was won here, as it is uncommon and inappropriate to wash one’s domestic dirty laundry on the international scene. Interestingly, when she awkwardly brought up this controversial issue, she chose to suddenly switch to French. Some of us interpreted this as a sneaky move (not subtle at all mind you) aimed at sliding this comment by without journalists picking up on it. This impression is re-enforced by the fact that Mrs. Ambrose is not comfortable expressing herself in French, which she had demonstrated earlier that day.

Before the high-level plenary, the Canadian Youths were granted the opportunity to meet with her—which we were very thankful for, being the only non-governmental constituency she agreed to meet with. We had no high hopes of hearing other than the usual rhetoric, but I nonetheless had the occasion to conclude our meeting and ask her my first and final question in French. Obviously understanding my questions, she nevertheless chose to answer in English, as she usually does when interacting with francophone media. The truth is, Mrs. Ambrose has been pleasant with us and we appreciate the time she dedicated to answering our questions. We simply wish that we could break away, Mrs. Ambrose included, from the Harper rhetoric: it is time the Canadian government ceases to turn its back on the world and future generations.
Ironically, Canada has been boasting about its transparency, endlessly calling for an “open and honest assessment”. Well, Mrs. Ambrose was being realistic and honest when she admitted that Canada’s emissions are currently 35% above its Kyoto target. Still, it is a shame that she failed to mention Quebec’s adequate and replicable Climate Change Plan of Action, but it is also understandable: after all, had she done so, it would have been obvious that Canada actually can meet its Kyoto target—not the type of messaging the Harper government is going for lately.

The good news
Fortunately, the Canadian media is picking up on the dishonesty, and they are doing so in a merciless—yet deserved—way. This valuable media coverage is partly due to the Canadian opposition parties. Indeed, the NDP, Liberals and the Bloc Québecois have formed a unique pro-Kyoto “coalition”. This type of “front” is unprecedented and quite impressive: Throughout the week, we have witnessed the arrival of and had the opportunity to interact with Mr. Claude Béchard (Minister of Sustainable Development, Environment and Parks, Québec Liberal Party), Mr. Bernard Bigras (Bloc Québecois MP) and Mr. John Godfrey (Liberal Party MP and environment critique). During our meeting, Mr. Bigras stressed the uniqueness of this “partnership”. He also outlined that, although it is rare for opposition parties to truly agree on something, it remains clear that Mrs. Ambrose is not representing the opinion of the majority of Canadians. The presence of these high profile political Canadian figures in Tuesday’s press conference alongside Mr. Steven Guilbeault from Greenpeace Canada is yet another attempt to send an alternative message to the international community. I therefore thank the opposition parties for uniting and embodying the visionary type of leadership Canada desperately needs.

Where to from here?
Ministers delivered a range of speeches yesterday: Iran even requested that parties eventually consider the transfer of nuclear energy technology while France presented a powerful address on behalf of Jacques Chirac himself. Where does Canada fit in all this? Is our backtracking that big of a deal for the international community? The problem is that the Harper government is serious about idling on this issue, and the community has every right to openly denounce and condemn this. In fact, it might start sooner than expected: today, the Globe and Mail reported that French prime minister Chirac is urging the European Union to impose a punitive import tax on goods from countries (such as Canada) that refuse to sign on to a tougher post-Kyoto regime. It is of course premature to take such a threat too seriously, but perhaps it can help Harper realize that it is unlikely for him to get away with this.

Nonetheless, speaking with the opposition representatives has helped me retrieve some of my optimism. I too want to believe that Kyoto does not divide but rather unites Canadians. Meanwhile, let us work at the provincial level, wherein lies the political will to address climate change for the time being.

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