Canada can't lecture anyone on climate change

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Apparently, the White House was less than pleased at the lecture they received from Paul Martin during last week’s climate change conference. The conference, held in Montreal, was aimed at negotiating an agreement to followup on the Kyoto Protocol, a treaty that the Americans have refused to sign. It provided Martin with a convenient opportunity to do something that he loves to do: talk tough on the international stage in the hope that it will bolster his support at home. Unfortunately for Martin, the American government refused to play along.

As is his habit, Martin mouthed all of the right platitudes – in this case, about the need to halt global warming. According to his speech to conference participants, “If we’re going to deal with climate change, concerted action is essential. And so is leadership. We need to accept that with our behaviour, with our actions, we affect one another and the planet we share. We are in this together.”

If he had stopped there, he might have got away without facing any serious questions about his own government’s record (after all, the national news media have a horse race to cover, so why would they bother themselves with something as boring as actual policy?). Martin played with fire when he decided to criticize the United States for its record on the issue. “To the reticent nations, including the United States, I say there is such a thing as a global conscience, and now is the time to listen to it… yet there are nations that resist, voices that attempt to diminish the urgency or dismiss the science – or declare, either in word or in indifference, that this is not our problem to solve…. The time is past to seek comfort in denial. The time is past to pretend that any nation can stand alone, isolated from the global community – for there is but one Earth, and we share it, and there can be no hiding on any island, in any city, within any country, no matter how prosperous, from the consequences of inaction.”

Of course, the record on the United States on climate change is absolutely pathetic and it deserves to be criticized. Thus, it made perfect sense when Stavros Dimas, the European Union's chief representative at the meeting, told reporters that the EU “will continue to talk to our American partners and remind them of their commitments.” And, within the United States, a group of twenty-four Senators wrote a letter last week attacking the Bush administration’s position going into the Montreal meetings. Likewise, a group of over two hundred city mayors made a decision to publicly endorse the Kyoto Protocol after their federal government refused to ratify it.

The difference between those criticisms and Martin’s criticism is that those critics have at least a tiny bit of credibility on the issue of reducing greenhouse emissions. When Martin drew in the United States, he invited unflattering comparisons about Canada’s record under the past twelve years of Liberal government. Guess what? As bad as the American record is, we’ve done even worse.

When Paul Martin co-wrote the first Liberal Red Book back in 1993, he promised that a Liberal government would cut greenhouse gas emissions from 1990 levels by twenty per cent over the next decade. When Canada signed the Kyoto Protocol, that target was reduced to a more modest six per cent – but the Liberals couldn’t even meet that. Instead, according to the United Nations, Canadian greenhouse gas emissions have gone up twenty-four per cent over 1990 levels. There is a gap of over 1.5 billion tonnes of emissions between what Martin promised and what the Liberals have delivered. In the same period, United States’ emissions went up 13.3 per cent (which is still unacceptable, but clearly not as bad as Canada). In fact, the OECD has reported that Canada has the fastest rate of growth in greenhouse gas emissions in the whole industrialized world.

Even Environment Minister Stephane Dion admits that “Canada is indeed far behind” other countries when it comes to meeting its Kyoto commitments. According to Dion, this is because, “We are the sole Kyoto country that has an industry so strong, especially in the oil and gas industry, which is sending a lot of emissions and which is booming instead of decreasing.” It could also be because the government has refused to support the kind of action that would be needed to actually reduce emissions. For example, in February, the Liberals joined with the Conservatives to defeat an NDP motion calling for mandatory emissions standards on all vehicles sold in Canada.

Earlier this fall, Canada’s own Commissioner of the Environment, Johanne Gélinas, reported that “the federal government is chronically unable to sustain initiatives once they are launched.” Gélinas added that “When it comes to protecting the environment, bold announcements are made and then often forgotten as soon as the confetti hits the ground.” In other words – given his record – Paul Martin is in no position to be lecturing anyone else about the need for action on global warming.

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  1. Posted by: Rob on Dec 17, 2005 @ 10:19am

    This is so true, Paul Martin is showing his own ignorance and stupidity here. Any problems with Canada are a result of a 12 year Liberal reign ruining this country along with some of the basic principles it stands on. This party loves to point the finger at everyone else for doing this that or the other thing when in reality they are the ones responsible. Show you aren't ignorant and can see through their rhetoric; don't vote Liberal.

  2. Posted by: Andrew on Dec 26, 2005 @ 11:35am

    So who else are we going to vote for? We could vote for the down right scary Conservatives? Or the NDP who will drive this country further into national debt, and lead to more financial problems 10 years down the road? The green party has some good ideas... but they are generally impossible to implement without drastically raising taxes... and we know how willing the public is to have that happen...

  3. Posted by: Andrew on Dec 26, 2005 @ 11:35am

    It's easy to criticize the Liberals over issues such as this. But at least Canada has admitted we have a problem when it comes to emission levels and are passing legislation to help solve this problem... as to the Liberals and Conservatives striking down the NDP bill, you can bet there was a hug push from both the oil industry (Alberta) and the big three auto makers who still seem unable to keep up with the progress made by both the Japanese and German car companies. I think the issue here is not that Canada has a bad track record, because unlike the United States we are trying to do something about it. It is undeniable we are still far behind Europe in alternative energy sources, and Japan in vehicle emissions, but one of the major reasons for this is the close trading ties we have with the United States make it impossible for us to pass a lot of legislation because of fear from trade reprisals.

  4. Posted by: Rob on Dec 27, 2005 @ 12:18am

    "because unlike the United States we are trying to do something about it" Actions speak louder than words. What is better, making a commitment and breaking it or saying you won't be able to guarantee anything, trying to and succeeding? I say the later

    I agree with the problems with implementing and inevitably enforcing these standards. NAFTA doesn't help either.

  5. Posted by: Rob on Dec 27, 2005 @ 12:24am

    "So who else are we going to vote for? "
    Call me whatever you want but those "scary " conservatives offer me a better picture of canada than the same old everything. Say I'm old fashioned or whatever you want, I like most of their policies, I agree with most of their values, I don't like the leader but I will vote for them. It offers a change from 12 years of the same mediocre, wishy washy, put your finger in the wind politics.

    Why are they so scary anyways?

  6. Posted by: on Dec 28, 2005 @ 7:26pm

    "Or the NDP who will drive this country further into national debt, and lead to more financial problems 10 years down the road?"

    Why do you believe this?

  7. Posted by: on Dec 28, 2005 @ 7:26pm

    " The green party has some good ideas... but they are generally impossible to implement without drastically raising taxes"

    Or this? I think you're wrong on both counts.

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