Killing the golden goose: of tar sands and Kyoto

Hillary Clinton is en route for the first United States diplomatic mission to Burma in 50 years. Texan congressmen advocate offering olive branches to Iran. The age of the isolated pariah state has passed.  Or has it? Within international climate change circles at least, Canada seems most keen to make a name for itself – no longer simply as an uncooperative party to climate change discussions, but as an increasingly trenchant obstructer to a range of social and environmentally inclined international negotiations.

In its mission to safeguard economic returns from the fuming tar sands of one of its wealthiest provinces, Canada has made itself foil to the best of intentions being showcased at Durban.  Day 1 of COP 17 has seen Canada crowned winner of 1st, 2nd and 3rd prizes for the Fossil of the Day. This is for its poorly veiled plan to divorce itself of the Kyoto Protocol, for its continuing exploitation of the tar sands, and for its policy of playing ‘hardball’ in Durban, respectively.  By Day 3 even China is accusing Canada of undermining global efforts to combat climate change, damaging its reputation in the process.

Canada is not alone in the black sheep ranks at the COP. Japan, Russia and Australia are similarly indisposed to re-committing to the agreement unless, a miracle happen and the big polluters, namely the US and China, sign up. The United States came second place to Canada as Fossil of the Day on Day 2 for its unwillingness to accept targets that represent much more than business as usual until 2020. This dashes hopes of the Obama administration, essentially absolving them of any responsibility until long after Mr. Obama has left office.

In 2010, at Cancun’s COP16, I similarly reported my dismay at Canada’s backwards and antagonistic approach to the negotiations. I had hoped that the Canadian public would not allow a repeat performance. There is discordance between the negotiating position taken at Durban and polls suggesting Canadians to be among the most pro-environment people on the planet. Prompted by a recent blog by Stephan Lewandowsky referring to Canada’s media, and in particular the conservative National Post, as being willfully negligent at best and hostile at worst to action on climate change, I paid a visit to the website of the more progressive of the two national newspapers, The Globe and Mail.

I was astounded to discover that, of the 75 headline stories on the newspaper’s site on Day 2 of the COP (the final one prior to the Kyoto Protocol ending), not one headline mentioned the international climate change negotiations taking place in Durban. While tips on winter travel overseas with pets made the daily highlights, not one in 75 headlines concerned itself with the COP.

What does this mean for forests and local communities? There is a pattern, which extends beyond political posturing in international fora. It represents a subjugation of environmental and social concerns, particularly for marginalized groups such as indigenous peoples (who are largely forest-based), in favor of powerful industry interests. To suggest there is no linkage would be wrong. The same conservative government led Canada to be one of only four countries to refuse to sign the United Nations Declaration of Rights for Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) in 2007. It eventually did sign on, but only to be soundly condemned at the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity in Nagoya, Japan last year for being obstructionist. There, it was the sole Party to call for removal of all references to UNDRIP in the negotiations towards the Nagoya Protocol on Access and Benefit Sharing.

As a Canadian, I am deeply concerned. What next? Sadly, Canada is no longer negotiating in good faith, is undermining the process here at Durban and, as is being suggested by international civil society, needs to be politely asked to leave the negotiating table. Second, and much more difficult, is getting Canadians to turn off the hockey and pay attention.

Written by Regan Suzuki, REDD-net Asia Pacific Coordinator, RECOFTC at Durban, South Africa for the COP17

Picture from Greenpeace (Flickr)

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