Harper says climate negotiations mired in minutiae, need big picture view

SINGAPORE — Global climate change negotiators are bogged down in minutiae and need to step back and look at the big picture, Prime Minister Stephen Harper said Sunday.

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper shakes hands with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev during a bi-lateral meeting following the Asia-Pacific Economic Co-Operation Summit in Singapore Sunday. Harper was in Singapore to attend the APEC meetings before heading to India for a three day visit.

SINGAPORE — Global climate change negotiators are bogged down in minutiae and need to step back and look at the big picture, Prime Minister Stephen Harper said Sunday.

His comments came as leaders of the 21-nation Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation summit — who represent almost two thirds of global greenhouse gas emissions — officially put a bullet in any hopes for an international breakthrough at next month’s UN climate conference in Denmark.

Harper was just one of several leaders who emerged from a Sunday breakfast meeting dedicated to the climate issue to say no deal will be reached in Copenhagen.

The prime minister said there was “a pretty strong consensus at the meeting this morning that countries of the world remain a long way from a binding, legal treaty on climate change.”

Harper noted that there are some 3,000 “bracketed pieces of text” in the Copenhagen working document — diplomatic-speak for areas that need further negotiation.

“I don’t think that can be attributed to any one country,” he said.

“There obviously are significant areas of disagreement.”

Climate was not expected to dominate this summit on the 20th anniversary of APEC’s founding, but as the last major summit before the United Nations convenes in December the issue infused discussions on global economy and trade.

The chair of the UN climate conference, Danish Prime Minister Lars Loekke Rasmussen, flew to Singapore to salvage what he could, pitching APEC leaders on the notion of a “politically binding” deal that could be fleshed out later with legal language at another conference next year in Mexico.

Even that watered down objective could only muster a “fair consensus” among APEC leaders, according to Harper.

The final communique of the summit shelved any talk whatsoever of climate change targets or even “aspirational goals” — the airy euphemism employed by APEC leaders two years ago in Sydney, Australia.

Instead, the communique spoke vaguely of working “toward an ambitious outcome in Copenhagen.”

The leaders did, however, agree to “phase out over the medium term fossil fuel subsidies.” No specific timeline was put on the measure.

Harper said there was a sense among APEC leaders that climate negotiators need to get back to basics.

“We probably need to get our negotiators out of this morass of hundreds of pages and thousands of brackets of text and into looking at the big picture and coming to some agreement on some big picture items,” said the prime minister.

Harper held a number of bilateral meetings and “pull asides” — less formal one-on-one talks — with APEC leaders over the weekend as Canada gears up for next summer’s concurrent G8 and G20 meetings, to be held in central Ontario.

He met with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev on Sunday afternoon before continuing his week-long trip abroad by flying on to Mumbai.

Late Sunday, Harper roared into Mumbai on a 30-plus car motorcade that snarled traffic and attracted hundreds of curious onlookers along the route from the airport to his hotel.

Harper will spend three days in India before returning to Canada, only to fly back around the globe in two weeks’ time for a visit to China and South Korea.

Canada’s future prosperity “is increasingly dependent on its ties to the Pacific,” Harper said at the close of the APEC summit.

It is his first visit to both India and China, the emerging economic superpowers of the 21st century, since taking office almost four years ago. But Harper brushed off suggestions he is late coming to the table.

The prime minister said he’s met both the Chinese and Indian leaders “on numerous occasions” and there have been a number of ministerial visits.

“Particularly in the case of India, this government has actually re-engaged in India in a way Canadian governments have not since the 1970s,” said Harper.

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