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If you are inclined to be pessimistic about the state of the planet and efforts to save it from extinction, then you may want to avert your eyes from the news emanating from this year’s United Nations summit on the environment – COP28.

It’s being hosted by the United Arab Emirates. I know, I did a double-take when I first read that as well. There were many environmental activists who were floored when it was announced that Sultan Ahmed Al Jaber was being named COP28 president – yes, the same man who is chief executive officer of the Abu Dhabi National Oil company, one of the world’s largest oil producers.

A natural fit.

Now, leaked documents seem to be affirming the doubts many had about the choice of summit host. The BBC, working with the Centre for Climate Reporting, revealed this week that he planned to use the climate conference as an opportunity to discuss oil and gas deals with 15 countries. The broadcaster said these chats included potential discussions with Canada over liquefied natural gas opportunities.

There have since been the requisite denials and no-comments. I’m sure any deals, if they were to be consummated, would have happened eventually anyway – conference or not. It’s just that the idea of such negotiations taking place at a gathering to discuss the emergency we are experiencing as a result of pollution primarily caused by burning fossil fuels is more than a little obscene.

What is COP28? This year’s climate conference, explained

Disgust is another word I’d use to describe how I feel when I hear various leaders associated with the UN climate conference talk about the crisis the world faces. My anger isn’t directed at these UN mouthpieces necessarily. They are simply pointing out the truth: global temperatures have never been higher. And every year we march ever closer to the point of no return – when those temperatures rise to a level where the damage to the Earth is irrevocable. Where famine and strife will result in the deaths of millions. We now have entire seas disappearing, for heaven’s sake. Meantime, world leaders dawdle, knowing that the majority of people they lead will not tolerate measures that involve any type of real sacrifice.

Right-wing parties have washed their hands of the climate crisis, saying technology will eventually save the day. When that day is, they are not sure – but it doesn’t matter because it will be someone else’s problem with which to deal.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his Liberals have always talked a good game when it comes to climate change. But they haven’t made much headway in actually bringing down emissions, an admittedly complicated task given the broken nature of our federation. Try coming up with a climate-fighting plan when you have premiers like Danielle Smith and Scott Moe sitting across from you, determined to use any means possible to ensure a pan-national agreement is all but impossible to reach.

Alberta’s Danielle Smith invoked the sovereignty act for the first time. What happens next?

Their answer is to push the problem down the road. No short-term climate goals. It’s all about 2050 when they won’t have to answer for their province falling far short of its climate commitments. Ms. Smith went so far as to invoke a largely symbolic measure on Monday – the Alberta sovereignty act – designed to send a message to Ottawa that it won’t be bullied into committing to unrealistic climate targets around electricity generation.

Politicians of a centre-right persuasion in Canada universally detest the carbon tax. Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre has said he will “axe the tax” if his party wins the next election. He said the issue is what the next election will be fought over. Right now, the Conservatives hold a double-digit lead over the Liberals.

This means Canadians are willing to throw the keys to the country to someone who does not take climate change seriously. To someone who believes some magical solution will present itself that will solve all our climate problems.

Even in B.C., the province that first introduced a consumer carbon tax in Canada, conservative-inclined parties are making a big splash about getting rid of the tax if they win power. It’s almost as if Mr. Poilievre has convinced them that it’s a winning issue.

I’ve never felt this hopeless about our collective willingness to sacrifice anything in the name of saving our planet. We simply do not have the leadership necessary to confront the gravest threat we have ever faced. Instead, we have phonies and carnival barkers more interested in playing petty politics in the name of getting votes and staying in power.

Over the next week or so you’ll hear plenty of depressing stories coming out of COP28. What you won’t hear amid the alarm bells are the voices of those truly willing to do something about it.

Editor’s note: Editor's Note: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated the host country for COP28. This version has been updated.

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