Canada at Copenhagen

The peril of polishing turds

They came in private jets. They came in limousines. One hundred and nineteen heads of state – the largest-ever assembly of UN member states – descended on Denmark in December to tackle the difficult problem of climate change.

For over a week, they held meetings, conferences and consultations, and still a consensus could not be reached. It seemed that the summit was doomed to failure. In the end, the Copenhagen Accord was hammered out in a stuffy back room, in marathon closed-door meetings between the leaders of 20 countries.

But Canada didn’t get invited to those parties.

Canada got the same treatment in Copenhagen as the kid with lice does on a playground. Our nation was awarded the “Colossal Fossil” award for “two years of delay, obstruction and total inaction” on climate change. Influential British journalist George Monbiot referred to our nation as a “corrupt petro-state,” and in London, protesters brought down the flag at the Canadian High Commission and soaked it in oil.

Such was the response by environmental activists to Canada’s performance at Copenhagen, and it seems that the response by world leaders wasn’t much better. In fact, Prime Minister Stephen Harper was excluded from the closed-door talks which led to the Copenhagen Accord.

Still, Harper shouldn’t be too sore that he wasn’t invited to the grown-up table in Copenhagen. As you might recall, on Nov. 26 he made statements affirming that he would not attend the summit.

The very next day, Harper announced that he would be attending the summit after all. That change of heart was made after Harper learned that Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao and U.S. President Barack Obama would be going. But not to fret. Harper did eventually meet with President Obama at the conference – by running into him while the president was having lunch with other world leaders.

That was virtually Canada’s sole contribution to the proceedings in Copenhagen – the kid with lice bumping into the cool kids’ table in the cafeteria.

Even so, if one were listening to the comments made by Environment Minister Jim Prentice following the summit, they could be forgiven for thinking that the Accord was as Canadian as tarsands and maple syrup.

“It’s an agreement that reflects Canada’s principles” the Minister gushed, hailing it as a “turning point” in dealing with climate change, while Harper called the three-page document “comprehensive and realistic.”

Now, as any environmentally-minded person will tell you (and likely has been), the Accord is a toothless and ineffectual article. It contains no hard emission-reduction targets and even if it did, signatories would not be legally bound to meet them.

China could vow to eliminate all greenhouse gases by next Thursday and when they didn’t make good on their promise, it wouldn’t make any difference.

In lieu of actual targets, the Accord cryptically binds its signatories “to hold the increase in global temperature below 2 degrees Celsius.” Vague statements such as this riddle the three-page document. The summit is now widely considered a disappointment, an expensive and embarrassing failure by world leaders to make any strong commitment to combat global warming.

In the days after the summit, both Harper and Prentice made a valiant effort to polish the proverbial turd that is the Copenhagen Accord. That’s the problem with a turd, though – try though you might, you just can’t polish it. It just gets smeared around and makes a bigger mess.

And the Accord, as most anyone can tell you, is already a big enough mess as it is.

Rob Holt thinks that, given the seal hunt and now Copenhagen, sewing the Canadian flag to his backpack might not be the best idea if he ever goes to “find himself” in Europe.

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