Harper and Climate Change - Our National Disgrace

Stephen Harper seemed smug last weekend with his contribution at the Commonwealth conference in Uganda around the critical issue of climate change.

“For the first time in a very long time Canada's voice is being heard. And the consequence of our voice being heard is we're getting the changes we want to see," he said.

What he wanted, and what he got, was that the conference dissolved without a resolution that even mentioned binding carbon emissions targets.

According to the Canadian Press at the Kampala conference, “some foreign diplomats were so disgusted that they sought out Canadian journalists to tell them what their country was doing behind closed doors."

One un-named foreign official called the Harper approach "a perfect recipe for making sure nothing happens.”

The rest of the world must be puzzled by Canada’s complete abdication of leadership around climate change.

After all, Canada led the world in the development of peacekeeping. We spearheaded an international treaty restricting the use of land mines. We hosted the historic conference in Montreal banning CFC’s that threaten the Earth’s ozone layer. Even under Brian Mulroney, Canada led the way opposing apartheid in South Africa.

Yet the erosion of our international reputation due to Harper’s intransigence around climate change is well underway.

Last weekend in Kampala, Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni signaled his disgust with Harper by quoting former Liberal Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau in his closing remarks.

Last summer at the G8 summit, German Chancellor Angela Merkel stated in refreshingly frank Teutonic fashion that, “Of course we are not happy at this point that Canada has abandoned Kyoto's goals.”

With the resounding defeat of Australian Prime Minister John Howard, Harper (and Canada) are even more isolated in opposing Kyoto. In fact, Howard’s replacement, Kevin Rudd stated that he will make it his first act of office to sign his nation onto the climate accord.

That leaves Canada alone only with the Bush administration amongst developed nations in opposing the binding emissions targets laid out in the treaty.

Harper is in fact unabashedly proud of his efforts to destroy Kyoto.

In a fundraising letter to party faithful in 2002, Harper described the global climate protocol as a “a socialist scheme to suck money out of wealth-producing nations.”

While in opposition, he routinely questioned the robust scientific consensus around climate change. (His academic training is in economics.)

In his closing remarks in Kampala last week, Harper called Kyoto a “mistake” that the world must never repeat.

His handiwork blocking a strong statement from the Commonwealth will gravely undermine efforts to achieve consensus at the upcoming UN climate talks next month in Bali - setting the stage for further national embarrassment.

The December gathering of 190 nations under the UN banner in Indonesia will negotiate what will replace Kyoto when the protocol expires in 2012. Harper seems to be working hard to ensure that business as usual will prevail.

The long legacy of ineffectual international response to this looming climate crisis seems destined to continue – due largely to the efforts of Canada’s 22nd prime minister. While this might play well with the oil lobby in Alberta, the price is our national stature on the world stage.

Compare the bland obfuscation from Harper to what is being said by California Republican Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger - a man managing an economy larger than our own who has a proven track record on reducing emissions:

“The consequences of global climate change are so pressing that it doesn’t matter who was responsible for the past; what matters is who is responsible for the future – and that means all of us. The rich nations and the poor nations have different responsibilities. But one responsibility we all have, and that is action…action, action, action!”

Action will eventually be taken on climate change. Other nations will lead if Canada does not. In the greatest threat ever facing humanity and the planet, Canada is at grave risk of being found squarely on the wrong side of history.

This piece was published on Nov. 27th, 2007 on DeSmog Blog

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