PORT-OF-SPAIN — The head of the United Nations is trying to prod Canada into taking greater action on climate change, saying the Canadian government needs an “ambitious” mid-range target to reduce greenhouse gases — and needs to set one more quickly.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon told journalists at the Commonwealth leaders’ summit Friday that Canada, as the next host of the G8 and G20 meetings, must pick up the pace in setting a mid-range goal to curb emissions. He suggested Canada should be setting an example.
“Many countries, developed and developing countries, have come out with ambitious targets,” Ban said. “And Canada, as one of the leading G8 countries, and G20, Canada is going to soon chair G8.
“Therefore, it is only natural that Canada should come out with ambitious mid-term targets as soon as possible.”
The Harper government aims to lower Canada’s greenhouse gases 20 per cent from 2006 levels by 2020. The Tories’ mid-term goal is to get emissions 60 to 70 per cent below 2006 levels by 2050.
But Canada has been criticized for using a later base year than many other countries, particularly the Europeans, many of whom use 1990 — when global emissions were lower — as their benchmark.
Peter Kent, parliamentary secretary for foreign affairs, told Canadian reporters covering Prime Minister Stephen Harper at the Commonwealth summit that Canada’s targets are stringent enough and perhaps even more so than those adopted by the United States.
“They’re almost exactly the same as U.S. targets,” Kent said. “In fact, one might say immodestly that they’re significantly better than U.S. targets.”
Kent refused to characterize the secretary-general’s comments, which were made Friday evening during a news conference in Port of Spain.
Ban’s remarks topped a day devoted almost entirely to climate change.
There appears to be renewed optimism that a deal to replace the Kyoto Protocol may still be attainable at a key United Nations summit next month.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy, Ban and Danish Prime Minister Lars Rasmussen made a special trip to Trinidad and Tobago to take part in the talks, even though they are not part of the Commonwealth.
“I believe that over the last three days things have really started to shift,” Sarkozy said. “We have entered into a very active negotiation phase.”
But earlier this month, leaders at the Asia-Pacific summit in Singapore had all but written off a deal in the Danish capital.
Harper 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.”
An aide in the Prime Minister’s Office told reporters Friday evening that Canada still hopes for a “political text” to come out of the talks.
But with nine days to go before the Copenhagen talks, Rasmussen urged Commonwealth nations at a special meeting to keep up the push for a binding deal in the Danish capital.
“I know that for many of you climate change represents an immediate existential threat,” he said.
“You cannot afford the luxury of a failure in Copenhagen. This makes the challenge we are facing in Copenhagen very real.”
Rich and developing countries have been at a standstill over several make-or-break issues heading into the talks.
The general feeling has been that the best-case outcome for Copenhagen is a blueprint that sets out a timeline and rough sketch of an eventual deal to replace Kyoto when that accord expires in 2012.
But the Commonwealth summit may yet break the deadlock between developed and developing nations.
Much of the focus of the Caribbean summit has been on climate change — not entirely surprising given most of the group’s members are smaller nations that suffer the ill effects of rising temperatures most acutely.
It was a point Sarkozy underscored during a news conference.
“We have to say that, as the international panel on global climate change has said, if we continue along down this road, we are heading for disaster with sea levels rising and global warming,” he said.
Meanwhile, Harper kicked off the summit by meeting the Queen.
The Queen opened the summit by saying the organization her father founded sixty years ago has an opportunity to regain its relevance by leading the battle against global warming.
She urged the 53-member body of mostly former British colonies to take a united stand on climate change ahead of Copenhagen.
“And on this, the eve of the UN Copenhagen summit on climate change, the Commonwealth has an opportunity to lead once more,” she said.
“The threat to our environment is not a new concern. But it is now a global challenge which will continue to affect the security and stability of millions for years to come.
“Many of those affected are among the most vulnerable. And many of the people least well able to withstand the adverse effects of climate change live in the Commonwealth.”