Go to the Globe and Mail homepage

Jump to main navigationJump to main content

A billboard placed in Copenhagen by environmental groups shows Prime Minister Stephen Harper saying in 2020: ‘I'm sorry. We could have stopped catastrophic climate change ... we didn’t.’ (CHRISTIAN ASLUND/Greenpeace/Aslund)
A billboard placed in Copenhagen by environmental groups shows Prime Minister Stephen Harper saying in 2020: ‘I'm sorry. We could have stopped catastrophic climate change ... we didn’t.’ (CHRISTIAN ASLUND/Greenpeace/Aslund)

Globe editorial

U.S. initiative, Canadian passivity Add to ...

Thanks to American leadership, better news is coming out of Copenhagen as world leaders prepare for the climate change summit's last day. No thanks, unfortunately, to Canada, which failed to provide any new ideas, and apparently did nothing to help shape an emerging deal, in part because it did not play its traditional role as an honest broker with developing countries.

More Related to this Story

The Americans helped bridge one gulf between developed and developing countries after a failed first week. The offer of Hillary Clinton, the Secretary of State, to take part in a $100-billion (U.S.) fund to help developing countries fight climate change and its effects, was a large concession - $10-billion was the amount of start-up funding that developed countries had earlier agreed to. Congress has already complemented these efforts; the Waxman-Markey bill contains a vehicle for the U.S. to invest in emissions reductions more cheaply in other countries.

Countries are also close to finalizing an agreement at Copenhagen that would set better incentives and tighter controls in efforts to reverse carbon emissions by slowing deforestation.

In return, developing countries, especially the largest ones, will have to step up; this cannot be a simple transfer of wealth. They too will need to agree to binding emissions reductions. Kevin Rudd, Australia's Prime Minister, vividly demonstrated the point: "If the developed world became carbon-neutral and the developing world continued to grow on current trends, [by 2050]this would create a temperature rise of between 3.2 degrees and 4 degrees." China must heed Ms. Clinton's demand that it be transparent about the sources and amounts of its own emissions. Moreover, the fund must have vigorous enforcement and verification mechanisms; previous efforts have been rife with corruption and mismanagement.

On each of these crucial issues, Canada has been a bystander. The government's meek call for a replacement to the Kyoto protocol had no effect. It failed to tap into Canada's forestry expertise or laud its carbon-capturing boreal forests. It made no concrete upfront commitment to the adaptation fund, a move that could have generated enormous goodwill and supplied leverage with developing countries.

Nor did Canada do anything to refute its reputation for being a reluctant player. A leak of cabinet documents suggested the government was not serious about its own target of a 20-per-cent reduction in emissions by 2020. Prime Minister Stephen Harper is attending the meeting, but so far has not even address the delegates. Senior oil executives were absent while their industry was being slammed; its good-news story, that it offers a safe, secure supply of energy, and that it is successfully reducing the emissions coming from each barrel of production, went untold.

In short, by failing to put anything substantial - money, ideas or high-level effort - on the table, Canada's reasonable demands were ignored.

The U.S. showed it is possible to engage constructively while driving a hard bargain. Canada touted its attendance at all critical meetings, but saying "present" at the roll call is not enough. A new international regime in which carbon will have a price, and developed and developing countries will co-operate in new ways, is taking shape; it is emerging despite Canada's involvement, not because of it.

Follow us on Twitter: @GlobeDebate

In the know

Most popular video »

Highlights

More from The Globe and Mail

Most Popular Stories