Canadian Government at Warsaw Climate Talks a Waste of Taxpayers Dollars

All week people have been coming by the press center here at the COP-19 UN climate negotiations asking, “Hey Kevin, why are you just sitting there playing with that pencil?” I sigh and reply, “Just waiting for Canada to do something… anything.” 

Finally, Canada's Environment Minister showed up Wednesday to make a statement. But, not surprisingly, the Minister's words were a far cry from reality. 

It used to be easy to write about Canada from UN climate negotiations. There was always some outrageous story to cover about how Canada was blocking progress or making life miserable for countries trying to actually make headway. But it has become a lot harder here at the negotiations underway right now in Warsaw, Poland.

At this round of climate negotiations Canadian negotiators are doing nothing. Literally.

According to reports from more than one observer to the talks, the Canadians joined their newfound allies in climate inaction, the Australians, early in the week to submit a paper that proposes nothing new. Now they are kicking back and doing nothing.

In her address to the COP-19 assembly, Canada's Environment Minister, Leona Aglukkaq claimed that, “Canada is taking a leadership role in international climate change efforts by focusing on delivering significant environmental and economic benefits for all Canadians.”

But speaking on Canada's lack of action here in Warsaw, Aglukkaq's counterpart Jayanthi Natarajan, India's Minister of the Environment and Forestry told me a very different story. She said:

“I know at Durban [a previous negotiations meeting], Canada spoke very strongly about the importance of climate change and thereafter refused to endorse the second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol. All I can say is that I hope countries like Canada, Australia, those that are no longer part of the process, will come on board and join the international community in trying to solve this problem.” [emphasis is mine]

While critics of these negotiations are always quick to point out that we should be looking to countries like China and India to act, I have attended events for both the Indian and Chinese delegations and it is clear that both those countries are at the negotiating tables here in Warsaw, and playing a leadership role.

Canada, one of the largest per-capita emitters of climate pollution in the world, from the looks of it is doing nothing more than their newfound friends down under who are lounging around in t-shirts, gorging on snacks.

The inequity of the situation reeks.

Two countries responsible for a massive amount of historical carbon emissions are kicking back eating doughnuts, while developing nations like the Philippines, who are the victims of all these emissions and warming, are desperately working to hammer out a deal. 

At climate negotiations in the past Canada has always been a major recipient of the “Fossil of the Day” award - a notorious prize handed out each day of negotiations by the environment umbrella group, Climate Action Network (CAN) International. But speaking at a CAN press conference Tim Gore, International Policy Advisor for Oxfam suggested Canada has become a meaningless recipient of the Fossil award:

“In terms of the negotiations, they [Canada] put their names to a text… this text I should say commits no one to anything. It's just words on a page reiterating previous agreements. Some soft urging or encouraging people to do things if they would like to do that. It commits nobody to anything at all,” he said.

Another country pleading for leadership and action is Bangladesh, a country that is drowning already from the impacts of a warming world. In response to my question about what Canada is doing here in Warsaw, a chief negotiator and scientist from the Bangladeshi contingent had this to say:

So there remains some hope here in Warsaw. Canadians, who in a recent opinion poll overwhelmingly said they want Canada to lead on a new international agreement to limit greenhouse gas emissions, should also remain hopeful given the pressure their government is feeling at home and here in Warsaw. 

But without the Minister of Environment and her team present at the negotiating table, the use of taxpayer money to fly them all the way to Warsaw was a complete waste.