Come clean or go home

Peter Kent, Canada's Tar Sands Minister

Peter Kent, Canada's Tar Sands Minister set to block Chinese leadership on climate change.

Amara Possian

Canada is not welcome at the UNFCCC.

Some of us here at COP17 have started to wonder if someone in Environment Minister Peter Kent’s office is playing a bad joke. Canada has done very little this week aside from protecting the interests of big oil, all the while, making historically inaccurate, and offensive statements to the press. In just five days, we have earned five fossil-of-the-day awards, a ‘prize’ given to the countries that have done the most to obstruct progress at the UNFCCC.

Day 1: “Emerging and developing countries need to stop ‘wielding the historical guilty card’ and asking for a free pass on emissions reductions just because in the past, industrialized countries had more emissions than the rest of the world.”   

The UNFCCC process is not founded on guilt; it is founded on history and science, and the understanding that countries that have historically contributed more emissions have caused a greater share of the problem. The principle of ‘common but differentiated responsibility,’ calls on countries like Canada to cut their emissions first, to cut them the most, and to help those who are most vulnerable adapt to the impacts of climate change.

No guilt. Just justice.

In addition to the second place fossil we received for Kent’s pledge to “play hardball with developing countries,” we received a first place fossil for the rumours around Canada’s withdrawal from the Kyoto Protocol. After the fossil ceremony, a youth delegate from the UK said to me, “they’ve known for a long time they’re going to pull out so why still ask to sit in on plenaries and get in on the conversation? They have a not-so-hidden agenda to disintegrate any sort of Kyoto conversation.”

“If you don’t want to get involved, don’t get involved. But don’t take the rest of the world with you,” she added.

Day 2: “There is an urgency to this. We don’t need a binding convention, what we need is action and a mandate to work on an eventual binding convention.

On Day 2, Kent moved from the realm of offensive to that of the nonsensical. It was reassuring to see our Environment Minister acknowledge the urgency of climate change but his proposal for eventual solutions to urgent problems was perplexing.

Day 3: “There is a fairly widely held perception in the developing world of the need for guilt payment to be built into any international deal on climate.”

Yet again, Canada won a fossil for its inability to understand historical responsibility. China was so angered by Canada’s stance that in an interview with Bloomberg, lead negotiator Su Wei accused Canada of jeopardizing the UNFCCC process.

The Environment Minister’s comments were particularly difficult to stomach because on the same day, we learned that in 1984, Kent had written, narrated, and hosted a CBC documentary called “The Greenhouse Effect and Planet Earth,” in which he acknowledged that “underdeveloped, tropical countries that have very little contributed to the greenhouse effect” would be hit first and hardest.

Day 4: We didn’t receive a fossil on Thursday but as I overheard a fellow Canadian say, “that’s probably because Peter Kent hasn’t spoken yet.”

While no fossil was awarded on Thursday, the Canadian Youth Delegation drew attention to Canada’s inaction by attempting to Buy Back Our Future.  As youth in Canada mailed in their spare change to the Prime Minister’s office (hey, if big oil can buy our future, why can’t we?), the Canadian Youth Delegation held a bake sale in the UNFCCC. Some official party delegates were noticeably uncomfortable about our belief that the Canadian government had sold our future to the highest bidder, the oil industry.

As I explained the various cuts to Canada’s domestic environmental protection and monitoring programs, and the backwards idea of “ethical oil,” a delegate from India stared in disbelief and said, “you’re kidding. That cannot be true in Canada.”

Many delegates took our buttons, adorned with a maple leaf and pipeline logo illustrating the uncomfortably close relationship between our government and the oil industry. They will be wearing them inside the negotiations to show their lack of support for Canada’s negotiating position. During a news conference later in the day on Thursday, the lead delegate from Brazil publicly condemned Canada’s inaction and lack of effort to honour existing commitments.

Day 5: The fossil Canada received on Wednesday came from “the uninformed, or ideologically-driven.”

I wonder who is really ideologically driven when despite scientific consensus that emissions must peak by 2015, the Canadian government plans to expand the tar sands. Canada’s actions at the negotiations so far have been a slap in the face of the international community and though negotiations continue, many countries are united in their disappointment in Canada.  Twenty-seven years ago, Peter Kent’s final words in the CBC documentary were “the greenhouse effect must be considered as the world’s greatest environmental concern.” I cannot help but wonder where that Peter Kent went.

2 Responses to “Come clean or go home”
  1. A Youth from the UK Delegation says:

    Hahah I’m happy my angry rant turned into something relatively coherent!

Check out what others are saying...
  1. […] violations and environmental degradation caused by tar sands exploitation? Does it excuse the dismissal of historical responsibility to take serious action on climate injustice? Will Peter Kent, Canada’s Environment Minister, […]

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