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Despite good intentions, Canada earns 'fossil' tag at Paris climate talks

Canadian Minister of Environment and Climate Change Catherine McKenna speaks during a news conference, in Paris, France, on Nov. 29, 2015. The Climate Action Network International awarded Canada a second place "fossil of the day" award today at the COP21 climate summit, citing the reluctance of Canadian negotiators to have compensation for weather destruction in poor countries included in the final Paris agreement.
Image Credit: THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
December 09, 2015 - 8:00 PM

OTTAWA - This clearly wasn't what federal Environment Minister Catherine McKenna had in mind when she told delegates to the Paris climate conference that "Canada is back."

The Climate Action Network International awarded Canada a second place "fossil of the day" award at the COP21 climate summit, citing the reluctance of Canadian negotiators to have compensation for weather destruction in poor countries included in the final Paris agreement.

"I think it's very clear that the developed world couldn't sign onto unlimited financial liability, that would be on our kids and grandkids, for the impacts of climate change on the developing world," Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told a news conference Wednesday in Ottawa.

He made no apologies for the backhanded "fossil" award, arguing Canada is "very much engaged in a constructive and robust way, including billions of dollars in climate financing so that the developing world can move towards lower emissions and succeed in a more renewable energy world."

"But at the same time, we need to be responsible about how we do it," said Trudeau. "And that's why Canada and the United States and a number of other countries have been singled out in this situation."

The previous Conservative government was the object of much opposition derision when it was routinely singled out with the "fossil" tag at climate summits.

In 2013 at the UN-sponsored COP19 in Warsaw, the Canadian government was handed a "lifetime unachievement award" for what environmentalists said was obstructionist behaviour.

The new Liberal government came to office last month promising a renewed national priority on combating climate change, with both Trudeau and McKenna winning international plaudits for providing Canada with a new perspective.

However, a number of sticking points remain in the final text for a Paris agreement, including whether the world's developed countries should be liable for climate-change-related damage to some of the poorest and most vulnerable countries on the planet.

In Wednesday's late plenary session in Paris, delegates from India and Malaysia said the draft needs stronger commitments from wealthy nations to provide financial support for poor nations to cope with climate change. Malaysian negotiator Gurdial Singh Nijar said the help from rich countries so far amounts to "paltry dribbles."

Wealthy nations, which want the new agreement to apply to everyone, say there are too many paragraphs in the draft with one set of rules for rich countries and another for poor ones.

Saudi Arabia is also suggesting it will not accept a long-term goal of keeping average global temperatures within 1.5 degrees C of pre-industrial levels, a threshold many low-lying island nations say is an existential threat. McKenna endorsed the 1.5 C limit on Canada's behalf earlier this week.

Ed Fast, the Conservative environment critic who only a couple of months ago was working the global power corridors as Canada's international trade minister, said the Liberals are discovering the many competing interests involved in the climate file.

"It's easy to make grand promises and to preen on the international stage," said Fast.

"But actually delivering on the priority interests of Canadians and promoting and protecting the national interest is quite something else. I think the Liberal government is learning it the hard way."

Hundreds of protesters at COP21 held a sit-in against Wednesday's latest draft agreement, which has been whittled down to 29 pages from 54 at the start of the conference on Nov. 30.

— With files from The Associated Press

News from © The Canadian Press, 2015
The Canadian Press

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