Political Hotseat

Understanding the Politics of Climate Change

This page was last updated December 2, 2007

  • Harper uses Commonwealth Summit to sabotage Bali Kyoto meetings
  • Opposition MPs not allowed on official Canadian Bali delegation
  • Harper government kills climate change research network
  • Harper walks away from Kyoto, joins Anti-Protocol Club
  • Kyoto Protocol Implementation Act
  • Feds Get Taken to Court
  • Kill Bill (Climate Change and Clean Air Act saga continues... )

Harper uses Commonwealth to sabotage Kyoto meetings in Bali

OTTAWA -- Prime Minister Stephen Harper helped move 53 Commonwealth nations backwards prior to vital upcoming Kyoto negotiations in Bali. 51 of the 53 countries attending the Commonwealth Conference, led by the United Kingdom, had intended the final Communiqué of the Kampala meeting to give momentum to the UN negotiations in Bali by calling for developed countries to accept binding targets after 2012. Unfortunately, because of Prime Minster Harper’s insistence, the Communiqué was significantly weakened and now only calls only for “long-term aspirational” targets.

Opposition MPs not allowed on official Canadian Bali delegation

The Stephen Harper government broke with tradition and is refusing to allow opposition Members of Parliament to join the official Canadian delegation for upcoming Kyoto talks in Bali, Indonesia. The talks are critical as the next phase of Kyoto Protocol (post-2012) will be negotiated. Opposition MPs have been part of the delegations of all major conferences leading up to the signing of the Kyoto Protocol in 1997, and at subsequent meetings every year.

The UN negotiations will have an impact on Canada, and Canada should be sending a delegation that fully represents the full breadth of Canadian society, as has been the case in the past. The exclusions of both stakeholders and opposition MPs ends a long-standing government tradition that began when Brian Mulroney was prime minister. The opposition members were only notified with 2-weeks until the meetings, making it difficult for them to register as independent observers. A coalition of Canada's top environmental groups including ClimateforChange.ca has offered assistance in obtaining accreditation to opposition MPs who want to attend key climate change talks.

Harper government kills climate change research network

Nobel Prize-winning Canadian scientists were baffled when the Harper government recently shut down a federal climate research network. The Harper government defended the decision claiming it closed a federal climate research network because it had "completed" its mandate to assess impacts of global warming on Canada. Canadian researchers responded by saying that to suggest the research was “completed” is ridiculous. "I truly think they don't understand what research means," said Andrew Weaver, a climatologist from the University of Victoria's school of earth and ocean sciences.

Harper walks away from Kyoto, joins Anti-Protocol Club

Canada has gone from a climate leader to a climate laggard on the world stage. Where Canada once led the international consensus for a post-2012 Kyoto set of targets, it now stands with George Bush in rejecting any effort to see the Kyoto Protocol live beyond its current calendar. 

In May 2006, Canada’s then-Minister of the Environment Rona Ambrose took the Meeting of the Parties (MOP) Chair in Bonn, Germany, with a secret mandate: to oppose any agreement on post-2012 targets. Since that time, the international approach of the Harper government has become even more stark: undermine Kyoto, oppose binding targets post-2012, and align with the Bush administration.

At the 2007 G8 meeting, Canada backed Bush’s efforts to water down a communiqué prepared by German Chancellor Angela Merkel that would have set firm greenhouse gas (GHG) reduction targets for G-8 nations. In the end, the United States succeeded with the help of the Harper Conservatives in securing an agreement that merely committed that leaders should ‘seriously consider’ efforts to halve GHGs by 2050. 

Most recently, in September 2007, Prime Minister Stephen Harper attended the United Nations High Level session on Climate Change and made a 5-minute speech promoting carbon storage. Harper then announced, in a media scrum, that Canada will be joining the U.S. and Australia in their anti-Kyoto Protocol initiative known as the Asia Pacific Partnership. The next day Harper passed up an opportunity to speak to the UN General Assembly.

Canada joined the anti-Kyoto Protocol Asia Pacific Partnership on October 15, 2007, without making a public announcement, at a meeting in India.

Kyoto Protocol Implementation Act (KPIA)

In 2006, the Climate Action Network approached the three main federal Opposition parties with a plan to introduce a private members bill. The bill, which became known as the Kyoto Protocol Implementation Act (KPIA), was sponsored by Liberal MP Pablo Rodriguez and requires the government to honour its Kyoto Protocol commitments and meet its emissions targets. It made the difficult climb through the parliamentary committee system and, on May 16, 2007, it passed the House of Commons. A month later it was passed by the Senate.

The purpose of the Act is to ensure thatCanada takes effective and timely action to meet its obligations under the Kyoto Protocol and help address the problem of global climate change." Section 5 of the KPIA requires that within 60 days of the Act coming into force, the Minister of Environment prepare a Climate Change Plan (that is publicly released). The KPIA also calls on the National Round Table on the Environment and Economy (NTREE) to determine if the government plan will meet its Kyoto commitments. Within 120 days of the Act coming into force, the government must have regulations in place.

The Minister of the Environment released the Conservative government’s plan on August 19, 2007, posting it on the Environment Canada web site late in the afternoon of the last day of the North American government leaders summit (where all the media attention was focused). The plan merely repeated the April 2007 announcement of intensity targets stating in 2010 and contained no new measures to meet the reduction targets in the Kyoto Protocol. It was soundly criticized by environmental organizations, opposition parties, the media.

On September 22, 2007, NTREE, as required by the KPIA, presented its report to Federal Minister of the Environment John Baird. Even though this body is composed of politically appointed members (largely from the business community) and the new president is a long-time conservative with close political ties to the government, the report concluded that the government plan contained insufficient measures to meet the Kyoto targets. The critical report went on to say there were several instances of ‘double-counting’ of emission reductions in order to make the Federal government plan look better than it is. The next test for the government under the bill will come in late December 2007 when regulations are required to be in place.

Feds Get Taken to Court

In September 2007, the Friends of the Earth (FOE) launched a new lawsuit in Federal Court against the Government of Canada seeking a declaration that the federal government was not complying with its legal obligation under s.5 of the KPIA. In May 2007, FOE filed a lawsuit against the Government of Canada for violating the duty to act under s. 166 of CEPA (for abandoning international commitments under Kyoto). But the Court delayed ruling on the case pending the release of the Government’s climate change plan as required under the KPIA. Minister of Environment John Baird released the Plan in August 2007, but it failed to comply with the requirements of the KPIA to meet Kyoto Protocol targets. Because of the government’s failure to prepare a climate change plan that provides a description of measures to be taken to ensure that Canada meets its obligations under Article 3.1 of the Kyoto Protocol (as required by the KPIA), the FOE application is requesting a court order (i.e. mandamus) requiring the Minister to comply with the KPIA and ensure Kyoto targets are met. The court is now considering how it will rule.

Kill Bill (Climate Change and Clean Air Act saga continues ...)

The Harper Conservative government began its tenure by cancelling existing programs aimed at reducing GHGs and promised its own “Made in Canada” alternative to Kyoto. Since then, the Conservatives have unveiled no fewer than three plans to tackle climate change and none of them even attempts to meet Canada’s Kyoto target of reducing GHGs by 6% below 1990 levels. The latest Conservative plan (Bill C-30) didn’t require absolute reductions by industry, didn’t permit emissions trading, and didn’t offer a serious blueprint for GHG reductions. In the spring of 2007, Parliament amended C-30 to strengthen it in a variety of ways. The resulting Act, known as the Climate Change and Clean Air Act, completed committee hearings and has the support of a majority of parliament. Knowing it would pass a vote if brought back to the House of Commons, and rather than accept the majority will of Parliament, the Harper government engineered a way to kill the Act.

In late August 2007, the Conservatives announced they would be postponing the reopening of Parliament until October 16, 2007. In September, the Governor General, at the request of Prime Minister Harper, prorogues Parliament, effectively killing any chance of Bill C-30, the Amended Clean Air Act, from returning to Parliament for a vote (unless the Opposition parties demand its return). The main Opposition parties have stated they want to see the Bill return - but demanding it could force and election so it is unclear what will happen. Stay tuned ...