Focus on Canada

Canada, under the present government, sided with the US in opposing the demand for CO2 emissions reduction targets at the recent Bali conference. Yet this is a country from where Greenpeace was born and treehuggers will quite literally go to scary heights to save their native forests from exploitation.

Why are these mixed signals coming out of Canada and where might this vast country and its peoples be heading with 21st century environmental politics?

The government

The Canadian government has a department called Environment Canada. Its website has a section called Climate Change.

Here it openly admits ‘there has been a significant change in global climate in recent years, particularly in the polar areas, due largely to the burning of fossil fuels for transportation and industrial processes’ and continues with ‘ greater changes are expected in the future, including a continued rise in temperatures, shifts in rainfall patterns, and increases in certain types of hazardous weather, such as heavy spring rains and heat waves. As a cold northern country, Canada will be one of the most greatly affected countries in the world.

The government goes on to say that information can be found on this part of the website that talks of ‘the causes and impacts of this change and the measures being taken to reduce them.’

Have a look at the Environment Canada Climate Change page and see if you can find the ‘measures’ being taken to reduce the impacts of climate change. I can’t see anything in particular. It’s certainly not clear whether they’re talking emissions reduction strategies, mitigation priorities or indeed any other plan.

So there is a severe lack of communication with their voters and it appears no coherent strategy to tackle the effects of climate change.

The NGO

Things have got so bad that Friends of the Earth Canada filed a lawsuit at the federal court in Ottawa in May 2007 alleging that, in failing to reduce greenhouse gas emissions sufficiently, the government is violating Canadian law.

Beatrice Olivastri, the CEO of Friends of the Earth Canada, said: “Because climate change is the most urgent crisis ever facing the planet, Friends of the Earth is resorting to the courts to require the federal government to respect its Kyoto promises.

“We must see an end to important programmes being dismantled, terminated and slashed – all part of the pattern of Kyoto denial by the federal government.”

Robert Wright, a lawyer with Sierra Legal, the environmental law organisation which is acting for Friends of the Earth, said Canadians expected the government to live up to its domestic and international commitments.

Just a note on the FoE Canada website. It’s appalling, totally uninspiring and a real worry because it won’t inspire young Canadians to get on board. So communication is also a problem with this major environmental charity.

The people

The Canadian voters brought in the Conservative Party in the 2006 election. The election resulted in a minority government, Canada’s smallest minority government since Confederation. The ousted minority Liberal government were mired in allegations of criminal corruption within the party.

Unfortunately for Canadians concerned with issues of the environment their country has elected minority governments over recent years which by their very nature struggle with strong mandates for change. Communication of the issues is obviously a problem here.

In 2006 a poll showed concerns about the environment have shot up to rank a close second, according to a CBC News survey. However 71 per cent said the federal Conservatives’ proposed clean air plan is not tough enough in dealing with environmental issues.

The people it appears are beginning to voice their concerns in greater numbers but there are still many sceptics regards anthropogenic climate change. Canadians simply haven’t caught up with Europeans in understanding the problems and the urgent need to tackle the issues.

This of course is frustrating for ‘green’ aware Canadians. To get a flavour of this see this blog entry. The rest of the world too is wondering where that Greenpeace creating, tree hugging Canadian spirit has gone. It’s about time Canada left its conservative bolt hole and got radical again.

Communication of the issues of climate change and the measures necessary to tackle it need to be strong and clear for all Canadians to wake up and feel the urgent need for change.

Because if you don’t, those polar bears are going to be wandering up Yonge Street eating burgers out of your hands.

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4 Responses to Focus on Canada

  1. Dave On Fire says:

    I don’t see what’s so spectacularly wrong with FoE (or AdT) Canada’s website.
    It’s interesting comparing Canada’s response to that other enormous Arctic nation, Russia. They’re both becoming some of the world’s most conservative on Green issues.

  2. matt says:

    I guess they see opportunity in increased access to the tundra and oceans. Oil for one.

    Look at the FoE UK website; http://www.foe.co.uk/ It’s visually attractive, easy to read but, packed full of useful info and links. The Canadian site is amateur compared and it’s font mix is messy to say the least!

  3. Simon D says:

    Canada’s been in an awkward position in large part because of this conflict between the image of a green, environmentally-friendly nation (in contrast to the image of the southern neighbours) and the reality of an economy based largely on resource extraction, including oil. Failure to deal with that conflict led to the government to agree to a Kyoto target with absolutely no idea how to meet it. For a look at how Canada went from Kyoto ratifier to pariah, I’d recommend this report on Canada from the UNDP’s 2007/8 report on Fighting Climate Change.

  4. matt says:

    Simon, you have produced an excellent summary report of the issues for Canada. I found it very easy to digest and get a hold of the conundrum facing your country.

    There is so much information packed into your report that I’ll need to do a separate post on it.

    In the meantime maybe the New Zealand approach could help Canada move forward, even though they are different countries in significant areas (notably with the oil sands dilemma); http://blog.environmentsolutions.co.uk/?p=68

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