Canada has ‘tremendous’ challenge ahead on climate change: experts

The Hill Times, September 14th, 2009
By Cynthia Münster

Canada has ‘tremendous’ challenge ahead on climate change: experts

Canada’s low-profile ambassador for climate change Michael Martin will be negotiating at Copenhagen’s critical climate change meeting, but the Prime Minister’s in charge.

Canada’s chief negotiator and ambassador for climate change Michael Martin has a "tremendous challenge" as he heads to Copenhagen in less than three months for the highly-touted UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, say environmentalists.

Robert Page, chair of the National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy, said the 192 country representatives are running out of time to reach a consensus on reducing greenhouse gas emissions. He said there are still "significant differences" between developed and developing countries and European and North American positions. Mr. Page said he thinks it’s likely the countries will not reach a significant agreement at the end of the conference and, "rather than admitting defeat," will postpone and agree to meet six months later.

"It’s difficult to see how things are going to change, partly because the positions are not positions just of some numbers on a page and finding compromise to those numbers, the positions are linked in to fundamental principles where there isn’t agreement," said Mr. Page.

Canada will be negotiating with 192 country representatives with diverging positions in December. The countries will be trying to reach an agreement on climate change targets possibly before a major U.S. bill on climate change passes the U.S. Senate, but Canada is a "middle power" without the clout of big players, and it has been criticized internationally for its refusal to fulfill Canada’s Kyoto commitments. Critics say this will make Mr. Martin’s job challenging.

Leading up to the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen in December, the international representatives will be in constant contact.

Matthew Bramley, director of the Pembina Institute’s climate change program, said the negotiations will deal with deeper emissions reduction targets for developed countries and "climate financing" for developing countries.

"Michael Martin has articulated the positions or, in some cases, the lack of positions of the government. Canada has unfortunately been one of the least constructive players in the negotiations leading up to Copenhagen up to now," said Mr. Bramley who describes the position of climate change ambassador "as much for public relations as it is for anything else."

Declared Mr. Bramley: "The targets that we put forward are weaker than most other countries with similar circumstances to our own, and we’ve failed to make any constructive proposals on the question of financing. So very often Canada has been very much in the background."

Canada’s current target of reducing greenhouse gas emissions 20 per cent under 2006 levels by 2020 has been criticized by environmentalists, who point to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s conclusion that developed countries need to reduce their emissions between 25 and 40 per cent of 1990 levels by 2020.

"There is an impression created by creating this position that the climate change ambassador does actually determine Canada’s position, but it is very clear that it’s ministers who decide Canada’s position and so I’m sure that put ambassador Martin in a challenging position at times, but ultimately we mustn’t lose sight of the fact that it’s Prime Minister [Stephen] Harper and Minister Prentice who are more responsible than anyone else for whatever it is that Canada is defending in the negotiations," said Mr. Bramley.

Declared Mr. Bramley: "We and others who are active observers of international negotiations have had many meetings with him and that has been certainly quite a positive aspect of his tenure, the problem is with the policies, unfortunately, that he’s defending."

Mr. Bramley described Mr. Martin as "very open and very accessible."

Mr. Martin is the first ambassador for climate change appointed by this government. He was appointed in May of 2008. The previous ambassador, Jacques Bilodeau, also a former diplomat, was appointed by the Paul Martin government to assist and represent then environment minister Stéphane Dion at the Montreal Conference on Climate in 2005.

In an interview with The Hill Times, Mr. Martin described himself as a public servant who takes his direction from Environment Minister Environment Jim Prentice (Calgary Centre-North, Alta.). He said he’s responsible for developing advice for the government on the international climate change negotiations, representing Canada in the negotiations, with a team of 40 public servants—some in Canada and some at the negotiations—and "talking about the challenges and explaining to different stakeholders and people what we’re doing and what we’re seeking to achieve."

"I think the biggest challenges, in many ways, is to work through the full range of issues that have arisen in the negotiations, given the sheer scale of it. There’s some very challenging policy issues at stake, it touches on very fundamental questions about how we’re going to achieve low carbon growth going forward, sustainable development globally, worldwide, transform our energy systems, these are very important issues and there’s more than 190 countries at the table with all different levels of development so I think the practical challenge is just coping with the sheer scale of the agenda," Mr. Martin told The Hill Times, adding that he "remains optimistic" because the negotiations are well-organized, and representatives are making progress.

Meanwhile, Dale Marshall, a climate change policy analyst with the David Suzuki Foundation, said Canada has no credibility on the international stage and is held up by other countries as an example of what not to do on climate change.

Mr. Marshall said at the last three meetings he attended Mr. Martin has been stalling negotiations, blocking language that increases the overall level of emission reductions for developed countries. Mr. Marshall said Canada has been among the "very small number of countries that have been opposed to that and have not let that go forward." The main reason for Canada’s refusal to increase its targets is the continuing development of the tar sands.

"If any government in Canada is not interested in reigning in emissions from the tar sands, it will be next to impossible to do anything about climate change and that’s the problem," said Mr. Marshall.

Mr. Page, however, said there has been some hypocrisy in international criticism of Canada, beginning with the Kyoto negotiations, because unlike Western European countries who import energy from Russia and the Middle East and therefore don’t have a high percentage of emissions coming from energy production, Canada is an energy exporter.

"When Canada put forward proposals, as they did under Chrétien for a special compensation for all this energy we exported, then the Europeans just turned us down flat. They wouldn’t work with us, they just ignored the whole thing and that was really unfortunate and it was hypocritical because the Europeans, were hiding a bunch of their emissions in the Russian totals, and the OPEC total, although they wouldn’t recognize that the same problem was there for us in terms of having to accept emissions for energy, we were producing for others," said Mr. Page, adding that these issues are still at play now and are part of what Mr. Martin needs to deal with in his negotiations.

The Toronto Star, meanwhile, reported last week that Ottawa’s new and yet-to-released climate plan will favour the oil sands, but Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty and Quebec Premier Jean Charest told The Star later in the week that he told them the federal plan will be fair to all provinces and compatible with the U.S.

The Hill Times


~ by Cory Morningstar on September 15, 2009.

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