Climate of chaos

COPENHAGEN, Denmark — Street protests, criticism and deadlocked talks await Prime Minister Stephen Harper in Copenhagen as climate negotiations threaten to unravel in their final hours.

Danish riot police push back protestors

COPENHAGEN, Denmark — Street protests, criticism and deadlocked talks await Prime Minister Stephen Harper in Copenhagen as climate negotiations threaten to unravel in their final hours.

Harper will join 192 other world leaders today at the United Nations conference in an effort to seal some kind of a deal. But with scant time until the summit’s close Friday, the chasm between rich and poor countries seemed wider than ever.

Canada has faced heavy criticism from developing countries and environmentalists for failing to bridge that chasm. They accuse the Harper government failing to make concessions to help reach a deal.

Outside the convention hall Wednesday, police battered a throng of protesters with batons as they tried to disrupt the conference. Videos showed protesters getting pepper-sprayed — and one beaten and pushed from the roof of a van — as they approached police lines.

While protesters rallied outside the Bella Centre, negotiations inside the hit yet another snag.

Talks dragged on into the wee hours of the morning Wednesday without a breakthrough, as China and the United States remained at loggerheads.

The conference’s president, former Danish climate minister Connie Hedegaard, resigned her post to allow her country’s prime minister, Lars Loekke Rasmussen, to preside. She continues to oversee the closed-door talks.

High-level officials from a select group of 48 countries were still waiting Wednesday for their Danish hosts to provide a draft text for them to negotiate — a text that was expected the night before.

That leaves little time for officials to hammer out an agreement for world leaders to sign.

It was hoped the Copenhagen talks would yield a blueprint to a new climate deal to replace or complement the Kyoto protocol, the current global agreement.

“Obviously, this is of concern,” Environment Minister Jim Prentice said of the delayed text.

He said he didn’t know what the hold-up was, but hoped to get the text in time for the leaders’ arrival.

Canada leads the pack in Fossil of the Day awards — a dubious citation bestowed by environmental groups to the daily climate laggard.

Serial pranksters The Yes Men pulled a fast one on Canada this week that shone unflattering light on the government’s targets to lower greenhouse gases.

And provincial leaders, notably Quebec Premier Jean Charest, have assailed Ottawa for not doing enough.

The news hasn’t been all bad. The UN climate chief buffed Canada’s smudged image last week with praise for the country’s negotiators. Asked about persistent whispers that Canada has been holding up progress at the talks, Yvo de Boer countered that “Canada has been negotiating very constructively in this process.”

It’s a line Prentice and his aides often repeat.

De Boer blamed the 1997 Kyoto Protocol for much of Canada’s image problems. He said the U.S. decision not to ratify the treaty left Canada in a bind.

A former member of Canada’s Kyoto negotiating team said that treaty is the root of much of the ill will directed Canada’s way.

“More than anything else, (it) is the fact that we decided to treat the Kyoto Protocol the way in which it was treated,” said John Drexhage, now climate-change director at the International Institute for Sustainable Development.

“First as some kind of huge loophole by the Liberal government, and now by this (government) by saying, ‘Well, we’re not going to meet the target, but we’re still going to remain a party.’

“It’s isolated Canada. And it’s made them the whipping post in a way.”

Environmental groups, opposition MPs and some European countries complain Canada’s targets for emissions cuts aren’t steep enough.

The Conservatives aim to lower Canada’s greenhouse gases 20 per cent from 2006 levels by 2020. The U.S. recently set a similar goal.

Critics note that those targets fall far short of Canada’s Kyoto commitments.

The Conservative government counters that achieving Canada’s Kyoto commitments now would batter the economy because of years of inaction by their Liberal predecessors.

Drexhage said the Tories should have told other Kyoto signatories that Canada respects the treaty, but can’t make the deep cuts required, in part because the U.S. isn’t part of the deal.

“This decision to remain a party to the Kyoto Protocol, while completely disregarding the target for it, really rubbed particularly this international climate-change community the wrong way,” he said.

“They took a lot of offence to it.”

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