By Roy L Hales
Catherine McKenna, Canada’s new Minister of the Environment and Climate Change, has already been in Paris. She met with her international counterparts for three days to discuss key issues prior to the upcoming United Nations Conference of the Parties (COP 21). Some of the most interesting comments came from the twitter feed. They started after McKenna tweeted, “Canada is back in the fight against Climate Change.”
The Pre-COP Meetings
The United Nation’s first Conference of the Parties (COP) was held in Berlin during 1995. From the beginning, one of their key tasks has been reviewing “the national communications and emission inventories submitted by Parties.”
Prior to these annual conferences, nations sent their Environment Ministers to the “Pre-Cop” meetings where they try to work through some of the issues in advance.
Under the previous administration, Canada’s Environment Minister has gone to three Pre-COP meetings since 2009:
- Pre COP 15 in Copenhagen, Denmark, 2009
- Pre COP 17in Durban, South Africa, 2011
- Pre COP 18 in Seoul, Korea, 2012
Canada Withdraws From The Kyoto Accord
Stephen Harper was not a fan of international action against Climate Change. As leader of the Canadian Alliance, he wrote about “our campaign to block the job-killing, economy-destroying Kyoto Accord.” Harper was elected Prime Minister in 2006, but waited until his party obtained a majority before withdrawing from the Kyoto Accord in 2011.
Environmentalists And Other Radicals
At the beginning of 2012, Canada’s Minister of Natural Resources, Joe Oliver, wrote a public letter denouncing:
” … environmental and other radical groups that would seek to block this opportunity to diversify our trade. Their goal is to stop any major project no matter what the cost to Canadian families in lost jobs and economic growth. No forestry. No mining. No oil. No gas. No more hydro-electric dams.
“These groups threaten to hijack our regulatory system to achieve their radical ideological agenda. They seek to exploit any loophole they can find, stacking public hearings with bodies to ensure that delays kill good projects. They use funding from foreign special interest groups to undermine Canada’s national economic interest. They attract jet-setting celebrities with some of the largest personal carbon footprints in the world to lecture Canadians not to develop our natural resources. Finally, if all other avenues have failed, they will take a quintessential American approach: sue everyone and anyone to delay the project even further. They do this because they know it can work. It works because it helps them to achieve their ultimate objective: delay a project to the point it becomes economically unviable.”
Later that year, Harper’s government year introduced the infamous Bill C-38, which eliminated 70 pieces of environmental legislation.
ForestEthics traced this bill to an oil industry lobby group called the Energy Policy Institute, which also recommended:
“that public input on larger issues such as climate change, greenhouse gas emissions, and upstream and downstream impacts from tar sands projects should only be provided when formulating government energy policy, and not in the context of specific projects.”
Thus it was that Bill C-38 also limited public participation at National Energy Board hearings:
“Citizens were no longer permitted to show up at hearings and have their say or provide a written submission to the Board; instead, each individual is now required to submit an eleven-page application to the NEB justifying their right to speak to the issue. The NEB then chooses which individuals or municipalities/organizations are permitted to speak.”
The Environment Minister attended Pre-COP 18, in Korea, but it was the last time Canada would attend during the Harper regime.
The Muzzling of Canada’s Scientists
Rumours about the muzzling of Canada’s public servants began to circulate after that.
In June 2013, the Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada (PIPSC)commissioned a survey to determine the extent to which this was happening. More than 4,000 scientists responded:
- 90% – “do not feel that they can speak freely to the media about the work they do”
- 71% – “believe Canada’s ability to develop policy, law and programs based on scientific evidence has been compromised by political interference.”
- 48% – “are aware of actual cases in which their department or agency suppressed information, leading to incomplete, inaccurate, or misleading impressions by the public, regulated industry, the media and/or government officials.”
- 37% – “report they were prevented from responding to questions from the public and media by public relations staff or management over the past five years.”
Canada’s Scientists are Unmuzzled
Canada’s scientists were officially “unmuzzled” two days after Trudeau was sworn in as Prime Minister.
On November 6, Navdeep Bains, Canada’s new Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development issued a press release stating:
“Our government values science and will treat scientists with respect. That is why government scientists and experts will be able to speak freely about their work to the media and the public …”
Steven Campana, a former senior scientist from Fisheries and Oceans Canada told the National Observer, “The reign of terror is officially over.”
“Harper and his government were simply anti-science, anti-evidence and anti-informed policy and decision-making. The cutbacks to scientific staff in the public service were draconian. More than 2,000 positions and people were lost, many in my field [of environmental science], resulting in a loss of a generation of skills, knowledge and capacity that were there to serve the public,” said Dr. Peter Wells, a former scientist with Environment Canada.
Canada Attending Pre-COP 21
On November 7, the new Minister of Environment and Climate Change, Catherine McKenna, left for Pre-COP 21.
She received a warm welcome from the international community.
Miguel Arias Cañete, European Commissioner for Climate Action and Energy was among those who tweeted it’s “great to meet the brand new Canadian Climate Change Minister. As she said, “Le Canada est de retire!”
Christiana Figueres, executive secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, was among the many who retweeted.
The group photo at the top of this page was taken from a tweet by Ségolène Royal, France’s Minister for Ecology, Sustainable Development and Energy. The minsters pictured are from (l to r) Norway, Peru, Sweden, Luxembourg, Morocco, France (Royal) and McKenna is standing on the far left.
“We’re fully committed to the successful negotiations of a fair and effective international climate change agreement in Paris. Canada agrees the science is indisputable, and we recognize the need for urgent/greater action that is grounded in robust science. Our main goal is to make sure that all human beings can fulfill a healthy, safe sustainable life,” she tweeted.
“At home, we will provide national leadership and work with our provinces and territories to take real action on climate change.”
This is not simply youthful enthusiasm. McKenna has had years of experience dealing with international trade, competition, investment and constitutional issues. She is a former legal advisor and negotiator for the United Nations peacekeeping mission in East Timor, and co-founder of Level (previously known as Canadian Lawyers Abroad).
Pre-Cop meetings are held to try to work through some of the issues in advance of Climate Conferences. Though ministers cannot change the 55-page blueprint for the Paris deal, they can seek out areas of mutual agreement.
The goal is to forge a global emissions pact that will limit the plant’s temperature rise to two degrees Celsius over pre-Industrial Revolution levels.
This Pre-COP ministerial meeting is hosted by Laurent Fabius, French Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Development, and Manuel Pulgar Vidal, Peruvian Minister of State and the Environment and current President of the COP.
“The Government of Canada is determined to deliver real results on climate change and the environment. We will work with our international partners on the adoption of an effective climate change agreement and in the transformation towards a low-carbon, climate resilient global economy,” McKenna said in a press release.
Top Photo Credit: photo from Twitter feed of Ségolène Royal, Ministre de l’Ecologie, du Développement durable et de l’Energie