How Harper sold made-in-Canada plan
Kyoto may be dead to PM, but negotiating successor treaty isn’t
For a man HEILIGENDAMM, Germany • backed into a corner, it was a crafty display of diplomacy.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper arrived at last week’s G8 summit promising to defend his government’s new climate-change plan, a plan that his political opponents had mocked as an “ecofraud” and that a major investment bank predicted simply wouldn’t work.
The plan was set — that, the prime minister could not change. What he could influence was how Canada’s position would be seen to fit into the global picture. Mr. Harper aimed for the middle, and he can make a reasonable case that he hit the mark.
Desperate to find common ground with North America, European leaders pulled their punches.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel scolded Canada for abandoning its commitments under the Kyoto Protocol, an international treaty to combat global warming. However, Germany and France welcomed Canada’s support for a long-term global target for cutting greenhouse-gas emissions.
At the end of the summit, Mr. Harper even took a parting shot at U.S. President George W. Bush for his refusal to support firm targets. That will score points among the sizable contingent of Canadians who view the U.S. with ambivalence.
“He certainly didn’t have to look statesmanlike to the other G8 leaders around the table, because he proved himself last time,” said John Kirton, director of the G8 Research Group at the University of Toronto.
“But he probably did have to show the folks back in Canada that his made-in-Canada climate-change plan was internationally respectable, and against that standard he succeeded.”
Heading into the summit, opposition parties and environmentalists accused the prime minister of colluding with the U.S. to water down a climatechange declaration to be signed by the G8 leaders. Mr. Harper evaded the question, replying vaguely that he would seek a consensus that includes the world’s largest polluters.
A senior government official told reporters that Canada should be seen as “special” because of its growing economy, surging population and booming energy sector. That suggested Canada would adopt an isolationist approach.
But Mr. Harper came to Berlin armed with unusually strong language. Climate change is “perhaps the biggest threat to confront the future of humanity today,” he told business leaders gathered at a glitzy hotel in the former “no-man’s land” that once separated West and East Germany.
Coming from a man who once called the Kyoto accord a “socialist scheme,” it was a noteworthy statement.
The prime minister admitted Canada has no chance of meeting its Kyoto targets, despite ratifying the treaty five years ago. At the same time, he called on the world’s big polluters — including the U.S. and fast-developing countries such as China — to “embrace ambitious absolute reduction targets.”
The message was clear: Kyoto was dead to Canada, but it would aim to play a constructive role in negotiating a successor treaty.
Mr. Harper arguably oversold Canada’s plan at times. In Paris, he declared that Canada’s emissions targets are more ambitious over the next 13 years than Europe’s. Environmentalists say that is only true if the government discounts the steep rise in Canada’s emissions since the early 1990s — an irresponsible sleight of hand, in their view.
The European Union thinks industrialized countries such as Canada should do more than the Harper government has promised.
Nevertheless, Canada did not blindly follow the U.S. Along with every G8 country except the U.S., Canada backed a goal of halving global emissions by mid-century. Mr. Harper ar- gued all week that countries should be able to set different targets based on national circumstances, but he made it clear that a global target is needed.
The final declaration is being billed in some quarters as a partial victory for Ms. Merkel. The U.S. agreed to “consider seriously” the global target backed by the rest of the G8. Mr. Bush was also persuaded to recognize the United Nations as the “appropriate forum” for negotiating a Kyoto successor. Some worried he would divert the talks to a U.S.-led track.
But environmentalists were disappointed that more concrete commitments did not make the final draft. For example, the leaders couldn’t agree to measurable goals for limiting the increase in global temperatures or improving the energy efficiency of their economies.
It remains to be seen if Mr. Harper’s pragmatic multilateralism will pay off at home. Recent polls identify the environment as the most important issue to Canadians, but pollsters question if the public is ready to pay the price of aggressive action.
Mr. Harper is still less evangelical about global warming than politicians such as California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who alighted in Canada recently to enthuse about green technologies and his biodieselfuelled Hummer.
Mr. Harper’s style might have hurt him this week, when he refused to meet with Irish rock star Bono to talk about aid to Africa. The U2 singer later blasted Canada as a “laggard” on aid, a charge Mr. Harper denies.