Canada still a rogue state in global climate negotiations

I missed the final plenary when G77 delegates walked out on Canada’s speech at Bangkok climate negotiations last week, but I was not surprised to hear it, as frustration with Canada was deep-seated and articulated all week long.

Canadians probably know that we have not done our share but few know that we are in fact the very worst in the world when it comes to meeting our Kyoto obligations and cutting greenhouse gas emissions.  Harper may have been wooing the crowds at the National Arts Gala but he had few friends, and did not “get by,” last week in Bangkok.

From September 28 to October 9, thousands of government negotiators and citizens groups went to Bangkok for the penultimate international meeting before the Copenhagen climate summit in December.  Copenhagen is widely seen to be the last chance for negotiators to agree upon a post-2012 Kyoto deal, as well as a framework for long-term cooperative actions on climate change.  There will be one more week of negotiations in Barcelona November 2-6 and then the new climate deal is supposed to be sealed in December in the Danish capital.

Things are not going according to plan.  In fact, rich countries -- Annex 1 in Kyoto parlance -- are busy downplaying expectations in their own capitals as hamstrung negotiators in Bangkok failed to deliver anything of substance to an increasingly impatient third world.  Social movements and developing countries are determined to ensure that those who caused the climate chaos (us) pay for it.

The G77 group -- actually representing 130 countries -- was skillfully coordinated by the Philippines, whose sense of urgency and moral authority was (tragically) enhanced by the extraordinarily violent Typhoon Ketsana which killed hundreds and displaced hundreds of thousands of people in its own capital city as the meeting got underway. This sense of urgency -- declining fisheries, diminishing crop yields, increasing hunger, pervasive drought, new pests, extreme weather events, the water crisis and even disappearing nations whose governments are asking the international community to provide refuge for their people -- is palpable amongst developing country delegations.

This was in marked contrast to the large delegations representing rich nations who signed onto legally binding commitments in the Kyoto Protocol -- but who appear to have no intention of delivering the goods.  U.S. climate legislation is weak and mired in complex legislative processes, Europeans offer mostly colonialist-sounding preaching on carbon neutral development, and outright obstinacy characterizes the Harper government approach -- regarding the process and the substance of negotiations. Despite some noteworthy differences, it seems the collective wisdom of the Annex 1 countries is to destroy the Kyoto Protocol which, for all its weaknesses, does provide practical implementation of the notion of “common but differentiated responsibilities”, one of the organizing principles of the UNFCCC (United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change).  

I have had the opportunity to attend many UN meetings over the years but never have I seen one so jargon-filled (the draft text is 200 pages long) and where the North-South divide was so deep and seemingly irreconcilable.  And while Canada is gaining a reputation in many international for a as unconstructive and ideologically obsessed with a discredited neo-liberal world view, in the negotiations under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, Canada is best described as a rogue state.

According to the Kyoto protocol, ratified by Canada, we needed to cut emission by 6% or more between 1990 and 2012. What has Canada done?  It missed the target by a whopping 33.8 %, more than any other G8 country.  The overwhelming cause of the missed target is the tar sands -- one of the fastest growing sources of greenhouse gas emissions in the world. This is in marked contrast to countries like Norway or Germany, which have met their Kyoto commitments and are prepared to make more.

The real highlight of my two weeks in Bangkok was the demonstration where many thousands of fisher folk and farmers joined hundreds of NGOs and activists mainly from surrounding Asian countries but also from around the globe.   They beat their drums to the tick tick tick of the Copenhagen countdown and walked in solidarity to the UN Building demanding climate justice. 

As they sang soulful solidarity songs in Thai about the interconnectedness of all living things, negotiations continued in the air conditioned UN conference centre, where men in suits and well-heeled women continued their procedural games, bureaucrats who have still not received the instructions they need that would enable not only a new climate deal but real leeway for give and take required in any successful negotiations.

The word in the hallways of the negotiations was that developed countries want to get rid of the Kyoto Protocol, renegotiate the Framework Convention and strong arm developing countries into a deal that makes everyone share the climate debt that wealthy countries have incurred.   We know a whole lot more about climate change than we did in Rio in 1992 when the foundation for the multilateral environmental agreements was laid and yet industrialized countries seem ready to go back to square zero.

Developed countries have caused 90 per cent of the problem but developing countries are suffering 90 per cent of the impacts.   Difficult to not draw the parallel with the financial bailout south of the border that saw ordinary citizens lose their homes as the US government rescued Wall Street’s bonuses.



Diana Bronson is a researcher with ETC Group, a civil society organization that monitors new technologies.

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