With another round of international climate negotiations opening this week in Warsaw, Poland, and a new poll finding Canadians wanting leadership on the issue, Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his Conservative government have an opportunity to turn the tides on what has been so far a policy trend in the wrong direction.
Since taking the helm, the majority Harper government has floundered at United Nations climate events, relegating Canada to perpetual fossil of the day and year awards.
As someone who has been working in and around these international climate talks and other such global negotiations for many years now, I have witnessed first hand Canada's fall from grace. Our small country (population-wise) has historically hit well above its weight in many international forums, with a reputation for neutrality and expert diplomacy. Now, we are called a “petrostate” and a “climate obstructionist” at such talks.
Canada has previously been a international leader on global efforts to battle environmental issues. Former Progressive Conservative Prime Minister Brian Mulroney was an outspoken global leader on reducing Chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) in the atmosphere and his leadership culminated in the Montreal Accord that saw 191 countries agree to phasing out ozone depleting chemicals.
Under Jean Chretien and the Liberals Canada was one of the first countries to sign on to the Kyoto Protocol to reduce global climate change pollution, with many countries following our lead. Canada's lack of performance, and in many cases outright opposition to deals on climate change, is not only being noticed by the international community, it is also starting to be noticed at home.
A poll out late last week finds that a large majority - almost 60 percent - of Canadians agree that climate change should be a top issue for the Harper government. A whopping 76 percent say that Canada should sign on to a new international agreement to limit greenhouse gas emissions.
Beyond the evidence of the poll, a cross-country day of events planned for Canada called “Defend our Climate, Defend our Communities” suggests the country's lack of climate leadership is having its effect on the street level.
Everyday people are hoping to rejuvenate Canada's international reputation on the issue of climate change.
And the need for this has never been more urgent as more and more extreme weather events make headlines across the globe. The atmospheric disruption and extreme weather scientists talked about almost 20 years ago when Canada signed on to the Kyoto Protocol is now “the new normal.”
With climate talks starting this week and next in Warsaw, Harper and his new environment minister, Leona Aglukaqq, have an opportunity to redeem Canada's reputation. Not only would this start the country on the right path when it comes to climate change, but according to public opinion polls, a strong stance on climate by Harper would be good politics.
So what's stopping him?
Image Credit: Kris Krug via Flickr