Harper lays low in Copenhagen

COPENHAGEN, Denmark — Stephen Harper kept a low profile on his first day at the Copenhagen climate summit amid high hopes for a breakthrough over a $1-trillion American plan.

COPENHAGEN, Denmark — Stephen Harper kept a low profile on his first day at the Copenhagen climate summit amid high hopes for a breakthrough over a $1-trillion American plan.

While the prime minister hobnobbed with other leaders at a royal dinner hosted by the queen of Denmark, it fell to Environment Minister Jim Prentice to deliver Canada’s address to the UN climate talks.

An advance copy of Prentice’s speech was only nine paragraphs long, and reiterated many of the Conservative government’s stated positions on climate change. They include the contentious notion that any deal in Copenhagen should replace the Kyoto Protocol, rather than the complementary “Kyoto-plus” option supported by developing countries.

The speech is unlikely to ease criticism from developing countries and environmentalists who accuse Canada of failing to make concessions to help reach a deal — and of relinquishing its historic role as a progressive on the world stage.

Prentice’s address came after U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton offered to help raise $100 billion a year for the next decade to help the most vulnerable nations.

That includes an unspecified American contribution which would include mix of public and private money. But there’s a couple of catches: countries must agree to a climate deal in Copenhagen, and all must agree to “transparency” in reporting and verifying cuts to greenhouse gases.

The latter condition was clearly directed at China, which has balked at what it sees as an intrusion on its sovereignty.

Clinton said lack of transparency is a “deal breaker” and insisted: “There shall be a transparency requirement.”

“It would be hard to imagine, speaking for the United States, that there could be the level of financial commitment that I have just announced in the absence of transparency from the second-biggest emitter — and now I guess the first-biggest emitter — and now nearly, if not already, the second-biggest economy.”

China’s vice-foreign minister, He Yafei, called the offer a “good first step.” He said China is ready for “dialogue and co-operation” on its emissions actions “that is not intrusive, that does not infringe on China’s sovereignty.”

Prentice said Canada is ready to contribute to a climate-aid fund, but wouldn’t speculate on a number. He said Canada would open its books and he expects China to do the same once a climate deal is signed.

“I don’t think it’s a question of a phasing-in of those arrangements,” he said earlier Thursday. “Rather, it’s a question of an agreement that has to apply to all major emitters, and has to have transparency as a fundamental principle of it.

“Transparency isn’t something that can be phased in. And so we are interested in measurement arrangements, reporting arrangements, verification arrangements that withstand scrutiny from the outset.”