Climate change disinterest glaringly apparent on world stage | Harper skips UN meetings on global survival for photo ops.

Climate change disinterest glaringly apparent on world stage

Harper skips UN meetings on global survival for photo ops.


by Eric Mang

OTTAWA , October 1, 2009, Despite attempts to position itself as moderate, the Harper government remains disinterested in climate change, and its disinterest is being noted internationally. While the United Nations addressed climate change last week – an unprecedented summit that gathered together 100 world leaders – Harper skipped the session and held a photo op with New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg. In the midst of international climate change discussion at the UN, Harper returned to Ontario for another photo op. In this one, he sipped from a Tim Horton’s-branded mug and used the donut empire as a backdrop to exult in, what the Conservatives believe, the benefits of corporate tax cuts.

In his stead, Harper sent Environment Minister Jim Prentice to the UN climate change summit, where Prentice ignored Canada’s inability to meet carbon reduction targets and instead criticized China, India and Brazil (three-quarters of the BRIC countries) for not presenting their own targets. The UN climate change summit in New York was a pre-meeting to prepare for Copenhagen in December, where a replacement for Kyoto will be discussed, as it expires in 2012.

Canada’s lack of enthusiasm during the climate change summit was noticed by the chair of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and the British medical journal, The Lancet. Rajendra Pachauri, the IPCC chair, said: "In the last couple of years, I’m afraid, Canada has not been seen as sitting at the table. I think Canada should be doing much more." And Dr. Richard Horton of The Lancet remarked: "We are not seeing that leadership from Canada … on climate change."

There is nothing new in Harper’s disinterest in international work to abate climate change and greenhouse gas emissions. In 2002, when Stephen Harper was leader of the Canadian Alliance, he sent a letter to party supporters referring to the Kyoto Accord as "job-killing, economy-destroying". He went on to make assertions that the evidence behind climate science was "contradictory" and that "Kyoto is essentially a socialist scheme to suck money out of wealth-producing nations."

Harper has not said lately whether he still holds these beliefs, but while he has toned down his rhetoric toward climate change, his environmental policies appear to be designed to keep his base of supporters content. He may recognize that the environment is one of the top three policy issues for most Canadians (the top issue is usually health care), but Harper will not elevate climate change and the environment into the upper tiers of his policy imperatives and risk upsetting Conservative supporters.

Although the Harper government sees little urgency to act, Canada’s emissions have grown by 27 percent since Kyoto was adopted in 1997, and Canada is now considered, on a per-capita basis, one of the top five greenhouse gas (GHG) emitters in the world.

While the Liberals under Chrétien and Martin failed to reduce emissions, the Harper Conservatives’ 2007 plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 20 percent by 2020 is based on intensity targets and not overall reductions. Meaning the reductions are based on per unit output of production (rather than total emissions), so if tar sand production increases (expected to quadruple between 2008 and 2020), overall emissions increase.

The Pembina Institute and the CD Howe Institute note that Harper’s intensity-based plan will not result in a reduction of GHG emissions by 2020. Further, University of Victoria climate scientist, Andrew Weaver, finds that if tar sand production quadruples, GHG emissions from the tar sands alone would triple by 2020.

The absence of a climate change plan, despite the concerns raised by many Canadians, seems to be recognized by the Harper government. Not wanting to call attention to the paucity of policies to reduce GHG’s, the Harper government muzzled Environment Canada scientists from saying anything at all to the media about climate change.

Eric Mang lives in Toronto and was a former political aide in the Harris government in Ontario and in the Campbell government in British Columbia. See more of his writings at

Posted: October 02, 2009

Harper Index ( is a project of the Golden Lake Institute and the online publication


~ by Cory Morningstar on October 2, 2009.

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