Photo: Canada's leaders let us down at climate summit; now it's up to the rest of us

(Credit: Neil Palmer (CIAT) via Flickr)

By Ryan Kadowaki, Science and Policy Senior Coordinator

The UN Climate Change Conference in Doha, Qatar, wrapped up on December 8th without much fanfare, but it did offer further evidence that our federal government continues to lose credibility among its international peers. With the Kyoto Protocol set to expire in less than a month, progress at the 2012 summit was vital to achieving a follow-up treaty to address rising emissions levels and associated impacts. The Climate Action Network called the outcome on climate finance weak and noted the agreement to a second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol is currently full of loopholes.

And once again, Canada was singled out for its lack of progress domestically and for standing in the way of progress at the negotiations:

• Our federal government refused to commit further funding for adaptation and mitigation efforts in the developing world. This reluctance played a large role in Canada taking home a share of The Colossal Fossil as the worst performer at the conference for the sixth consecutive year.

• Canada ranked 55th out of 58 countries in the annual Climate Change Performance Index, last of all industrialized countries ahead of only Kazakhstan, Iran and Saudi Arabia. High per capita emissions and the lack of policies to adequately reduce its carbon footprint have landed Canada in an embarrassing position. Examples of the federal government's misguided approach to addressing climate change include the withdrawal from the Kyoto Protocol, continued subsidization of $1.4 billion annually to the fossil fuel industry, and not implementing policies that would enable Canada to reach the 2020 emissions target set by the government.

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Despite this, Environment Minister Peter Kent proclaimed that Canada was halfway toward meeting its greenhouse gas target for 2020, a 17 per cent reduction. Eight years may seem like ample time to address the remaining 50 per cent, but only if you have effective policies in place. The evidence suggests that government is nowhere near meeting this target.

Last year, the Office of the Auditor General of Canada reported that the federal government's climate change strategy is "disjointed, confused and non transparent" and that, overall, the government's policies are now projected to be 90 per cent weaker than they were in 2007. Furthermore, the National Roundtable on the Environment and the Economy reported this summer before closing its doors: "Canada will not achieve its 2020 GHG emission reductions target unless significant new, additional measures are taken. More will have to be done. No other conclusion is possible."

It's discouraging to see this lack of ambition when we've seen significant actions taken in other nations this year. California, the second-largest U.S. emitter, implemented a cap-and-trade system. Australia, a major fossil fuel exporter in its own right, implemented a carbon price in July. And the U.K. unveiled a new national clean energy strategy just as the UN Conference was getting underway. By contrast, the lack of leadership from the Canadian government is worrisome. Instead of beginning a transition that would help safeguard Canada's society, environment and economy in the future, it is trying to prevent the world around it from changing and obstructing progress toward a new climate deal.

While it's important for civil society to continue to pressure its federal politicians to be honest brokers at these conferences, we cannot limit our voices to annual cries of outrage in December. We have opportunities to influence how our communities, cities and provinces move forward. We can choose to speak out against projects that will further jeopardize Canada's environmental future like so many did with their oral submissions to the Enbridge Northern Gateway Joint Review Panel. And many of us will have the opportunity to vote in a group of decision-makers who take this challenge seriously. In 2013, let's use our declining international reputation on this issue as a motivator to show the rest of the world that Canadians are not apathetic, that we understand the moral imperative for protecting vulnerable populations and environmental integrity abroad and within our own borders.

December 12, 2012

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