The federal government wasted no time Saturday trying to take some of the sting out of criticism that it failed to play a meaningful role in global climate change talks in Denmark that produced a shaky agreement.
Hours after returning home from Denmark Saturday, federal Environment Minister Jim Prentice started the job of selling the agreement to the Canadian public, calling it a significant step toward reducing global greenhouse gas emissions.
“The Copenhagen Accord is an excellent agreement and a very, very positive agreement for Canada,” he told The Canadian Press on Saturday.
“It sits within the principles we put forward as a Canadian government and it essentially achieved all our negotiating objectives.”
Environmentalists, however, described the deal hammered out by a few nations Friday and pushed through the conference early Saturday with terms like problematic, disappointing, watered down and a failure.
“It would be pretty hard to put a positive spin on it,” said Bruce Cox, executive director for Greenpeace Canada, adding that if the Harper government is satisfied with the agreement it “speaks volumes.”
“Canada went into Copenhagen as a laggard,” Cox said. “But we were worse than a laggard.”
The Copenhagen Accord offers money to developing nations to help them fight global warming but doesn’t set new greenhouse-gas reduction targets. Instead, countries are to set their own emission reduction commitments, without mandatory limits. Most of the 193 countries attending the UN climate conference agreed to the U.S. brokered deal.
Cox, along with Quebec environmentalist Steven Guilbeault, both cite the fact the deal is not legally binding as a point of failure.
“We can’t have a system where people can pick and choose what they do,” Guilbeault said.
But Prentice brushed off their concerns about the agreement.
“It will be binding in due course,” he said. “Our objective would be to see this translated into a binding international treaty during 2010.”
He also highlighted Canada’s various commitments under the new deal, including contributing to the financial aid promised to poor countries by richer nations – but wouldn’t elaborate on the figures.
“Canada will shoulder our fair share of responsibility,” he said. “We’ve provisioned for those figures and we’ll announce our amount in the new year.”
The promised $30 billion, three-year finance package – from 2010 to 2012 – from developed nations is intended to help poor countries develop clean energy and reduce emissions.
Canada has also signed on to reduce its greenhouse gases by 20 per cent from 2006 levels by 2020, harmonizing its targets with the United States.
Canadian negotiators, however, weren’t invited to a meeting that included the U.S., China, Brazil, India and South Africa for the drafting of the final document. But Prentice said Canada didn’t need a seat at the table for the 11th-hour bargaining session.
“Those were the countries that had to be in that room because the final issue that needed to be resolved was transparency in terms of the obligations by the developing countries,” he said.
“Canada was not there because we are only responsible for two per cent of the world’s emissions.”
But Prentice’s explanation did little to abate the criticism levelled against Canada during the two week U-N Conference in the Danish capital. Canada was bestowed with the dubious “Colossal Fossil” award by environmental groups during the conference. Canada was criticized by developing countries and environmentalists and opposition critics, who accused the Conservative government of failing to make concessions to help reach a deal – and of relinquishing the country’s historic role as a progressive on the world stage.
“We’ve become a rogue state in international affairs,” Guilbeault said. “Now, we’re on the sidelines.”
Nonetheless, Guilbeault says the Copenhagen talks resulted in one small, but historical, step forward: It’s the first time emerging economies agreed to greenhouse gas reduction targets in any form.
A lone protester expressed his displeasure over the Copenhagen deal by scaling the flag pole at the B.C. legislature Saturday and holding up a banner blasting Prime Minister Stephen Harper and B.C. Premier Campbell.
A national news agency aired footage of the man being led away in handcuffs.