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On Canada and Kyoto

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On Canada and Kyoto

As the end of the year approaches, it is common to reflect on the previous year and to take stock of the events that have passed and to file them away, according to significance. This past week I had another opportunity to visit Churchill, Manitoba. The focus of my brief trip was on the future development of its strategic inland port into an Arctic Gateway, linked to the rest of North America via a rail line to Winnipeg. Interestingly enough, there were Chinese delegates present, expressing their interest in a near future of shipping goods and services through the Arctic.

Our interactions had been brought about by the rapidly melting Arctic sea ice – one of the most dramatic and visible signs of climate change. And during my visit, I could see open water about a mile off the coast of the Hudson’s Bay, standing as a reminder of this very fact. While I must acknowledge that climate change presents certain opportunities for residents of Churchill and its Arctic neighbours, it also poses many more environmental and economic challenges for all Canadians. The significance of this visit was highlighted by the timely announcement that our government had decided to remove itself from its Kyoto obligations.

It is upon reflecting on these experiences that I find it necessary to express my disappointment at our government’s decision to remove itself from the Kyoto climate talks and to relieve itself of our international commitment to reduce our overall greenhouse gas emissions. While the Kyoto process was complex and labourious, it also represents some twenty years of multilateral negotiations attempting to find global solutions to a truly global problem. While all is not lost now that we have removed ourselves from negotiations, they will continue on with or without us.

The point that seems to have been lost in discussions on this topic is that international norms and treaties (such as the collective reduction of greenhouse gas emissions) are, as a rule, difficult and arduous to bring about. I’ll use as an example, the Ottawa Treaty. After nearly a decade of lobbying by non-governmental organizations, what ultimately pushed the treaty through was the deliberate and diplomatic leadership of a collection of like-minded states, with Canada playing a major role. What began with a group of 122 signatories now has 158 state parties. Consensus around the use of landmines has even yet to be reached, and yet a broad and effective norm has been established that heavily discourages their use and deployment. Progress has been made. Thousands of lives are saved every year and countless more injuries are prevented today despite the fact that the U.S., to this day, remains outside of the treaty.

There is evidence that a similar gradual process of norm building is occurring with climate change. Progress is painfully slow, but even China has produced an ambitious plan to invest in green technology. It and India have also accepted the proposal of taking on cuts to their emissions after 2020 as a result of the Kyoto negotions. Australia, once a climate laggard and a late signatory to Kyoto, is implementing an impressive carbon tax program.

We have so much to lose. If we are to follow through on our Northern Strategy and secure the people, culture, and ecology of our Arctic, then we will have to take the threat of climate change to heart, for it is our responsibility. As Christiana Figueres, Executive Secretary of UN Framework Convention on Climate Change stated, “Whether or not Canada is a party to the Kyoto Protocol, it has a legal obligation under the Convention to reduce its emissions, and a moral obligation to itself and future generations to lead in the global effort.”

Here’s to a New Year of effective policies and solutions towards this truly concerning and immediate problem.

The opinions expressed in this blog are personal and do not necessarily reflect the views of Global Brief or the Glendon School of Public and International Affairs.


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