SINGAPORE — It is vitally important that a global arrangement on curbing greenhouse gas emissions leaves a level playing field for all economies, Prime Minister Stephen Harper said Saturday as leaders of emerging and developed countries met in Singapore.
But Harper’s message of carbon reduction parity was undermined by a leading climate-change expert at the summit, who said Canada’s poor record on reducing emissions has cost it credibility.
The prime minister is attending the Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation summit, an organization ostensibly dedicated to trade and investment flows in the Pacific region.
But once again environmental policy appears to have hijacked APEC, a 21-country grouping the embodies many of the biggest contradictions and dilemmas of climate-change diplomacy.
The APEC leaders met for an ad hoc Sunday breakfast at the invitation of Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd to discuss climate change and the looming United Nations conference in Denmark next month on a post-2012 emissions regime.
A leaked draft of the final communique suggested the only consensus settled upon was the lowest common denominator.
Rather than commit to 50 per cent reductions from 1990 levels by 2050, as proposed in an earlier draft, published reports suggested the leaders could only agree emissions should “be substantially reduced by 2050” and that they need to peak “over the next few years.”
“This controversy is not going to go away,” said the moderator of an APEC-sponsored forum on climate change and the economy Saturday at the summit.
While acknowledging there are “significant differences” among the APEC members over how to tackle climate change, Harper said all leaders recognize it’s an issue that must be addressed.
Emerging economies, including China and Indonesia at the APEC summit, already contribute close to half of all global emissions, Harper said at a media availability, and that proportion will rise to two thirds in the future.
“If we don’t control those, whatever we do in the developed world will have no impact on climate change.”
Harper’s other argument for full global participation is purely economic.
“If everyone is not included, you set up the possible risk that certain countries will gain economic advantage from being included or not included,” he said.
“If some contribute, or some contribute disproportionately, then the economic risks for others become enormous.”
It’s an argument that only highlights Canada’s own track record in relation to the 1997 Kyoto Protocol.
The Liberal government of the day committed to deep emission reductions, but only slowly developed modest reduction policies as emissions continued to rise. When the Conservatives came to power in 2006, Canada was woefully behind its international commitment and fell even further when the Tories essentially scrapped the Liberal program in favour of rebuilding climate-change policy from scratch. That policy and its regulations remain a work in progress almost four years later.
While the Tories lay the blame at the feet of the Liberals, it is a moot point internationally, according to Prof. Tim Flannery of the Copenhagen Climate Council, a business-oriented scientific group.
The UN negotiations in Copenhagen put Canada in “a really difficult position,” he said.
“Canada is by far the biggest defaulter on its Kyoto obligations on a tonnage basis. And as a result of that there is a lack of trust.”