If there’s one person the Canadian government would perhaps rather not hear from right now, it’s Tim Flannery, the vocal Australian climate change campaigner. Canada, which over the last 20 years or so has largely preferred to let economic development trump environmental concerns, is trying to keep a low profile in the run-up to the Copenhagen meeting in December charged with producing a successor to the Kyoto accord. Canada’s Conservative government — following the lead of former U.S. President George W. Bush – walked away from Kyoto on the grounds that it would damage the economy. Canada has made an enormous amount of money shipping oil to the United States, much of it from the tar sands in the western province of Alberta. Developing those sands burns up a huge amount of carbon and Canadian emissions are rising steadily, so it’s no coincidence that Canada says it is for action on climate change while allowing responsible economic development. Environment Minister Jim Prentice told the Canadian Broadcasting Corp on Wednesday that Canada would bring “a reasonable constructive approach” to Copenhagen. This is a message which wins few friends among environmentalists.
Flannery rolled into town on Wednesday and loudly announced that Ottawa’s role in the talks leading up to Copenhagen so far had been very unhelpful. “We desperately need Canada to play a much more positive role in the coming months . . . the Canadian government is largely isolated in its stand vis-a-vis the Copenhagen agreements. It would be tragic, I think, to see a country like this standing in the way of agreement,” he told reporters.
If the truth be told, Canada is not doing much of anything on the environment right now, in part because of last year’s U.S. presidential election and the victory of Barack Obama, who vowed tough action on climate change. Ottawa had promised to introduce rules to cut emissions starting in 2010 but those are on hold until Washington decides what approach it will take on climate change. The same goes for Canadian plans to set up a carbon trading market: let’s wait for Obama. While this is understandable — there’s little point taking the time and trouble to craft a green policy only to see it wrecked because your main trading partner decided to go off in a different direction — it only adds to the impression of inertia.