Harper will skip UN climate meetings. Would the other parties?

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On Tuesday the world's leaders are meeting at the United Nations to talk about the crisis of climate change -- and what the peoples and governments of the world should do about it.

Canada's Prime Minister is making a rare trip to the United Nations, this week, to address the General Assembly. But he will take a pass on the climate meeting.

That is small wonder, given the Conservative government's record on the environment.

Here are some of the highlights of that record:

  1. This government withdrew from the Kyoto Accord, which set worldwide emission reduction targets.
  2. The Conservatives abolished or radically diminished some key environmental legislation, including the Navigable Waters Act and the Fisheries Act.
  3. They drastically reduced the federal government's role in the environmental review process for projects such as pipelines.
  4. Harper claimed he was using a regulatory approach to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but, so far, has not established regulations for the oil and gas sector. For the most part Canadian government regulations have done no more than follow those in the United States.
  5. The government cut funding for environmental science, and muzzled scientists working for the federal government.
  6. At the same time it initiated a witch hunt -- via costly Canada Revenue Agency investigations and cabinet ministers' McCarthyist accusations of "foreign influence" -- aimed at environmental organizations (and some others, such as the CCPA, that have the temerity to differ with the Harper government agenda).

Keep in mind that that is just a partial list.  

The Conservatives' passive-aggressive approach

When asked in the House about government climate change policy, Stephen Harper's ministers inevitably argue that they are "getting the job done," without -- and this is their favourite line -- "harming the economy."

Whatever they say, however, the Conservatives' approach to climate change -- and the environment in general -- is a classic case of passive-aggressive syndrome. They only talk about it when forced to, and then in a dismissive, negative, truculent way, devoid, for the most part, of meaningful facts or details.

If you look at the "Where we stand" section of the Conservative Party website you will not find a single word on the environment. When promoting what it stands for, the party only wants to talk about the economy, law and order issues and something called "supporting families" -- a grab bag of small-bore measures, mostly of the boutique tax kind.

The Conservatives do not even deign to throw in a few token platitudes on the environment, and that pretty much tells the story.

The Liberals' vacuous nostrums

Interestingly, Justin Trudeau’s new-style Liberals don't have much more to say on where they stand on the environment, and that includes climate change. Indeed, token platitudes seem to be the order of the day for the federal Liberal party.

"Our environment is part of our identity," the Liberal Party website tells us, and then continues with the following head-scratching non sequitur: "O Canada, we stand on guard for thee… The many references to land in our national anthem speak to our Canadian identity as much as the water and air we must protect for future generations of Canadians."

One is tempted to say: "Which means...?"

The closest the Liberals get to specifically making any reference to climate change is: "Canada's energy policies should meet our needs, and be innovative and sustainable, while respecting our environment and our communities."

There you have it, at least in terms of what the Liberals are willing to put in the window. If it is all vague mush, that is perhaps fitting for the party that seeks to be all things to all people, and hopes to coast to victory on nothing more than the strength of its leader's smile and hair.

The NDP's cool and cryptic enumeration of precise policies

The Official Opposition NDP has always stubbornly stuck to the perhaps wrong-headed belief that a political party should tell Canadians, in as much detail as possible, what it stands for. It may not be the most winning formula in today's dumbed-down political environment; but it is, for good or for ill, a part of New Democrats' culture.

And so it is not surprising that if you were to consult the NDP's website you would find concrete proposals for dealing with the climate change crisis, namely:

1. Establishing binding targets and clear standards to cut greenhouse gas emissions.

2.  Creating a revenue-generating carbon market to ensure industry reduces greenhouse gas emissions to targets set by government. (This is what the Conservatives used to attack relentlessly, calling it demagogically a "carbon tax." Earlier, their attacks on previous Liberal Leader Stéphane Dion’s carbon tax proposals were devastating -- which may explain the Liberals' current timidity on the subject.)

3. Imposing strict energy efficiency and emissions standards for motor vehicles, appliances, and buildings.

Elsewhere on its website the NDP puts forward its policies, in similar point form, on a number of the many other environmental challenges Canadians face.

Despite being specific on policies, however, the NDP expresses itself in a fairly cryptic manner. It does not go into much detail on its over-arching environmental philosophy -- except to emphasize, predictably, that there is no contradiction between being environmentally responsible and economic growth.

In that way the NDP is not dissimilar to the Liberals and Conservatives.

The Official Opposition party understands too well the harsh (and depressing) political fact that, decades after scientists started warning about global warming, most voters these days seem far more concerned with short-term pocketbook matters than the planet's long-term environmental threats.

The Greens' thorough and far-reaching policies and analysis

It is the Greens, who, as might be expected, have the most to say on the environment -- and on climate change specifically.  

The Green Party climate change policy consists of a detailed list of policies, which are not dissimilar to those of the NDP, except that they are more detailed, more far-reaching -- and definitely more radical than what any mainstream party that aspired to power would dare to propose.

 Just consider this concluding item on the Greens' climate change policy list:

"Phasing out carbon emissions as quickly as possible until we become 'carbon neutral' must be the overarching goal. A complete phase-out will occur eventually in any case as fossil fuels run out and the sooner we embrace a low-carbon economy, the better off we will be." 

That is a prescription that goes further than most Canadians would probably be willing to go.

But even if you might disagree with some of their policies, the Greens' devastating analysis of the Harper government's hypocrisy and failure to act seriously on emissions reductions is very much worth reading. Here it is. And just to give you a taste, here is one paragraph that cuts to shreds Harper's pretensions that, today, he is anything other than the climate-change denier he used to be quite openly:

"Canadian negotiators in Copenhagen in 2009 proposed reductions of just 2% below 1990 levels, and a month later, in January 2010, announced the new Canadian target of 3% above 1990 levels. This is not just failing to meet our Kyoto commitments a decade too late; it is promising to continue in the wrong direction."

In the end, perhaps nothing more eloquently captures the Harper government's true views on the climate crisis than the fact that in November of last year while Typhoon Haiyan was wreaking havoc in the Pacific the Conservatives found time to issue a statement congratulating Australia's Prime Minister Tony Abbot. They did not congratulate Abbott for aiding his Asia-Pacific neighbours in their moment of grave need. No, while the cruel effects of climate change were manifesting themselves in the Philippines, the Harperites had the hubris and bad taste to congratulate the Australian Prime Minister for abolishing his country's carbon tax!

No wonder the Prime Minister does not dare show his face at an international meeting devoted to climate change.

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