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keynote speaker

A former Norwegian prime minister and current special UN envoy on climate change speaks to the Globe and Mail at the International Polar Year conference in Montreal on Monday, April 23, 2012.Peter Mccabe/The Globe and Mail

Gro Harlem Brundtland, former prime minister of Norway, was keynote speaker on Monday at the International Polar Year conference in Montreal. Dr. Brundtland has headed the World Health Organization and served as a UN climate change envoy.

In her speech, she said warming temperatures have dramatically affected the globe's polar regions. The Arctic Ocean ice has shrunk and will likely disappear within 30 to 40 years, permafrost is thawing, and Antarctica is losing ice and witnessing above-average warming in the Southern Ocean, she said.

"The Polar Regions are now being drawn into the rest of the world at a much accelerated pace," she said.

Dr. Brundtland told delegates that despite the weaknesses of the Kyoto Protocol, the world can't afford to push it aside without an alternative, as global emissions steadily increase.

Dr. Brundtland spoke to The Globe and Mail after the speech.

You raised the Kyoto Protocol in your address. The Canadian government announced this year that it is withdrawing from the accord. What is your view about the decision?

Canada has been moving backwards on this issue, if you look at it historically. The U.S. and Canada both need to be committed to do their role. That doesn't mean that China and India and everybody else also don't have to step up. But we shouldn't step back from our commitment – we should add the others.

I'm still expecting the U.S. and Canada to be part of a future solution to a future broad agreement. I believe this is the reality of the world, that we all have to contribute. We need to work with all countries across the world and not take away the Kyoto Protocol before we find an alternative that is workable.

The scientific basis for climate change has come under attack in Canada. Alberta's Wildrose Party believes the link between human activity and global warming is inconclusive. How do you respond?

That is anti-scientific and naive. Politicians and others that question the science, that's not the right thing to do. We have to base ourselves on evidence.

What message do you have for political leaders dealing with environmental issues?

It is important not to be influenced by, and inspired by, laissez-faire attitudes, which first had an impact before the [U.S.]financial crisis and [the BP oil spill]in the Gulf of Mexico. When you liberalize regulations, and you leave it more to companies, whether banks or oil companies, I don't think this is the right way to go. You have to have governance. You must have serious and strict regulations.

What kind of model is Norway adopting as far as natural resource development?

Norway is an oil-and-gas producing nation with a strong environmental policy. We have the petroleum fund. We call it the Pension Fund; it's there so that the financial benefits from the development and extraction of oil and gas are not used only by our generations, but saves it for future generations.

Norway, like other European countries, has also been debating immigration in recent years. What is your reading of the situation?

Immigration into Europe has increased enormously in the last 50 years. It has changed people's environment – there are cultural changes and debates around this. In Nordic countries, we have been very generous in receiving asylum seekers. There has been a lot of people moving into Norway, Sweden and Denmark in the last 30 years. And people have different opinions about it. As in my country and several others, parties that have a profile of being skeptical about immigration have had up to 15-20 per cent of the vote.

Norway suffered a national trauma last year as a result of the mass killing of 77 people, including 69 at a youth camp on Utoya island, by a right-wing, anti-Muslim fanatic. How is it possible to explain such an event in Norway, a nation known for its peaceful tolerance?

(Dr. Brundtland would not comment on specifics because of the ongoing trial of confessed killer Anders Behring Breivik ; he testified that he had intended to assassinate Dr. Brundtland, who had been on Utoya for the Norwegian Labour party's annual youth summer camp. The former Labour prime minister left before the gunman arrived).

People who are different from most of us are in every society. It can happen anywhere. So the shock for Norwegians was clear, because we hadn't seen anything even close to what happened. We had so far been lucky. We hadn't even had a school shooting. But in every society, there are people who are outliers. Although this is very large, very dramatic, very terrible, it happened in Norway this time, it could have happened in another place. That is my opinion.

This interview has been condensed.