Canada and the Quest to Kill Kyoto

kyoto

This is the first of a series of blog posts crossposted from the Mark. Amara will be writing for The Mark throughout the month, keeping people in Canada up to date as discussions unfold.  

These days, even foreign diplomats are scoffing at Canada’s climate policy. In a recent interview with The Globe and Mail, Mohau Pheko, the South African high commissioner to Canada, asked, “Are you going to follow the United States, are you also going to become a serial non-ratifier of any agreements? … Why take a moral high ground before, on the issue of the environment, and suddenly do an about-turn now?”

Pheko was referring to the Harper government’s unwillingness to adopt a second commitment period for emission reductions to the Kyoto Protocol, and she is not the only one who is baffled by Canada’s backwards international and domestic climate policy.

The legally binding Kyoto Protocol, which Canada ratified in 2002, is set to expire in 2012. This means the discussion around agreeing to a second commitment period for reducing greenhouse-gas (GHG) emissions can no longer be postponed if the international community is serious about halting dangerous climatic changes. The Canadian government, however, is opposed to committing to a second reduction period because many countries, such as major GHG emitters like China and India, are not required to make any reductions under the agreement.

In its opposition to the agreement, Canada seems to have turned its back on the idea of common but differentiated responsibility. The carbon-intensive and industrial development paths of wealthy countries like Canada are what have led to the current high levels of GHG emissions that have caused such unprecedented warming. “Common but differentiated responsibility,” a key tenet of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, refers to the responsibility of these wealthy countries to act first and most when it comes to addressing climate change.

Certainly, India and China must also reduce their emissions if we are to avoid catastrophic climate change. But, as a fellow activist once said, “If my grass is overgrown, I shouldn’t be yelling at my neighbour to mow his lawn.”

Why have Canada’s climate policies taken such a dramatic turn away from the proactive and constructive international engagement we were known for in past years?

The answer is simple: Canada’s negotiation priorities are being influenced by our powerful oil and gas industry.

There is a very thin line separating our oil industry from our government. For example, in July 2011, Alykhan Velshi, former communications director for Immigration Minister Jason Kenney, launchedEthicalOil.org, a website designed to promote Canada’s tar sands as an “ethical” energy source. A few days ago, Velshi stepped down from his “grassroots” position to take a job in the Prime Minister’s Office.

The Canadian government also provides $1.4 billion in subsidies to the oil and gas industry every year, and there are plans to quadruple production of the tar sands by 2015. If, as the Harper government hopes, the Keystone XL or Northern Gateway pipelines are approved, we will be locked into expanding our export of the carbon-intensive oil for decades.

But Canada’s actions to support its oil interests do not stop at home: Over the past two years, the Canadian government held 110 meetings with officials abroad with the goal of derailing European fuel legislation that could jeopardize its oil markets.

At the same time, we have been sabotaging our domestic ability to assess and monitor the impact of environmental policies and projects. In July 2011, the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agencylost 43.1 per cent of its federal funding, gutting its ability to assess proposed projects. Less than a month later, the government cut 11 per cent of Environment Canada’s workforce – 776 meteorologists, scientists, chemists, and engineers lost their jobs as the department’s grants, operating, and capital expenditures simultaneously decreased by 31 per cent. And, in mid-October, after 34 years of the Canadian Environmental Network informing environmental policy through non-partisan consultation, the government took away the entirety of its $536,000 in funding.

In the not-so-distant past, Canadians could be proud of our international reputation. In fact, the first international high-level summit on climate change was held in Toronto in 1988, where participants concluded that the threat from climate change was “second only to a global nuclear war.” These days, at climate negotiations, you’re lucky if international delegates speak to you when they find out you’re from Canada.

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